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Keeping the doors open for African music

As a European living in London for more than ten years, Brexit has thrown a little shade on what my future looks like here, and, like many others, I am anxiously waiting for it to unfold. But I feel fortunate that I currently live here, work here and have freedom of movement.

Yet for over ten years, I have been working with some great artists who have always required a visa to come play in the UK, sometimes at great expense – with the cost of a UK visa being £244 per person for the ‘cheap’ option. Artists from Mali, for example, cannot apply in their own country and instead have to fly to Senegal to submit their UK application. Their passports then have to be sent to Sheffield in the UK for processing, which can take up to four weeks.

They then they have to wait, anxiously, hoping that their visas are ready in time for them to travel. To the cost of the visa itself, you can add the expense of travelling back and forth and potential accommodation costs. If they are applying for an extended visa to cover a longer period, they will also have to pay for NHS fees and tests for tuberculosis, if applicable. It all adds up.

But the ambition to conquer the UK prevails, and a lot of bands do invest, sacrificing their fees sometimes just to get to the UK. As an agent representing African artists, I spend a lot of my time handling visa-related issues. It’s getting more stressful – but if this is what we have to do to ensure we welcome these artists to the UK and Europe in order to bring diversity into the musical landscape and to festival bills, then I will continue to do so with pride.

Today, one of the talking points in the music industry and one of the unforeseen consequences of Brexit is how it will affect non-European artists who start their tour in the Republic Ireland before heading to the UK. It will, theoretically, no longer be possible for artists to do so without applying for a UK visa. I am angry that there is now another obstacle to enter the UK, and it is once again to the detriment of the arts.

But this is a much wider issue, and not only about Brexit, which is only the tip of the iceberg here. I am equally angry to see that it takes a situation that directly impacts American artists for the industry to stand up and make some noise and finally admit how bad the situation is.

Price increases and processing times are getting to the point where some bands will refuse to play a UK festival or accept a UK tour

Yes, a UK visa costs £244 per person (add another £200 to that if you’re planning to apply for longer than six months) – and if you happen to be a five-piece, ‘emerging’ guitar band from the US that is getting £500 a show (and that’s being generous)… well, you will either need very rich parents to help you, or you need to urge the world to get its shit together and figure out how to pay artists better! I’ve read comments by people who are scandalised at the thought of having to submit fingerprints, leave passports at consulates… but no such fuss about nationals from other countries for whom it is already compulsory to apply for a UK visa at a high cost.

Artists from Africa who are booked to play UK festivals are here to perform – so why would their presence not be as important as American artists? They can also sell tickets, get radio playlists and gather impressive streams. They also have stories to tell, and all that matters. From the Malian band Songhoy Blues, who fought for their right to sing when Islamic jihadists banned music, to the gay South African artist Nakhane, who, having embraced his sexuality, had to leave his own country to find safety. Not your average indie band, right?

While we get fed stories from the news painting Africa as a continent that “needs help”, how about getting the real stories about contemporary Africa that has something to say, and do something about it. This is something Coda Agency has supported me with since I joined.

This is where our industry has to do better. Since Brexit was announced I have seen more hunger from within the media and creatives to champion and support music that is not from the US or the UK. A door has opened – but, unfortunately, to quote a recent tweet from Jon Snow, the Home Office is making it a “hostile environment” for touring musicians who do not hold a passport that doesn’t require them to apply for a UK visa. Price increases and processing times are getting to the point where some bands will refuse to play a UK festival or accept a UK tour just because of the sometimes humiliating process of applying for a visa.

That directly impacted a number of festivals this summer – and it will continue to do so if we do not react to this nonsense that is making the UK close its doors to diversity.

 


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Clementine Bunel exits ATC to join Coda

Clementine Bunel, the agent who has helped shape the live careers of artists including Stromae, Benjamin Clementine, Ibibio Sound Machine, Songhoy Blues and Parcels, has departed ATC Live to take up a new role at Coda Agency.

Bunel started her new job last week and IQ understands that she is taking a number of acts on her roster to Coda. Prior to joining ATC in 2015, Bunel ran her own successful agency, 2 For the Road Events Ltd, which combined a booking agency, promoter and creative production team.

Coda partner Rob Challice says, “We’re very excited to have Clementine join Coda; she is very well respected across the business and brings something extra to our team.”

“I look forward to being part of such a forward thinking company”

ATC Live’s Alex Bruford comments, “Clementine is a fantastic agent and we wish her the best of luck with the next chapter of her career.”

For her part, Bunel tells IQ, “I enjoyed a fantastic two and a half years being part of ATC and working with inspirational people such as Alex Bruford and my colleague Cecile Communal. I made many lifelong friends when I was at ATC and I will miss seeing them on a daily basis.”

She adds: “I’m very excited to work with the likes of Natasha Bent, Rob Challice, Tom Schroeder and Alex Hardee and all the other amazing agents around the world at Coda and Paradigm and I look forward to being part of such a forward-thinking company and using their resources to enhance the services I can offer to my artist clients.”

 


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