The 36th edition of WOMAD kicks off today, but organiser Chris Smith says that attracting foreign musicians has become much harder after the Brexit vote.
The organiser of world music festival WOMAD has said that artists around the world are giving up on trying to visit Britain to perform because entering the country has become “difficult and humiliating” in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.
Chris Smith told the Radio Times in a new interview on Thursday (July 26th) that the impact of the British visa process on prospective visiting foreign musicians had “genuinely broke his heart”, and that this year’s WOMAD festival had suffered from difficulties in attracting people to play.
“The world has never needed events like WOMAD more than it does now,” Smith explained. “It stands for tolerance and understanding and learning and openness but that culture is being crushed as politicians lurch to the right.”
Senegalese singer Baaba Maal performing at WOMAD in 2011
Although artists from 128 countries around the world are scheduled to play this year’s festival which begins today in Charlton Park, Wiltshire, Smith said many accepted invitations to play but had then withdrawn after researching the visa process. He believes the result of the 2016 referendum sent a message to the world that Britain was closed to foreigners.
WOMAD was founded by Peter Gabriel in 1982 as a showcase for what is generally known as ‘world music’. Smith said that the current situation was possible because of relationships with “good people” at the Foreign Office, but he feels the situation is likely to get worse as Brexit bites in 2019.
“We’ve had situations where, say, an African artist has been due to come who plays a particularly rare instrument, and we’ll be asked: ‘Can’t you find someone in the UK who plays that instrument?’, which is absurd,” he said.
“The saddest thing is always the number of artists struggling to get visas to come and perform. What we’re seeing this year is unexpected and even more depressing, which is artists saying we’re just not going to tackle the immigration system, saying it’s too difficult and too expensive, and it’s humiliating.”
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