Posts Tagged ‘Skirball Cultural Center’

What It Takes To Be Culturally Unique

May 25, 2012

This article was first published as “The little klezmer band that changed the way the US issues visas” in The Times of Israel.

Orquestra Kef, the Buenos Aires-based klezmer fusion band

PALO ALTO, California — A US immigration agency has expanded its determining criteria for giving visas to visiting artists, after the rejection of a Latin-klezmer fusion band from Argentina brought to light the office’s narrow definition of the term “culturally unique.”

With the decision, the agency has belatedly admitted that in our globalized world, “culturally unique” art is just as likely to be of a fusion or hybrid genre as it is to be a purely traditional one, opening America’s gates to a number of musicians who don’t strictly stick to the sheet music of their forefathers.

On May 15, US Citizenship and Immigration Services’s Administrative Appeals Office issued a binding precedent decision addressing the term “culturally unique” and its significance in the adjudication of petitions for performing artists and entertainers, all due to a little-known klezmer band out of Buenos Aires.

It is not unusual for cultural organizations in the United States, like Los Angeles’s Skirball Cultural Center, to run into difficulty in bringing foreign performers into the country. They are at the mercy of the USCIS, which determines whether artists meet the criteria for receiving a P-3 nonimmigrant visa, which allows “culturally unique” groups or individuals to enter the country to perform, teach, or coach temporarily.

Although it had not traditionally had too much trouble in procuring such visas for its visiting acts, the Skirball Cultural Center did encounter a serious glitch in November 2009. That’s when the director of USCIS’s California Service Center denied Orquestra Kef, a Buenos Aires-based klezmer fusion band a visa to come headline the center’s big Latin-flavored “Fiesta Hanukkah” program. The agency claimed that the group’s music, which fuses klezmer with tango and other Argentinean sounds, was not traditional enough to be “culturally unique.”

Click here to read more and watch a video of Orquestra Kef playing their music.

©2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Hanukkah, Oy Hanukkah

December 10, 2009

Does this children's choir (at Manhattan's Park East Synagogue) look familiar?

When it comes to the entertainment for your upcoming Hanukkah party, you may want to think about relying on the fallback, tried-and-true option of the local day school or synagogue kids’ choir.

It was reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that Los Angeles’ Skirball Cultural Center was unable to bring Argentina’s Orquestra Kef to perform at its Latin-themed “Fiesta Hanukkah.” The members of Orquestra Kef (I am guessing their name is a combination of “orchestra” and the Hebrew word for “fun”), were denied entry to the US because their blend of Klezmer and traditional Jewish music with Latin beats was, apparently, not “culturally unique” enough to meet the criteria for a P-3 (visiting artist) visa. It seems our government thinks that fusion music is not sufficiently representative of a culture that can be linked to a single, specific country, tribe or ethnic group.

Orquestra Kef’s situation is, unfortunately, quite common. For more on this craziness, which ends up costing not-for-profit host organizations thousands of dollars in legal fees, or the American art loving public the opportunity to directly enjoy the work of many international performers, read the WSJ article, “Send Us Your Tired, Your Poor, But Only If They Are ‘Culturally Unique'” at

Here’s a taste of what attendees of Skirball’s “Fiesta Hanukkah” will be missing:

© 2009 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.