sxsw: jazz:refreshed members were denied entry into the u.s.

March 15, 2017

Our friends from Jazz:Refreshed are sharing this statement with us, regarding the fact that some of their members’ ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) permits were revoked at the last minute, effectively preventing them from entering the U.S. to participate in the SXSW festival.


15 March, 2017

Firstly, we’d like to thank everybody for the overwhelming support you’ve shown us and the bands affected in regards to the ESTA ‘situation’. In a time where we should be celebrating what is a landmark UK showcase at SXSW and the kick-off of a two-year project that has involved a lot of work to get off the ground, it has all become pretty heavy on many levels, to say the least.


In particular, it has been extremely difficult for the two bands that have been excluded from an opportunity to perform at SXSW through no fault of their own. This has raised many issues and highlighted the need to address them and the impact this has on musicians (and people in general) travelling to the US in this current climate.


Even though – in spite of every effort – we could not get the decision overturned and it is extremely difficult to get recourse or answers from US Immigration or Homeland Security in such matters, as they can seemingly act without explanation or accountability. We are however still pursuing the matter in other ways and not simply letting it lie.


It is quite interesting to note (or not), that whilst no reason was given for the revocation of the ESTA’s, we do find it telling that the three British born men with Muslim sounding names (who are in fact NOT Muslim) and their band mate, are the only members of our 20 strong travelling party to have their ESTAs revoked, after being approved as early as November 2016. Although, we must also be very clear that we do not know the actual reasons for the revocation, as reasons were not given and probably never will be.


What does seem clear though, is that even when you fulfill US immigration criteria to be approved and gain entry to the US, they can still refuse entry with no reason and absolutely no accountability. In addition to preventing these world-class musicians from showcasing what is new and exciting in the UK Jazz related scenes today, Homeland Security’s decision has wasted substantial UK public subsidy.


As you can imagine we are having a million conversations at the moment with various individuals and organisations, actively working with others and having in-depth discussions on best way to highlight exactly how this situation and situations like this are affecting people. Although this is not the first visa issue we have encountered on this project, please realise that dealing with this situation is something new for us and we are well aware that this will not be resolved overnight or by us alone. The reality is that this situation is bigger than two bands or us as an organisation.  


Everybody has an opinion on how this situation should be handled and what should happen next, as it should be, needless to say we are discussing many options and ultimately we cannot please everybody – but let’s be clear, that we are all on the same side here and pretty much want the same outcomes. As we stated before, this issue and its ramifications is very new to us and there really is no precedent for what a small organisation like ours is supposed to do and what the best way to proceed is. We are determined to get it as right as we can, therefore we are discussing and considering many options and will not be drawn into a knee-jerk reaction.


At the heart of this project is a narrative of UK underground music which United Vibrations are very much a part of, in terms of their role in creating it and the telling of it, presented to the world through projects such as Jazz re:freshed Outernational. Even though they will not be there physically to play at the SXSW festival, they are still considered very much a part of the Outernational project and still have an essential role to play in this festival and the wider project.  The issues faced by United Vibrations also impacted upon Yussef Kamaal as the bands share a drummer.


In the midst of all the anger and negativity over this situation, we must not forget that we are still presenting a showcase of UK talent at SXSW and still have bands who have travelled to SXSW to represent the story the UK Jazz revolution. Please don’t forget that these bands are also in need of support and positivity from everybody who cares about the music and the culture it represents. They too have been deeply affected by the situation and are extremely keen to add their voice to the narrative and represent their friends who were not able to be there due to the aforementioned situation, in the best possible way.


We believed when we started Jazz re:freshed in 2003 and still believe today, that the world needs to hear and experience the quality and creativity of the musicians that represent Jazz and Jazz inspired music from the UK. In 2017, we passionately believe that the narrative or indeed a UK narrative needs to be told and we need to shine a spotlight on the talent coming out of the UK. This is the sole purpose and aim of the Jazz re:freshed Outernational Project and please note, the US is one of many countries that we have scheduled on the project.


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.

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