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African Musicians Forced to Cancel Concerts After US Visa Hurdles

  • Ricci Shryock

Some popular African musicians face visa hurdles when booking U.S. shows.

Some popular African musicians face visa hurdles when booking U.S. shows.

Two members of popular Ghanaian hip-hop group Fokn Bois, artists Wanlov the Kubolor and Mensa, were invited to play shows in New York City this year.

After performing at venues throughout Europe and South Africa, they said a trip to the U.S. to visit another side of their worldwide audience should have been a routine matter. But the duo was forced to cancel the concerts when U.S. officials denied Wanlov a visa.

“I applied in Accra, and I was denied a visa,” he said. “They are telling me the reason they are denying me a visa is because I have a son and a wife that are American and live in Los Angeles, and because I’ve never applied for a green card. So the only way I can come to America is if I apply for a green card.”

Wanlov had applied for a performance visa. A green card is an immigrant visa for applicants intending to live in the US. But Wanlov said he has no intention of moving and just wants to play shows for his American fans.

The Ghanaian group is not the only act from West Africa that has been forced to cancel U.S. concerts because of visa difficulties.

Sierra Leonean musician Sorie Kondi was invited to play at the popular South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas earlier this year. Though Kondi was not denied a visa, he was not granted one in time either. He submitted his paperwork at the U.S. embassy in Freetown with what he was told was sufficient time for processing before his trip. But as the concert dates approached with no word about his visa application, Kondi was forced to cancel for fear he would not get the visa in time.

“A week before the proposed trip, they actually approved the visa, but by that time it was kind of off the table,” said Boima Tucker, a New York-based DJ who was collaborating to help Kondi make it to the US. “We had cancelled all the gig plans and the airline flight would have been way too expensive at the last second. And plus Sorie needs to travel with a caretaker and so all the costs are double, because he’s blind.”

Wanlov said problems like these make it hard for popular African musicians to play in the U.S., no matter what level of success they enjoy.

“We do shows all the time all around the world,” he said. “For me it’s a very silly situation that I’ve been put in. I was just invited to come there for a week, financially I’m stable. I’ve seen over 20 countries in the past three years, from the music and from touring and stuff and yet there’s this whole notion that I want to move to the United States.”

Wanlov said U.S. consular officials told him his only options were to apply for a green card or get a divorce, so he does not foresee future U.S. tour dates. But bandmate Mensa said the group is hopeful they will manage to get to the U.S. one day.

Tucker said Kondie is hoping to schedule new performances for later this year. He will have to reapply for a new visa.

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