NewsFocus: Singing A Different Tune

10 Aug

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Malaysia risks losing out on big-name entertainers if officials continue to give in to the whims of minority groups, industry sources tell AUDREY VIJAINDREN

Inul Daratista is yet another big name crossed off as the list of foreign acts skipping our shores grows longer.
Inul Daratista is yet another big name crossed off as the list of foreign acts skipping our shores grows longer.

ELVIS the Pelvis made rock ‘n roll famous because he had the world all shook up. Entertainer Datuk M. Daud Kilau brought it to our dance floor and turned it into a craze.

Yet Indonesian performer Inul Daratista, who gets her audience excited with similar gyrations, had her scheduled concert in Kuala Lumpur cancelled.

The official excuse for scrubbing the concert was because of “security”. But most liberal-minded Malaysians knew that was bull.

It was more due to pressure from the so-called moral guardians of society than pressure from terror groups.

Dangdut queen Inul’s spiralling hip actions became a hot topic last month, when her “drilling” stirred strong emotions among religious bigots and forced City Hall’s hands into cancelling her much anticipated concert.

This came as a shock to organisers IMS Prima, who made sure they adhered to Malaysia’s strict performance guidelines.

“When we got the green light to bring Inul here, we were told that it would be smooth sailing as long as she didn’t have her back to the audience or expose ‘sexy body parts’,” said IMS managing director Nasir Abu Bakar.

“And since she has been performing in Malaysia many times since 2005, we didn’t expect any obstacle.”

But just days before Inul was to take the stage, the organisers were told that the show could not go ahead.

“After signing a contract for RM35,000 with Inul’s management and forking out another RM100,000 for publicity, we were told that it is a ‘no go’.

“Although we got the approval of Agensi Pusat Permohonan Penggambaran Filem dan Persembahan Artis Luar Negara (Puspal) to bring Inul in as a foreign act, the local council and police didn’t think it would be ‘safe’ for the concert to be held.”

Puspal, a committee under the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry, co-ordinates and approves applications for filming and performance by foreign artistes.

“They said foreign artistes such as Inul were able to perform previously because the scenario in the country was different. But what is the difference? It is an entertainment event, not a political protest,” said Nasir.

“Since she last performed here, Inul hasn’t changed. Our authorities have.

“Are they going to ban Avril Lavigne next? Will Shakira’s hip-shaking be a problem one day? Where do you draw the line?”

Nasir said besides targeting a profit, IMS Prima had hoped the concert would foster better ties between Malaysia and Indonesia.

“Our target audience was Indonesian workers in the country. But we were told too many foreigners in one place could pose a security risk.

“But isn’t every event a risk, even football and cricket matches? That’s why we have police personnel at concerts, to maintain security and order.”

Another burning question on his mind was why the ministry could not overrule the local council.

“Puspal didn’t even give Inul a chance to meet them. Instead they listened to a few people and let the local council and police decide on the matter. So what is the purpose of the ministry?

“In Malaysia, each party does as it pleases. There is no standard rule or logical discussion,” said Nasir.

Religious minority groups, he said, would always find something to protest against.

“I understand there will be political parties that are unhappy with certain events. I don’t blame them. That is their view.

“But if government officials are not firm and keep giving in to protesters, demonstrations will soon be the order of the day.”

Nasir feared that news would get around that Malaysia had too much restrictions and red tape for performers.

“We are going to lose out on watching a lot of good acts. Performers would rather fly to Singapore and Bangkok and even Jakarta because there is less hassle.”

Last November, R&B singer Beyonce Knowles bypassed Malaysia and took her act to Jakarta after being told her costumes and dance routines were “too suggestive”.

The organisers, Pineapple Concerts, said although Malaysia had acceptable performance guidelines, its implementation is inconsistent.

“Some entertainers are allowed to perform while others are denied a permit. The final decision is often based on the opinions of a small group of people.

“Such baseless and drastic actions will surely jeopardise our music and tourism industry,” said Pineapple chairman Razlan Ahmad Razali.

He claimed that decision makers were those who sat behind a desk with neither any musical experience or exposure.

