Two highly anticipated international performing acts are among the musical casualties of the war on Iraq. Youssou N'Dour, originally scheduled to perform Saturday, April 26, at the Fair Grounds and in a night concert with Crosby, Stills and Nash, called off his largest-ever U.S. tour, citing his opposition to the war. The French Caribbean zouk group Kassav' also cancelled its U.S. tour -- including its scheduled Sunday, May 4, Fair Grounds show -- but has not made public the reasons.
These no-shows join numerous reschedulings and cancellations of arts and music events across the country, as international musicians and other artists call off planned appearances due to problems with the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service, terrorist concerns, or in protest of the war. In Louisiana, festival bookers say they are relieved that there are just a handful of no-shows.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival executive director Quint Davis credits his INS-savvy staff for keeping war-related visa issues at a minimum. "Always it's a special challenge to bring people temporarily into the U.S., and since 9/11 much more so -- and if you don't do your homework, if you don't dot the 'i's' and cross the 't's,' if you don't do it far enough in advance or miss one little thing -- you will have a problem," Davis says. "You have to know what you're doing, and do it properly and have the right amount of lead time. It all takes a lot of work."
Davis adds that a huge contingent from Africa, plus a large shipment of their wares and supplies, have arrived without incident. "This international aspect of the festival is very important to us, and I'm very happy to be able to tell you that (just about) everyone is coming. Youssou and Kassav' -- those are the only two groups not coming." The festival scheduled other performers in their Fair Grounds time slots, and John Hiatt will now be performing the night show with Crosby, Stills and Nash.
N'Dour, a UNICEF ambassador and one of the Jazz Fest's scheduled headliners, called off his 38-city tour in February and posted his reason on his Web site www.youssou.com. "As a matter of conscience I question the United States government's apparent intention to commence war in Iraq and I believe that coming to America at this time would be perceived in many parts of the world -- rightly or wrongly -- as support for this policy," he said. "I thus believe it is inappropriate to perform in the U.S. at this juncture."
Lafayette's Festival International de Louisiane also lost two featured performers due to tour cancellations: Kassav' and the French reggae-funk band Ceux Qui Marchent Debout. "We don't want to speculate as to why they canceled their tours," says festival executive director Dana Canedo. "We just move on to a backup plan." This involved finding replacement acts, including Los Lobos.
Local festival bookers are breathing a sigh of relief that they're not experiencing more massive cancellations. Elsewhere in the country, major events such as the 12-show tour by the Peking Opera of Jilim have been scrapped after the artists were denied visas. Nigeria's King Sunny Ade canceled his U.S. tour out of concern for American hostility toward Muslims, and fears about terrorism played a role in French husband-and-wife opera team Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu canceling their two remaining performances of Faust at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The Hollywood Black Film Festival pushed its event back from March to June in anticipation of travel problems. And the 2003 World of Music Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festival, founded by musician Peter Gabriel and scheduled to take place in Seattle this summer, was called off due to "insurmountable visa issues" brought on by the war, co-founder Thomas Brooman said in a statement.
Among local clubs, Fritzel's Jazz Club on Bourbon Street was perhaps the hardest hit. Fritzel's, which frequently books European musicians, lost two European bands who were supposed to play several times at the recent French Quarter Festival. Ralf Black, who books music acts at the club, said the German band Sun Lane Ltd. and Swedish band The Canal Creepers backed out due to concerns about the war. "I don't know if they wanted to make a political statement or they were just afraid that while the U.S. is at war there are going to be terrorist acts," says Black.
The cancellations -- especially the scuttling of a major touring act like Youssou N'Dour -- mean headaches for concert promoters, club and theater owners, and management agencies. In his statement, N'Dour acknowledged the hardships his tour cancellation will cause to music venues and other businesses, and fans. "I also regret the difficulties this causes those who were to present my concerts in North America and those who were looking forward to seeing me and my band," he said. "This tour was over a year and a half in the planning and was the greatest commitment I had ever made to performing in the U.S. It is my fervent wish to return to the U.S. in better times. But I find it impossible to imagine playing concerts in America when such grave issues are confronting all the peoples of the world."
Overall, international tourism in New Orleans has dropped by 25 percent, according to Convention and Visitors' Bureau spokeswoman Beverly Gianna, though she adds that there's an increase this year in the number of foreign journalists coming to Louisiana to cover this spring's music festivals. "The stats may show that the travel is off, but after these folks go back and report about these events we're hoping it'll bump up international tourism," Gianna says.
Greater New Orleans Hotel-Motel Association president Alfred Groos echoes the sentiment. "International travel has slowed to a trickle; that is clear," he says. "We've got to get that turned around, but we can't do that while there's a war going on." Gianna and Groos both cite an upswing in New Orleans trips by U.S. travelers, especially Southerners. "We're seeing upward trends in regional tourism, there's no question," Gianna says.
Meanwhile, many international artists are insisting that the show go on despite war-related issues. The upcoming House of Blues performance by Nigerian star Lagbaja -- who performs in a mask to sing "on behalf of Africa's faceless masses" -- is expected to proceed as planned, says his manager, Gbola.
"If you go back in history, times of strife have always been a time for music, because people find solace in that -- and it creates avenues for people to be able to reflect all things," Gbola says. "It puts the world in particular context to what they are. We must never forget the healing aspect of music."
- "I question the United States government's apparent intention to commence war in Iraq and I believe that coming to America at this time would be perceived ... as support for this policy," said Youssou N'Dour in February when he cancelled his U.S. tour.