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There Are ‘No Borders to Music,’ But the U.S. Consulate Still Rejected These Indonesian Choir Members’ Visas

The Vox Angelica choir performing at an international competition. Screenshot from YouTube video.

Three Indonesian choirs were set to compete in the Sing ‘n’ Joy choral competition in Princeton, New Jersey, last month, but two of the choirs never made it to the Garden State, because the U.S. consulate in Jakarta rejected the visa applications of dozens of their members.

The two choirs were Vox Angelica from Manado, North Sulawesi, and El-Shaddai from North Sumatra.

The groups and even some jurors at the competition have voiced concerns that this is a consequence of the Trump Administration's crackdown on visitors from Muslim-majority countries. To complicate matters further, Indonesia is the largest Muslim-dominated country in the world, although it is not one of the countries President Trump has targeted in his controversial executive orders on refugees and immigration.

After hearing about the visa denial of the two Indonesian choirs, the jurors of the competition posted a heartfelt video expressing their regrets, while asserting that “there are no borders to music”.

Due to unforeseen circumstances with the recent U.S. policies, the choir, El Shaddai and Vox Angelica were not able to travel to our festival. And we are saddened by this. But… regardless of the “borders” instilled by politics, there are no borders to music, no borders to unity through artistry, no borders from humanity that thrives from singing of the heart. Music brings our humaneness together, and we invite you to be a part of it.

Through their social media pages, the El-Shaddai choir actually explained its failure to attend the music festival in Princeton:

Saudara/sahabat/kolega/rekan paduan saudara terkasih sekalian,
bersama ini kami Paduan Suara El-Shaddai ingin menyampaikan PERMOHONAN MAAF kami, berhubung kami batal berangkat ke Princeton-New Jersey, USA utk berkompetisi disana, diakibatkan ditolaknya permohonan visa kami oleh Kedubes USA di Jakarta. […]

Kami sudah mempersiapkan segala sesuatunya, dan sudah melakukan semuanya dengan semaksimal mungkin, bahkan usaha pengurusan/permohonan sudah kami lakukan sebanyak 2 (dua) kali. […]

kami meyakini hal ini juga diperkuat dengan kebijakan politik pemerintah AS yang ada saat ini, dimana dilakukan pengawasan yang lebih (sangat) ketat untuk pendatang ke negara tersebut. Saat ini kami masih berada di Jakarta untuk bersiap kembali ke Medan, dan kami juga langsung akan bersiap diri untuk kompetisi internasional lainnya dalam waktu dekat ini, semoga kami dapat mengambil hikmah dari apa yg baru terjadi, mohon doanya.[..]

TERIMAKASIH yang sebesarnya atas dukungan dan kepercayaannya kepada kami selama ini

Dear friends, families, colleagues, El-Shaddai choir would like to extend its apologies for our failure to compete in Princeton-New Jersey, USA, due to visa refusal by the US Embassy in Jakarta.
We've prepared all the requirements and applied for visa twice.
We also believe that this happened because of the stricter US policy to visitors. We're now in Jakarta, getting ready to return to Medan, and will be preparing for other international competition. We hope to learn from this incident, please keep us in your prayers.
Thank you for your trust and support throughout this ordeal.

(1/2) MAAF & TERIMAKASIH Salam sejahtera bagi kita semua. Saudara/sahabat/kolega/rekan paduan saudara terkasih sekalian, bersama ini kami Paduan Suara El-Shaddai ingin menyampaikan PERMOHONAN MAAF kami, berhubung kami batal berangkat ke Princeton-New Jersey, USA utk berkompetisi disana, diakibatkan ditolaknya permohonan visa kami oleh Kedubes USA di Jakarta. Maaf, karena hal ini tentu saja bukan hanya mengecewakan kami, tetapi juga saudara/sahabat/rekan paduan suara/keluarga yang telah mendukung dan mendoakan kami selama ini. Kami sudah mempersiapkan segala sesuatunya, dan sudah melakukan semuanya dengan semaksimal mungkin, bahkan usaha pengurusan/permohonan sudah kami lakukan sebanyak 2 (dua) kali), dengan dukungan dari pihak2 yang sudah sangat berkompeten dinegeri ini menurut kami, namun hasilnya tetap sama, ditolak, dengan catatan penolakan "tidak adanya keterikatan yang kuat dengan negara asal". Hal ini ditambah lagi dgn case record bahwa sudah sering terjadi tim/rombongan (tidak hanya paduan suara) dari Indonesia yang berangkat ke negara Paman Sam tsb, tidak menjaga komitmen kembali ke negara kita ini sesuai waktunya, bahkan ada yang belum kembali sampai sekarang, yang mana hal ini menjadi catatan negatif bagi kepercayaan pihak pemerintah AS/Kedubes utk tidak mudah memberikan visa, terlebih bagi yang pertama kali akan berkunjung, dan kami meyakini hal ini juga diperkuat dengan kebijakan politik pemerintah AS yang ada saat ini, dimana dilakukan pengawasan yang lebih (sangat) ketat untuk pendatang ke negara tersebut. Saat ini kami masih berada di Jakarta untuk bersiap kembali ke Medan, dan kami juga langsung akan bersiap diri untuk kompetisi internasional lainnya dalam waktu dekat ini, semoga kami dapat mengambil hikmah dari apa yg baru terjadi, mohon doanya.

A post shared by Paduan Suara El-Shaddai USU (@paduansuaraels) on

Global Voices spoke to Edward Palit, Vox Angelica's executive director and spokesman, who described what it was like for the choir members to learn that their visas had been rejected:

We are a mix choir group consisting of 41 persons (including manager and conductor). We had to fly to Surabaya from Manado to appear for an interview at the US Consulate in Surabaya. Dozens of our members were denied a visa, including our choir conductor. Our young members said that their visas were denied because they've never traveled abroad before, but our senior conductor who constantly traveled with the choir abroad was also denied entry to the US for a bizarre reason, because he and his wife (who is also one of our singers) are new parents.

Palit added that the visa application process was difficult and disappointing:

We've been training diligently since we received the invitation to compete (in Princeton). Moreover, the Surabaya trip was a big deal for our choir because we don't have regular sponsors. We are surely disappointed about not being able to showcase our hard work but we're looking ahead to other events in the province, including our own concert and workshop to celebrate the choir's anniversary.

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