The Culture Joint

Afrobeats under attack as UK Home Office denies visas to African stars

Wizkid photographed on Oct. 5, 2021, at Poppy in Los Angeles for Billboard. Flo Ngala

THE HOME Office has denied dozens of Afrobeats stars visas to perform in Britain.

Artists and producers warn the hostile environment against the world’s fastest-growing music genre risks top names boycotting the UK.

An investigation by The Voice found that Suella Braverman’s department stopped at least 20 artists from entering the UK to perform at Afrobeat festivals.

Music insiders say West African artists are treated with more suspicion despite being part of a multi-million dollar industry, and when visas are granted to stars, their dancers have been turned down.

Afrobeat stars fume that Britain is the hardest embassy in the world to deal with, and they are routinely given short stays of just two weeks which prevents them from making the most of their visit.

Music-lovers say this is the biggest attack on a Black music genre by British authorities since dancehall in the 1990s.

Ghanaian singer Ishmael Nii Arday Ankrah, known as Nii Funny, who had a visa application refused in 2021, told The Voice: “It is not fair for them to treat us that way because the UK is our former enslavers so if we are going there to play a show, I think they have to support us.”

Mr Ankrah’s management team insists they “submitted all the right documents” but Home Office officials turned the application down after questioning why his UK-based sponsor had so much money when they were so young.

The singer was aware of numerous African artists having their visa applications denied but are not willing to publicly speak about it as there is a stigma attached to visa refusals from Britain – which many believe will tarnish their brand and reputation. 

Being refused entry to the UK can also have a negative impact on other overseas trips.

He said he was only given two weeks on his last visa which put limitations on his plans. 

He said: “When I got to the UK, I performed at the Kente Festival and the way the crowd were responding to my songs, I loved it and I feel like I could stay more than the two weeks.

“People have been calling me for shows here and there but my time was limited.”

Mr Ankrah wants artists granted a minimum of three months stay, so they are able to build on the momentum and excitement surrounding African music.  

Christian Borquaye, who manages three prominent African artists and is based in Birmingham, said he personally knows at least 20 artists who have been refused visas and had “their money taken by the Home Office.”

“The criteria that they are giving the artists to come here is quite demanding. An artist who is trying to climb the ladder has to pay visa fees and there is no guarantee is going to get that visa.”

Mr Borquaye, whose showbiz name is Hunta, said he now plans to shoot the majority of his music videos in Ghana instead of the UK.

Emmanuel Boakye Bidewtey, is the CEO of Livenewsgh Creative Hub, and is also an artist and event manager based in Ghana.

He told The Voice Ghanaian artists want to travel to Britain for festivals and concerts but says the British embassy has been dubbed “the most difficult embassy to work with.”

He says he knows of five African artists who have recently had their UK visa applications denied and, since the start of 2023, one artist has been prohibited from travelling to Britain. 

“We had a collaboration with an artist in the UK and there was a show that we really wanted to be on, but the process was like hell.”

Mr Bidewtey, known as Zolla Nie, said three of the recording artists he works with were nominated for awards at the UK Ghana Music Awards last year and wanted to perform and thank their UK fans for nominating them, but their visas were not issued, which left them “devastated”. 

He says it is no secret that “Afrobeats artists go through a lot of stress to acquire a visa to the UK” and believes applications from African artists are treated with more suspicion with their documents double-checked. 

Mr Bidewtey said that “Afrobeats is the music that sells Africa”, which pop stars now freely tap into, but West African artists are losing out financially by not being able to travel to the UK.

Renowned African artists like Burna Boy, Davido, Fuse ODG, Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Stonebwoy, Rema, Asake and Shatta Wale all have a huge international fanbases, appeal and acclaim, which is helping to propel African music genres to the top. 

In the UK, the rise of African music has directly resulted in the launch of the landmark official Afrobeats music chart. 

Each week, the UK’s 20 most popular Afrobeats songs – based on sales and streams across a seven-day period – are compiled by the Official Charts Company (OCC). 

The chart was launched for the first time in 2020, with the first chart being revealed on BBC Radio 1Xtra on 26 July 2020. 

With a buzzing African music scene now on British shores – which has been undoubtedly driven by Britain’s African and Caribbean community – the UK is now being seen as a key market for artists to tap into. 

West African singers say their applications for visas to come to the UK are being unreasonably scrutinised and they are required to submit endless amounts of proof that they are really recording artists – which they say is unfair and discriminatory.

Many are calling for a reform of the current regulations to ensure African singers have the same rights as American and European Union artists to travel and enter Britain to perform at concerts. 

Three-time Grammy-nominated musician Rocky Dawuni called for the easing of regulations once artists can prove they are “credible” and “established in their own country.” 

He said: “They are coming to the UK to play, I think there should be a fast-track of helping these artists to be able to come and do what they do.”  

Speaking to The Voice from Costa Rica ahead of a performance, he said: “Obviously living in Ghana, I’ve had musicians who have tried to travel and some members would get visas and others would be denied.

“It’s a really complicated process and system because every embassy has their rules, regulations and requirements about how artists can get visas and also work permits to be able to perform.”

Mr Dawuni is currently working on a new album and his new single Never Bow Down, which features Jamaican artist Blvk H3ro. 

He told The Voice, he is unsure if there is a “bigger plan to suppress” African music and “keep it at bay” but whatever is driving the difficulties in artists getting to perform abroad is a “misplaced policy.” 

“It is diminishing the music at a time when African music is on the rise, African music is breaking new boundaries and African music is connecting with new audiences.”

Afrobeats and Afro-dancehall artist Article Wan said that while he has never been denied a UK visa many of his musical peers have experienced problems. 

He said: “The artist maybe travelling with five dancers going for a show and most of the time three dancers are going to be given a visa and two are going to be denied.” 

The Accra-based musician says this makes things difficult and “destroys their craft” and creativity. 

Article Wan, real name Bright Homenya, told The Voice he knows of several artists who have had their applications denied, but said many don’t want to make it public for “their brands sake.”  

He said: “The embassy will give you their reasons, which you can’t do anything about. You need to reapply again or wait for some time, and if you have to perform within a particular time you cannot even go, it will stop you.

“Music is broad, people want to travel, go and shoot music videos, and go and link up with other artists and promoters and spread their wings.”

He added that so much money is being wasted on applications which have no chance of being approved. 

Article Wan said he has an assistant to help him with his applications but is aware other Afrobeats artists do not have the same support. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Musicians and performers are a valued and important part of UK culture with the country attracting world class entertainers and musicians from around the globe. 

“This is why we offer a dedicated immigration route for creative workers.

“All visa applications are carefully considered on their individual merits in accordance with the immigration rules. 

“The application process is designed to ensure that all visa decisions can be made using the most accurate information and is fair for all applicants.”

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