“Can't believe it's my grandmother's funeral in a few hours and I don't have the right to be there,” read a Dec. 9, 2016, post on musician Sabrina Petrini's Facebook wall. “This is the most sickening feeling in my life.”
Petrini, who headlines the Viper Room on Feb. 25, is a green card–holding permanent resident of the United States. Despite her legal permanent-resident status, the Swedish emigre is subject to a number of travel restrictions and red tape that prevented her from briefly returning to her hometown of Helsingborg to bid adieu to her ailing nana.
Over the past year, immigration has stepped into the forefront of the national dialogue. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump scapegoated Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and accused them of bringing drugs and crime into the United States. Then, last month's Executive Order 13769, aka the Trump travel ban, prohibited immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States (though courts later suspended the ban). But long before our current president, and even though she's from a country nowhere near those targeted by Trump's executive order, Petrini had personally navigated the bureaucratic labyrinth that is the U.S. immigration system.
After moving from Helsingborg to England in 2007, where she earned a degree in vocals from the London Center of Contemporary Music, Petrini succumbed to wanderlust. This time, she placed her next destination into the invisible hands of fate, and the internet.
“I was basically bored with London already,” Petrini explains in her subtle Scandinavian accent, during a telephone interview she squeezes in while commuting between gigs. “I was like, the first school that comes up on Google, I’m gonna transfer to that school. It didn’t matter where in the world. The school that came up was [the Musicians Institute] in Hollywood.”
In addition to earning another degree in vocal performance from MI, Petrini qualified for tourist, student, working and artist visas before obtaining her green card back in December. Even coming from a European country, the process was still long and intricate.
“I’m telling you, it's not easy,” Petrini says. “They do a really proper background check. For the artist visa, it takes a year to prepare, same with the green card. The hardest thing for the green card is, there are a bunch of steps. It's not like you send it in and get approved. You have an approval saying you are allowed to apply. After that, there is a waiting period to get your biometric. After that, there’s a waiting period to get your temporary card. After that, you can wait for months before you get your actual card. It takes a long time.”
Even with a valid green card, Petrini is subject to travel restrictions. When she found out her grandmother was in failing health, she applied for permission to visit her. As with every other aspect of the U.S. immigration system, this process was lengthy.
“While I was waiting, [my grandmother] died,” Petrini says. “I got [permission] the week after she died.”
Despite the heartbreak of the situation, Petrini chooses to be optimistic.
“I was very uninspired for a very long time. It took me a while to understand it. And I do understand it. This country is huge. There are so many people applying every day. The world is constantly learning and moving forward. I’m at peace with it, but I hope that one day this can go on faster, so no one has to go through what I went through.”
The Swedish chanteuse sublimated her pain into her art, posting a video on her YouTube channel showing her recording “Remember,” a song dedicated to her grandmother. While cathartic, don't expect this song to performed at this month's Viper Room show.
“You won’t be hearing 'Remember' at shows anytime soon. It's a ballad, and I don’t perform ballads live at the moment because my shows are more about high energy and dancing.”
At the Viper Room, audiences can expect Petrini's trademark fusion of EDM, hip-hop and pop, as well as performances by Hona Costello, Snubbi J, Akkira and DJ Dechard. “It's not just about me, it's all of us throwing a great party,” she says.
LGBT fans may recognize Dechard from his collaboration with Petrini on her track “Fade Away,” which was featured in the film Love Is All You Need? The internationally acclaimed film chronicles a dystopia where a heterosexual minority is persecuted by a gay ruling class. Although Petrini shies away from traditional sexual-orientation labels, she has been an active member of L.A.'s queer nightlife over the past decade and was a vocal proponent of the 2008 NOH8 marriage equality campaign. Petrini's social activism and trademark hopefulness extend into her expectations for Los Angeles to stand against the xenophobic policies of the Trump regime.
“I’m so optimistic about L.A., because I feel the culture is different here. I’ve been on tour, I drove all the way to North Dakota, and I’ve seen the different cities and how different the cultures are everywhere. I’m not really terrified. But I think we have a responsibility, because L.A. is very loud. We have a responsibility to keep being loud, and inspire small cities.”
Sabrina Petrini plays the Viper Room on Saturday, Feb. 25. More info.