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25 juillet 2008

Womad acts fail to get UK visas

The cancellation of three acts who failed to obtain UK visas will not spoil this weekend's Womad Festival, organisers have said.

Congolese band Kasai Allstars, India's The Dhoad Gypsies and Pakistani Asif Ali Khan will not now perform at the UK's biggest world-music event.

They failed to meet entry rules despite being exempt from needing work permits.

More than 70 acts from 35 countries are performing across four days at Charlton Park in Wiltshire.

A Womad spokesman said another two acts - singer and saxophonist Seun Kuti and his band Egypt 80, and Malian guitar group TeraKraft - were also in doubt because of "visa issues".

"It's a problem that we always have at Womad as you do at any big festival with so many artists on the bill," he told the BBC News website.

"With Womad, [it is] even more so, because the artists are so much more diverse and from little countries that don't necessarily deal with visas as much as other places."

He said such restrictions had been tightened in recent years.

The spokesman said all the missing acts had been replaced on the bill and insisted the forced cancellations would not spoil the enjoyment of festival-goers.

Speaking on Friday morning, he said: "I think generally about 60% of the people arrive on the Thursday so it's buzzing already and the atmosphere's phenomenal already. Every artist that you can think of is performing at Womad - and a lot you could never think of."

The Home Office said acts at major UK festivals, including Womad, were already exempt from having to apply for work permits.

"However, performers still need to meet our entry requirements, applying for a visa where necessary, and where they do not, applications to enter the UK will be refused," a spokesman said.

The government recently announced that, in future, performers coming to the UK for permit-free concerts and festivals would be assessed under a new "visitor visa" category with different entry requirements.

This was "to ensure entertainers continue to contribute to British cultural life", the spokesman said.

The festival began on Thursday night with dub and reggae from artists including Lee "Scratch" Perry and Adrian Sherwood.

Friday sees an Irish ceilidh night with artists such as Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan, while on Saturday brings a celebration of Sufi - hypnotic vocal music found throughout the Muslim world.

Highlights of Sunday include a gala performance featuring Malian musician Bassekou Kouyate - whose band Ngoni Ba took home two prizes at this year's BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music - and a number of other guest artists.

Kouyate plays the ngoni, a lute-like instrument from West Africa.

Other artists appearing at the festival include Eddy Grant and The Frontline Orchestra, drum 'n' bass veteran Roni Size and Brit Award-winner Finlay Quaye.

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