Slamming The Door Shut

Is the U.S. slowly sliding off the musical map of the world? In a word, yes. Newly tightened visa regulations, set up by the government to keep out terrorists, are being used to keep out musicians and performers. The consequences of the new rules suggest that the U.S. is no longer interested in keeping alive an international cultural exchange with the rest of the world, but prefers a path of irrational paranoia and cultural ignorance.

Groups and artists recently denied entry in to the U.S. include: Cuba’s Afro-Cuban All Stars; Desandan, a Cuban-Haitian group; Najwa Gibran, a Palestinian singer from Canada and the Whirling Dervishes from Syria, who had planned to perform at the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles last September. Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes was denied a visa, even though he was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award.

Iranian musician Hossein Alizadeh obtained a visa to the U.S. only after members of Congress and concert promoters pleaded with officials. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (the former INS) added insult to injury by fingerprinting and photographing Alizadeh upon his arrival. Kayhan Kalhor, a Canadian musician from Iran performing with Alizadeh, angered over being fingerprinted and having his luggage rummaged through has suggested he’s done with performing in the United States.

The trend of denying visas hasn’t been limited to traditional world music groups. Cousteau, a rock band from Great Britian, toured without their Lebanese-born band member and songwriter. Marduk, a black metal band from Sweden, has felt the new regulations retard their planned tour. Even the American-Russian Youth Orchestra faced visa problems.

The worst aspect of this war on culture can be summed up with the incident concerning Yugoslav classical pianist Aleksander Serdar, who was denied a visa because according to the INS he was not “an artist of extraordinary ability or achievement.” The last thing Americans, with open eyes to the world, desire is Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) officers deciding which musicians bear “extraordinary ability or achievement.” Putting aside the fears of some in the State Department that there are musician terrorists out there, are we now subject to the personal tastes of middle-management BCIS officers or bureaucratic fear mongers?

The problem isn’t just a threat against touring artists within the U.S., but will also have serious effects in the recording industry and the world music CDs available in the U.S. Many records labels won’t take the chance on releasing a CD by international musicians without the prospects of a tour to increase sales. For some time now, the U.S. record industry has bombarded with the world with the likes of Britney Spears and Eminem and profited from it, but what if one day, the world just stopped buying what we were peddling? What if the rest of the world said no to American musicians touring overseas? Right now, we’re the ones slamming the door, but what if the rest of the world did the same and slammed their door shut?

Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.


2 thoughts on “Slamming The Door Shut”

  1. Good article! Welcome to the Digital Age, I say. If there’s a policy brewing with the major record labels to shy away from worldwide artists, caught in the web of “terrorist” profile nonsense, then so be it. We have World Music Central to provide electronic magic. The tours and concerts will eventually be available online, from places like, and audiences built up in America can enjoy them from afar. Will artists and groups suffer from not being able to hold concerts in America? No, I say. The Digital Age brings new avenues of revenue with it. Artists and groups will be able to produce multi-media products, CD’s, DVD’s, recording merchandise like maybe a necklace with a heart that plays one or two of their songs, etc.

    The new system leaves the major record labels out in the cold, if they don’t change. Here’s a plug from Open Studios. If every community in the world has a community-based recording studio, then music thrives, and artists thrive, and there’s opportunity through free recording services provided by these community-based recording studios for everyone to make music. Check us out at: If you think about it, World Music Central is the key to the future for getting you out there. Open Studios will enable you to make your recordings for free. The rest is up to you. The BCIS jerks can stew in their own juices.

    Thanks, Tom Poe, Director, Open Studios,

  2. I have seen this happen at least one act that was to appear in Seattle. An act from Haiti was denied visas. However, there are several labels in the States that distribute world music and many limited tours of their artists are in the works. We need to support these labels–tell our friends and colleagues about them.

    I started my site Cranky Crow World Music to rid of this ignorance. We must share culture and expand our vision to the rest of the world. Not all Americans are fearful and not all are clannish. Many of us enjoy world music and festivals such as WOMAD which sadly for economic reasons isn’t appearing in Seattle any longer.

    I tirelessly dedicate myself to promoting world musicians or the work of folk roots musicians on my site and I am now submitting reviews to this site as well as, learning from this site. I think it takes one person at a time to share his or her passion for music and demand that our government lessen the restrictions of foreigners. More than ever we need to learn about and befriend people from other countries. I am doing my part and wish I could do more.

    Of course, having said that, if the chance comes up to relocate to another country, I will jump at the opportunity.


    Cranky Crow

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