R.I.P. Ken Russell

Accidental Skype Show

DSC06070I hadn't heard of Portugese singer/songwriter Rita Braga before Tristan and Lesley innvited me over to their apartment Saturday night for one of their semi-regular soirees with live music. (The parties were on hiatus while they were living in Berlin the past three months.)

Sadly, Rita never made it to the party because she was deported by an immigration officer at J.F.K., sending her immediately back to Lisbon upon discovering she was here for work and didn't have the proper paperwork lined up. Rita's "work" probably would have netted her around $100 total, or whatever she'd make by passing the hat at various private homes and underground venues.

Through the magic of technology, Tristan was able to Skype in Rita from Lisbon around 10pm, projecting her image high on his living room wall. She seemeed surprisingly upbeat, speaking sheepishly about her experience, seeming to be embarrassed by all the attention. Also on the line was composer Lukas Ligeti, who was far more forthcoming about his experiences with immigration policy - and virulent in his low opinion of U.S. govenment officials - and offered to put Rita in touch with some lawyers who could help her secure an artist visa. For the low, low cost of $3,000.

This isn't the first time U.S. immigration officials have wreaked havoc with foreign performers: readers may remember The Manganiyar Seduction during last year's White Light Festival, which had to be delayed for a week due the difficulty of securing visas for all 37 of the Northern Indian musicians. You would think the folks running the border would have better thnings to do than to keep out a bunch of Sufi musicians, or a sweet, otherwise-innocent songwriter from Portugal. As Lukas put it, "There's a certain arrogance on the part of the government that believes everyone who visits the U.S. will want to stay here permanently. That may have been true 40 years ago, but these days, most Europeans I know have no interest in emmigrating."

Rita ended her transmission with a couple of tunes on the ukulele, including a selection from her recently-released debut LP, "Cherries That Went To the Police." (You just can't make this stuff up.) Even over Skype, her voice was clear and gentle, such that you almost imagine she was in the room with us. Almost.