A London-based Somali singer was forced to cancel his much-awaited trip to Minneapolis last month after his visa approval was delayed.
The singer, Aar Maanta, and his band were scheduled to lead a concert and two community programs at this year’s Global Roots Festival at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis in mid-September. However, the band canceled after four of his band members’ visas were approved but Maanta’s was delayed.
Maanta is the only member of his band who is a Muslim and a Somali, but is also a British citizen.
“I was shocked, frustrated and disappointed,” Maanta said, but added that this might be “a blessing in disguise” because “it will give us a chance to regroup and plan a longer U.S. tour.”
Maanta said he submitted his visa application June 28 and the Department of Homeland Security gave its approval Aug. 11. But his final visa still wasn’t approved in time for the flight Sept. 19.
Visa delays and denials have become more common in the aftermath of 9/11, particularly for Muslims.
“My understanding is that (the delay) was for administrative processing, which likely means a background name check,” says Laura Danielson, with the Immigration Department at Fredrikson and Byron law firm who was not involved in the case. “He is the only one in the group with a Muslim name, which is more likely to trigger a hit in the government database.”
Maanta is a popular singer among the United Kingdom’s large Somali community. He has lived in the country for more than 20 years.
“We were really excited to have Aar Maanta be the centerpiece of this year’s Global Roots Festival,” said Robert Simonds, the executive director of the Cedar Cultural Center. “He was scheduled to headline the final show of the festival.”
Simonds said the Cedar wanted to do more outreach to the Somali community in Minnesota, and he has been looking for a Somali artist who would appeal to youth and older generations. Maanta sings about political issues in Somalia, along with universal issues, such as love.
“He is somebody we think conveys a really positive message in his music,” Simonds said. “He is a great role model. He is someone who has taken his Somali heritage and brought it in the greater community, and we were really excited to have him.”
Minnesota’s Somali community has been at the center of federal investigations into the travels and recruitment of several young men who are believed to have joined the terrorist organization al-Shabaab.
“One of the most effective ways to fight extremism, especially reaching American youth, is to show them positive role models like Aar Maanta,” Simonds said.
Maanta has no criminal record and has never been in trouble with the authorities, he said. However, he said he thinks that “my middle name – Mohamed – and the profiling of Muslims and Somalis in particular has something to do with my visa denial.”
The singer said he is no stranger to additional security screening.
“What doesn’t make sense is when I am traveling with my band and they separate me from them, questioning me,” Maanta said. “The same thing happened with the visa application.”
On a trip to Minnesota in December 2009, he said he was kept at an airport in Houston for “at least four hours, where they did a background check on me.” As a result, Maanta said he missed his flight to Minneapolis and the airline lost his luggage.
On his way to Minneapolis, he met a young musician from Minneapolis who warned him about the harsh winter in Minnesota, and as gesture of goodwill, gave him a pair of ear muffs.
“I found American people very kind and friendly,” he said.
“Sorry, Minneapolis, for not being able to perform for you,” Maanta said. “God willing, I’ll see you next year for a longer U.S. tour.”
Mukhtar Ibrahim is a freelance journalist in the Twin Cities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @mukhtaryare.