Of Travel Bans And Global Bands: Required Reading

Kinan Azmeh

Kinan Azmeh

Steve Dollar, a colleague of mine in the Wall Street Journal’s pages and one of the strongest writers I had the pleasure of directing during my editing days, has written an important piece for NewMusicBox.

World Music in the Era of Travel Bans” considers the Trump administration’s pending travel bans, and its subtext of nationalism and xenophobia as applied to U.S. policy, in the context of both that outdated (was it ever useful?) term “world music” and the global reality of artistic endeavor and presentation.

It’s a must-read piece.

As Dollar writes of Trump’s executive order and its implications:

…The situation is an active threat to the ability of global music artists to tour the United States— something that is often already complicated—and arrives, paradoxically, at a time when audiences are more easily immersed in international sounds than ever before. It seems like an opportune moment to consider the meaning and relevance of what has been called “world music,” as a global refugee crisis and a rise in nationalistic fervor in Europe, Russia, and the United States newly threatens open cultural exchange.

In the article, Steve MacQueen, artistic director of the Flynn Center for Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont, gives an articulate account of one dimension of fallout from Trump’s policies (which, for me, recall the chill created by Bush administration policies after 9/11, but yet without clear cause and cloaked in far more dangeous rhetoric):

“It’s going to hurt Americans more than it hurts other cultures,” he says. MacQueen believes the ban will even discourage artists who aren’t targeted. “Let’s say you’re Algerian. You’ll do Europe now. Go to China. There’s lots of other frontiers. It kills me to see us abdicate our position. Since World War II, the place everybody wants to play is the U.S. It’s the birthplace of all this stuff. It’s where Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley were born. But now that seems like it’s over to me. This kind of stuff marginalizes us to the rest of the world. Why go someplace where you’re not welcome? Why go someplace where you’re going to get hassled? You don’t.”

And a quote from Syrian-born clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, a longtime New York City resident, green card holder and member of Yo-Yo Ma’s polyglot Silk Road Ensemble, hits hard, too:

“I don’t think you can burden the actual art-making with lots of political slogans,” Azmeh says. “It’s not like I want to play with XYZ person because I want to cross barriers. I think, ‘There is another person, who can play beautifully, and I’d like to play with that person.’ Of course, it takes a more important role when the surrounding context suggests the opposite. It’s interesting that sometimes we have to repeat phrases that should be the standard practice. This is when you have to make your message a bit louder, and hope that it’s contagious.”

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