Visa delays cause cancelation of performance series by Aar Maanta and The Urban Nomads

Mankato Times

MANKATO, MINN. – A Minnesota consortium of performing arts presenters and universities led by The Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis announced today the cancellation, due to visa delays, of a month-long Minnesota residency featuring a Somali musician and his band. London-based Somali artist Aar Maanta and his band, The Urban Nomads, were to be hosted by the Minnesota State University, Mankato Department of Music Performance Series in Mankato, The Cedar Cultural Center and Augsburg University in Minneapolis, and Paramount Center for the Arts and St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud as part of Midnimo (the Somali word for “unity”). This is a program launched in 2014 that presents the world’s leading Somali artists in residencies and events that increase understanding of Somali culture through music. 

As of October 4, Aar Maanta, the band’s leader and the only Somali and Muslim in the band, has yet to receive his visa, even though the group was scheduled to begin their residency on October 1 in Mankato. While the Consulate granted visas to the other four band members, Aar Maanta was the only member placed under “Additional Administrative Processing.” 

“It was extremely disappointing for my band and me to lose weeks of work that we meticulously planned for months,” Aar Maanta said. “It was shocking to be singled out and discriminated against by the Consulate, regardless of my influential work, clean record, integrity and good will missions with international bodies like the United Nations. It was heart-breaking to know that such systematic discriminatory rules like ‘the Muslim ban’ are put into practice in this day and age and are affecting not only me but people in far more vulnerable situations.”

“There are around 40 cases on the administrative processing list and since December 2015 only a few cases on this list have been processed,” says Aar Maanta.

The Cedar Cultural Center has hosted Aar Maanta twice before with great success. His first residency in 2012 was groundbreaking for the Minneapolis artistic and Somali communities, many of whom were connecting with live Somali music for the first time in decades, or in their lives. Aar Maanta’s second residency in 2015 lasted two weeks and included workshops with youth, classroom visits, and pop-up concerts throughout the community. The sold-out finale performance drew a diverse audience of over 700 people, 60 percent of whom were Somali. People of all ages and cultures danced side-by-side.

Cedar Program Manager Fadumo Ibrahim oversees the visa process for all Midnimo artists. Ibrahim noted that securing visas has become increasingly difficult over the past year since the travel bans have been put into effect. Aar Maanta’s visa delay was especially surprising given his work with The Cedar in the past.  

“This case is a concrete example of how travel restrictions and the travel ban limit artistic voices and freedom,” says Ibrahim. “While it’s obviously important for the artists, it’s equally important for the community who had been anticipating this residency. Aar Maanta’s visit to Minnesota would have brought hope and positivity to the Somali and larger communities here at a time when we all really need it.”  

In 2016, the Midnimo program expanded to Mankato and St. Cloud, areas where the Somali population has grown quickly, prompting a need to build cultural understanding in the communities. The 2017 residency would have been the first time Aar Maanta visited Greater Minnesota. For many, the residency was highly anticipated as an opportunity to build unity while giving Somali and non-Somali audiences a chance to engage with each other alongside one of the most famous artists in the Somali diaspora.

Minnesota State Mankato Midnimo Project Director Dale Haefner stated, “During this time of worldwide turmoil, I feel something is lost if we are not linking to and sharing with other world cultures. Music has become increasingly global. Limiting certain artists’ entry into the United States impacts artistic cultural exchange as artists with particular entry stamps on their passports now have to worry about their freedom of movement. Discriminating against an individual due to ethnicity or religion is unconscionable.” 

Dr. Jameel Haque, a Faculty Member at Minnesota State Mankato, had planned to host the group in his History of Judaism, Christianity and Islam class. He and the students spent two weeks researching, discussing and preparing for Aar Maanta’s visit. Dr. Haque said, “The lost opportunity to attend the events scheduled for this week, community events which provide a rare and desperately needed space for cross-cultural interaction in rural Minnesota, is a loss that will have deep consequences for the future of my students and our community. At the heart of it, the students and community members do not even understand why he isn’t coming…nor do I.”

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