The winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, Austria’s Conchita Wurst, has cancelled her appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival because the band with whom she was due to perform were denied visas.
Conchita Wurst was due to sing with the band Basalt, a trio of Syrian musicians based in Vienna, where Conchita is herself based. The three members, Amjad Khaboura, Noor Eli Khoury and Almonther Alshoufi have all been resident in Austria for at least two years. All three members have been banned from entering the UK, prompting Conchita’s cancellation of her appearance in Scotland.
The group were supposed to be performing at the opening concert in the New European Song book series on Friday, with Conchita providing the accompanying vocals.
The Edinburgh International Festival is intended to highlight the importance of of immigration in enriching European culture, and the New European Songbook is a series of concerts focused on collaborations between “established European artists like Conchita Wurst and artists who have recently arrived in the continent”.
So why the row?
Although the Edinburgh International Festival is a “permit free festival”, officials said they have no jurisdiction over the British visa process and are not an immigration authority. A permit free festival means “performers and their legitimate entourages do not need to obtain work permits to appear and perform in the UK”.
A source close to Conchita told press:
This project is about co-operation, about people who start new lives in a new country. If Basalt cannot be there it would feel completely absurd for Conchita to fly without them.
The Edinburgh International Festival has said:
Performers and entourages at permit-free festivals enter the UK as a visitor (standard) and do not need to apply for entry under the Points Based System or as a Permitted Paid Engagements visitor.
However, they may still need to apply for a visa in advance and the requirements depend on the country from which they are travelling from.
Please note that legitimate entourage may include directors, producers, technicians, stage managers, creative team, publicists and anyone involved directly with a specific production that has been registered with the Fringe Society.
An official from the British Home Office released the following statement when questioned with why the three musicians have been barred from entering the UK:
We do not routinely comment on individual cases. All visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with the immigration rules.
Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 with her song Rise like a phoenix.