SXSW: Artists claim racial abuse and 'profiling' at US airports as they are blocked from attending festival

Several acts have been turned away by US border officials amid confusion over travel documents

Roisin O'Connor
Music Correspondent
Friday 17 March 2017 09:24 GMT
British jazz group United Vibrations
British jazz group United Vibrations

Acts trying to attend SXSW Festival are still being turned away at the border, with some claiming that the behaviour of border officials amounts to racial profiling.

Several acts have been unable to play at the event, with border agents turning them away in apparent confusion at what visas are required for performers.

Some acts go to SXSW on standard tourist entry documents (B-1 visas) which don't allow visitors to work while they are in the country.

Artists attending the festival have previously got around this because they play for free at the showcases - this year some artists have been denied entrance on B-1s.

A statement issued to Billboard by custom officials said: "If an individual is a member of an internationally recognised entertainment group, they must apply for and be granted a P-1 visa."

As well as issues with travel documents there have also been accusations of racial profiling and abuse of artists and their teams by US border officials.

Korean rapper Don Malik was reportedly turned away after being called "chink" at San Francisco International airport where he landed with his team for a layover.

The CEO of his label, Daze Alive, said in a statement posted on Tumblr on 15 March that the rapper and members of his crew were allegedly racially abused with slurs and gestures while they were detained for 24 hours.

The statement was translated to English by Instagram user HiphopKR, NextShark reports.

"We have unfortunate news for you by which we were taken aback," the post read. "Don Malik who was invited to the worldwide festival SXSW in Austin, Texas, was treated wrongfully and denied entry to the US, so his showcase on 17 March at 9pm local time at the Karma Lounge has been cancelled.

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"On 12 March, Don Malik departed from Incheon Airport together with staff members of his agency StoneShip and fellow artists. At their stopover in San Francisco International Aiport they were stopped by customs, denied entry and sent back to Incheon."

Other artists denied entry include Soviet Soviet, United Vibrations, Massive Scar Era and ELOQ, Pitchfork reports.

British jazz group United Vibrations announced on 13 March that their Estas had been revoked and they would not be able to perform their scheduled showcase.

“We are sad to announce that we will not be performing at SXSW in Texas because our Estas have been revoked under the new executive order,” they wrote on Facebook.

“Why weren't we let in? Our names? The music? The colour of our skin?”

The band later clarified that the new order had not come into affect when their Estas were removed and instead said that it was “censorship” and “profiling”.

Egyptian-Canadian post-hardcore band Massive Scar Era were turned away from the Canadian US border last week.

Singer Cherine Amr told Billboard that immigration officers told her there were concerns that groups were planning on protesting at the event.

"He told us people are using the festival to protest," she said. "But I told him we are not going there to protest.

"We have no intentions of doing anything illegal or engaging in any political activity. We're just going to promote ourselves, meet labels and bookers and network."

Previously there was controversy around the wording of a clause in the artists' contract which appeared to suggest that SXSW would work with immigration services to report acts if they broke certain rules at the festival.

After artists complained and threatened to pull out, festival organisers promised to change to the wording of its contracts, blaming US President Donald Trump's travel ban for why the clause prompted such a strong reaction this year.

"In the post-Trump era, it looks different than how it was intended," an official statement from SXSW said. "But we've come out strongly against the travel ban, and we've really been going the extra mile to make sure these bands don't get screwed over when they enter the country."

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