Peter Gabriel’s U.K. Music Festival at Risk Over Brexit
Organizers say the political environment surrounding Brexit is having a direct impact on Peter Gabriel’s U.K. music festival.
Gabriel launched Womad in 1982, focusing on “the best music you’ve never heard of” from around the world, and it’s gone on to achieve success in other countries. But the original Wiltshire-based event, which features artists from 128 nations and takes place this weekend at Charlton Park, is experiencing difficulties in securing visas for foreign performers, director Chris Smith said.
“[T]he world has never needed events like Womad more than it does now,” Smith told the Radio Times. “It stands for tolerance and understanding and learning and openness, but that culture is being crushed as politicians lurch to the right.”
He blamed a “tightening up of visa controls” for the problems, which Smith said meant it was difficult for musicians to enter the U.K., although getting as close as France was easy. “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,” Smith said. “Artists have accepted our invitation and then looked into the visa process and told us, sorry we’re just not going to do this. That’s a situation we should be ashamed of.”
He continued: “There are good people in the Foreign Office trying to help us make Womad work, but the message is going out that Britain is a difficult place to get into – or even closed. My fear is that the situation is only going to get worse. 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 U.K. who plays that instrument?’ – which is absurd.”
Smith said the situation wouldn’t put Womad out of business but added: “It makes me worry for the future. … After this year’s festival, Peter and I are going to have to have a long conversation about what we do about this: How we can continue to support artists getting across our borders? We want to do everything we can to support them.” Citing the “unforgivable” conduct of politicians, he argued: “It’s always, ‘Brexit — what is happening?’ People can’t understand what we are doing. It certainly isn’t painting the U.K. in a good light internationally.”