Arts, Culture & Media

Contrabanned: #MusicUnites — a SXSW music showcase highlighting artists from banned nations

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Not long after President George W. Bush labeled Iran, Iraq and North Korea an "axis of evil" in 2002, I was at South by Southwest with a friend, Matthew Covey.

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Matthew is a lawyer. His firm Tamizdat provides a number of services, but one of them is helping musicians and artists from overseas obtain visas when they want to come to the US to perform or conduct other work.

Matthew and I were eating barbecue at Stubb's in Austin, and talking about the showcases we were seeing, and the need for more international artists at SXSW. At some point, we started musing about a showcase featuring artists from the countries in the axis of evil. It would be the Axis of Evil Showcase. Even had a kind of punk rock ring to it.

It was kind of a crazy idea, mostly because of North Korea. There's no problem finding artists from Iran or Iraq, but North Korea was and still is, a black box, especially in terms of the kind of music that might entertain a room in Austin, Texas.
 
Anyway, The World launched some very successful showcases at SXSW, including one with 127, the first band from post-revolutionary Iran to perform in the US.
 
Fast-forward nearly a decade and a half to 2017. Donald Trump is president. And on Jan. 27, he signed an executive order banning entry to the US for 90 days to the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — and banning entry to Syrian refugees indefinitely. After a court blocked that order, a new one was introduced in March, targeting immigrants from those same countries minus Iraq.

A week after the first order came down, I got a call from Matthew: What did I think of the idea of a showcase at SXSW of artists from those countries? And so, along with a group of partners who'd worked together in the past, ContraBanned: #MusicUnites was born.

One of the groups announced on the bill for Contrabanned is Faarrow.

Faarrow is a duo: two sisters from Mogadishu, who fled war there with their parents.

Settled first in Toronto, Faarrow is now making music in Los Angeles. Somalia is one of the countries affected by President Trump's immigration ban. The uncertainty about it is still keeping a lot of Somalis from coming to the US.

Including artists.

And that could be happening for a long time under Trump.

The showcase is really meant to remind us what's at stake when you can't see and hear musicians from these countries here in America.

So, if you're in Austin on Friday, March 17, stop by the Palm Door on Sixth for the Contrabanned: #MusicUnites showcase. Here's their Kickstarter.

Steven Davy contributed to this story.