“The team that hands out permits should have at least one member who is well versed with the global music scene.

“We are not inviting ‘stripper type’ performers. Singers like Beyonce are fashion icons. They will not strip down to their underwear.”

Razlan said stage rules and instructions to the artistes should be reasonable.

“We were asked to guarantee that Beyonce would adhere to the dress code and stand still while singing. What type of performance would that be?

“In the end, we can only tell the performers what to do, but we can’t guarantee what they might do.

“If they break the rules, what do the authorities expect of us? Should we switch off the power while they are performing? Run up on stage and put a scarf on them? It is so silly.”

However, not everyone in the industry has issues with the guidelines.

Industry veteran Freddy Fernandez said he had not faced any problem with officials.

“The rules for local and foreign acts are the same. If local artistes perform improperly, they would get into trouble, too,” said Fernandez.

“Artistes who are scantily clad and have ‘suggestive’ movements are asked to clean up their act. But local performers know their limits as they know the local culture.”

Fernandez, who has been in the industry for 30 years, said everyone has to deal with the guidelines.

“At one time, authorities frowned upon rock music. I remember a performer’s long hair being cut on live television.

“Today, ‘being too sexy’ is taboo. Rock music is in, but sexy is out. Next year, that might change. Whatever it is, we just have to deal with it.”

Fernandez, who is president of Persatuan Karyawan, said giving in to demonstrators could lead to more protests.

“In the long run, it gives Malaysia a bad rap. It suggests that we don’t have freedom of expression.

“If officials assert themselves, protesters will back off. Was giving in to them the best option? That is left to be questioned.”

City Hall director of licensing Saringat Adnan explains

What is the code of ethics for performers in Kuala Lumpur?

A: There are eight rules for artistes who want to perform here, viz

> No jumping, screaming and throwing items to audiences or vice versa;

> No dance moves or using words that have sexual connotations, including kissing audiences or any similar act.

> Don’t act or say things that are meant to single out any community or religion, which may affect the political stand and stability of the country;

> Don’t perform without clothes or remove clothes, be it shirts or pants;

> Female performers have to cover up from the chest to below the knees. Male artistes have to cover up from chest to knees. They have to look neat and clean throughout the performance.

> Performance has to be clean and should not have vulgar, dirty or crude stories, lyrics and any language against Malaysian values, law and the Rukun Negara;

> Every show or performance has to adhere to the date and place, as stated in the licence;

> Promoters and licence holders have to give priority to the safety of its audience and general surroundings, at all times.

Why was Inul Daratista not allowed to perform last month?

A: City Hall didn’t approve her application for an entertainment licence due to security reasons.

Would other similar protests force City Hall to cancel future concerts?

A: We will take into account the criteria as stated in the approval of the licence. If there is a valid objection and we believe the performance would bring discomfort to the public, we will disallow the performance.

PUSPAL’s DOS AND DON’TS FOR FOREIGN ARTISTES

> Don’t display improper and indecent behaviour.

> Don’t perform in an obscene manner.

> Don’t do or say things that may touch on religious, racial and cultural sensitivities of the communities in Malaysia.

> Dress appropriately accord
ing to the type of performance and congruent with Malaysian culture.

> Don’t join the audiences at any time; performances confined to the stage of the premises.

> Performances that involve the promotion of tobacco products and alcoholic beverages, either directly or indirectly, are not allowed.

Foreign artistes who braved it

> In August last year, Grammy award winner Gwen Stefani (above) performed in Kuala Lumpur after enduring a storm of protests from various religious groups who called for her concert to be cancelled because of her revealing costumes.

> In April this year, Canadian Celine Dion (below right) took her chances by performing at Merdeka Stadium. She came on stage in a glittering short dress and a pair of knee-length black boots.

> Decked in a midriff-baring glittery top, a pair of silvery pants and a matching trench coat, Whitney Houston (below left) performed in the Live & Loud 07 series at the Bukit Kiara Equesterian Centre last December.

> Mariah Carey, whose fondness for miniskirts is common knowledge, was not spared and had to adopt a more conservative dress when she performed in Kuala Lumpur in 2004.

 

New Straits Times

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