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Key Ethiopian event in Calgary at risk after prominent musician faces visa delays

When the Calgary Ethiopian Community Association started to plan an event on Sept. 9 to celebrate their 40th anniversary and Ethiopian Day, they knew they wanted to make it big.

So they decided to invite one of Ethiopia’s most popular musicians right now, Dawit Tsige, to perform at the event that evening.

But, with just over a week until his show, Tsige still hasn’t received his visa to come to Canada.

Lulseged Yimam, president of the community association running the event, says he’s concerned.

“It’s been more than five-or-six weeks since we applied, but we [haven’t gotten] an answer. That’s why we’re a bit frustrated right now.,” he said.

Yimam says he helped Tsige apply for the visa in June, with a letter of support from Liberal MP George Chahal.

Now, after months of planning, securing the venue and selling around 1,000 tickets, Yimam says the visa delay means the community’s first big event in years is at risk of being postponed.

Artist cancelled shows in Ethiopia to come to Calgary

Over the phone from Ethiopia, Tsige says he’s also frustrated by the situation.

He says performing in Calgary would be a huge accomplishment, and also an opportunity to bring community members together.

“We cancelled over five-to-six shows [in Ethiopia] because of the upcoming Calgary show,” said Tsige, with the help of a translator.

Headshot of a man
Musician Dawit Tsige says demand for performances in Canada is growing since the release of his latest album, and he knows Canadian fans who don’t often go back home have been waiting for him to come. (Submitted by Dawit Tsige)

Tsige said he’s performed across many parts of the world, including Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and he’s disappointed that he’s facing such barriers to come to Canada.

“I would be very happy if these things are resolved as soon as possible. I would like to perform in Calgary,” said Tsige.

MP Chahal, who provided a letter of support for Tsige’s visa application, declined an interview.

CBC News reached out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, IRCC, but did not receive a response by deadline Thursday.

Event could be delayed

Mahlete Mekonen is a big fan of Tsige. Like many other community members — from young people to seniors — she was very excited to hear he had a show booked in Calgary.

“One of the things I admire about him is his ability to use his platform to unite people. He talks about the struggles and challenges that the country and the people face,” said Mekonen.

“To be in the same space as someone like that, who’s leaving a footprint into the music industry just by connecting people through his music … it was very exciting.”

She says she’s remaining hopeful that it will work out, but she wants to know why IRCC is taking so long to approve the visa.

A man speaks into a microphone on stage while holding a piece of paper.
Lulseged Yimam is the president of the Calgary Ethiopian Community Association. (Calgary Ethiopian Community Association/Facebook)

As for Yimam, he says the association might have to postpone the event to Sept. 23 if Tsige doesn’t receive his visa by the end of the week. Tsige has already agreed on the date, if postponing is necessary.

Yimam says his plan B is to invite other, less popular, artists from the United States to perform at the event instead.

“So many people are very, very excited to come… probably so many people will be disappointed with that,” said Yimam.

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