Since the South by Southwest Music Festival’s beginning, international music has been a huge component and this year is no exception. Last week, festival organizers told the Statesman that of the 2011 bands playing the fest this year, 572 are international acts. But that number has declined slightly since last week as a few bands have encountered problems trying to enter the country.
Two British jazz outfits, Yussef Kamaal and United Vibrations, who are part of the famed DJ, Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood record label, have axed their SXSW showcases after band members were denied entry to the U.S.
Drummer Yussef Dayes is half of Yussef Kamaal, who were scheduled to headline a “Jazz: Refreshed” showcase, highlighting British underground jazz . He also performs with his brothers Ahmed and Kareem Dayes in the band United Vibrations. According to Brownswood, the brothers were travelling on an ESTA Visa Waiver, when they were denied entry at the border. The Visa Waiver program allows artists to enter the country to perform without a visa under a narrowly defined showcase exception that, in theory, allows for industry events like South by Southwest, but not paid performances. There are no mentions of U.S. performances other than the SXSW appearances on the bands’ web sites.
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In a statement released by United Vibrations, the band questioned whether their ethnicity played into their rejection,”We were looking forward to connecting with our brothers and sisters stateside to share our music,” the statement reads. “Why weren’t we let in? Our Names? The music? The colour of our skin?” The band’s name is hat tip to the famed Egyptian musican Kamal Yussef.
Chilean act Trementina, were scheduled to appear at several Burger Records events at the fest, but the band said on Sunday that they were playing gigs in Mexico when they received an email saying they had the wrong kind of visa to enter the country. They canceled a month and a half long U.S. tour. “We’ve heard about Soviet Soviet situation when they arrived to the U.S. In some way, we feel calm because we didn’t have to be in that kind of situation,” the band said in a statement on Facebook posted in English and Spanish.
They were referring to an Italian band who were denied entry to the U.S. late last week after Customs and Border Patrol agents rejected the claim that their U.S. dates, which included a few ticketed shows, were a promotional tour. The band had their cell phones confiscated, were handcuffed and taken to jail overnight before they were booked on a flight back to Italy the following day.
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Another band denied entry to the U.S. is metal act Massive Scar Era that is based in both Cairo, Egypt and Vancouver, Canada. The band posted a video to their Facebook page on Sunday explaining that they were trying to enter the country at a Canadian border crossing via the Visa Waiver Program with a letter from SXSW stating that they were performing at the fest and qualified for a visa waiver.
The band also says the Customs and Border Patrol agent they were dealing with challenged the ethnicity of bassist Dylan Pieter Wijdenes-Charles, who said he is First Nation (Native American) and should be able to travel freely across the U.S./Canadian border. NPR, who first reported on the band’s troubles, has a detailed explanation of the treaty that allows free passage to Native citizens of U.S. and Canada. The band says Wijdenes-Charles was carrying an official document that identifies him as First Nation.
In a message on their Facebook page, the band said, “I just want to add, we have played SXSW BEFORE under B1 Visa issued from the American Embassy from Cairo after presenting SXSW official invitation. When I told this to the officer he said that this doesn’t mean it was lawful LOL ???? I am not sure what is lawful.”
In addition to the SXSW dates, Massive Scar Era had booked several other tour dates in the United States. They say the customs agent told them they needed a P2 performance visa instead of the B1 visa they were traveling on. If any of the performances did not fall under the narrow “showcase exemption,” the band would not qualify for the visa exemption.