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Singers suffer US visa blues

Bengali band Lakkhichhara and singers Rupankar and Shampa Kundu have been denied the P-3 visa issued to artistes and entertainers to perform at cultural events in the US. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services denied the visas on the ground that their music was “not culturally unique” and used “western principles of music”.

The rejection has left the artistes peeved — and poorer — this Puja. While Rupankar and Shampa were denied visas because of doubts over their “authenticity” as Bengali singers, Lakkhichhara was turned down because of the band’s goals, which the members had described as “becoming world famous rockers” and “influenced by Santana, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple”.

“They said having a keyboardist and drummer in the band disqualified us as musicians who ‘possess culturally unique skills’,” said Debaditya, the keyboardist of the band that has given hit numbers like Care kori na and Jibon chaichhe aro beshi.

For Rupankar, who has performed in the US over the past seven years, this was the second rejection within months. “They refused me a visa during the Banga Sammelan in July but I let it pass. And now it’s happened again,” said Rupankar. “They claimed that I don’t represent Indian culture and my music isn’t authentic. In that case, why did they allow me earlier?” he fumed.

Shampa said: “I’ve been performing in the US since 1998. All of a sudden they wanted proof of my authenticity as a singer of modern Bengali songs. They wanted a letter from an expert along with his/her bio-data. It’s funny that my team, which includes a guitarist, hasn’t faced this problem,” said Shampa.

Classical exponent Ajoy Chakraborty wrote a letter of recommendation citing Shampa’s credentials as a Bengali singer, but even that didn’t help.

The rejection has cost the singers and band a string of shows during the Puja season. Lakkhichhara said they had cancelled more than 16 shows while Rupankar said he let go of offers from Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

“I’ll be in Calcutta during Puja but I won’t do any shows. Lack of shows is easier to deal with than this insult,” he said.

“Heart-broken” members of Lakkhichhara have also decided not to perform during Puja. “How can they judge sitting in America whether our music is culturally unique. We’re not terrorists!” Debaditya exclaimed.

Shampa said she had planned claiming compensation from the US organisers for such unexpected news at the last minute. “I lost out on 25 shows in Calcutta, Delhi and Bhilai. I’d like to write to them but am too disturbed to get into further hassles,” she said.

No one at the US visa office in the city was available for comment.

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