The Musicians’ Union (MU) has said it is ‘appalled’ that at least five musicians were denied permission to the US to perform at SXSW.
According to the MU, it had reassurances that SXSW falls into the very narrow exemption, allowing artists invited to perform at official showcases entry to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme (ESTA).
Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security, which administers the Visa Waiver Programme, revoked the ESTAs of five UK musicians without any reasoning from the authorities.
The MU is working with partners in the UK and US to uncover whether this is specific to SXSW, or part of a much wider strategic change. However, the MU believes that O, P and B Visas are the only ‘safe option’ for UK artists heading to the states.
Dave Webster, MU national organiser for Live Performance and chair of the Music Industry Visa Task Force, said: ‘We have escalated this to the highest level in the UK to try to ascertain what is going on.
‘It is appalling that these artists have been denied the opportunity to showcase at SXSW. The US Embassy in London has provided no explanation. A letter from Nigel Adams MP and Kerry McCarthy MP requesting an urgent meeting with the US officials has been sent.’
‘Since the formation of the Music Industry Visa Task Force in 2015 some progress on these issues has been made, however this latest development represents a huge setback.’
Horace Trubridge, MU assistant general secretary, added: ‘The amount of public funding that has gone into getting our UK artists to perform at SXSW this year will have been wasted. It is outrageous that these ESTAs have been revoked and more outrageous that the musicians affected have not been told why.’
Two impacted bands – United Vibrations and Yussuf Kamaal – were due to play the Jazz re:freshed showcase. In a statement, the organisation said: ‘We have all been working extremely hard to regroup, reframe and reshape this leg of the project, trying our best to adapt to difficult circumstances out of our control. We are confident in the talent available to us in the remaining bands and the resources at our disposal, to get this story heard at SXSW.
‘We are kicking off a project that is intended to reverberate way beyond SXSW, way beyond the US, way beyond Jazz re:freshed, way beyond the artists performing at the festival and way beyond the two year Outernational Project. It is our passionate mission for the reverberations to be felt globally and affect Jazz related artists and musicians in the UK and around the word, for many years to come.’
Read our recent piece detailing some essential advice for artists travelling to the US.