WOMAD Plays Down Visa Problems

What turned out to be a somewhat alarmist story in the Independent about acts being forced to pull out of WOMAD because they couldn’t get visas has been played down by festival organisers, who say they didn’t "lose any more than usual."

The BBC’s News and World Service networks both picked up on the newspaper report and WOMAD was bombarded by journalists wanting to know if the entire festival bill was falling apart.

Ben Pester from London PR company The Outside Organisation, who fielded most of the calls, told Pollstar it was "a mountain out of a mole hill."

A couple of members of Kasai Allstars, a Congolese band that’s performed worldwide, weren’t allowed a temporary work visa from the Home Office, nor was Pakistani Sufi master Asif Ali Khan, a powerful figure on the international music stage who is often referred to as his country’s "musical prince."

An Indian troupe, the Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan, were also unable to enter the country to perform at Charlton Park, Wiltshire, where WOMAD celebrated its 26th anniversary in three days of bright sunshine July 25-27.

Paula Hanson, who has worked with the WOMAD team for 18 years, was taken aback by the media flurry because the festival didn’t lose any more acts than usual.

She said cutting acts because of visa problems is one of the professional hazards of programming what’s literally a World Of Music And Dance, attracting more than 70 acts from every corner of the globe.

It seems the changes in the U.K. visa regulations coming into force this month might not make life any easier for the festival.

Easing restrictions on entry for the "Tier 5" visitor, which covers individuals in the creative and sporting sectors seeking temporary entry, might not help when the main reasons WOMAD’s acts are being filtered out reportedly include failure to start visa application in time and turning up in the U.K. without even applying.

Hanson said she can’t recall one occasion in the near two decades she worked at WOMAD when any artist tried to stay in the U.K. illegally.

"I remember there was an act that thought it would be good to stay longer and do more shows but we soon explained that it wasn’t that simple," she said.

Acts that met Home Office approval in time to play in front of 30,000 people at WOMAD July 25-27 included Eddie Grant, Finley Quaye, Roni Size Reprazent, Nathan "Flutebox" Lee, Toumani Diabate, Dengue Fever and Gocoo.