Feature: Cheers for more concerts

YOU’VE heard it before.

A concert by an international performer is questioned due to religious and cultural concerns.

Sometimes, the show goes on with changes to costume and content.

In other cases, some people protest against it and the performance gets cancelled, much to the dismay of fans.

Recently, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had said that those who protest against live events are a minority “but the majority must make their voices heard”.

This then sparked an online petition on change.org (titled Voice of Malaysian Arts, Live Festival and Events Community), StarLifestyle reported.

The petition, in response to Dr Mahathir’s statement, calls for current policies and regulations to be improved to allow more live events to take place, among others.

Since the petition began in August, it has garnered over 47,000 signatures and counting.

So it is good news that Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo says his ministry is looking into improving things in this area.

“We are looking at restructuring the application process for live events to be held, involving the agencies concerned such as Puspal.

“This is to facilitate an easier process for more concerts and arts, cultural and festival activities to take place in Malaysia, ” he tells Sunday Star.

Puspal, or the Central Agency for Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes, is the body tasked with coordinating and approving applications for performances by international artistes.

Acknowledging the concerns of some regarding cultural and religious sensitivities, Gobind believes there are ways to overcome them.

Previously, there was a proposal by the Arts, Live, International Festivals and Events Association (Alife) to have age ratings for concerts so that performances with more mature content can only be attended by an older audience instead of banning the show completely.

To this, Gobind says there are different ways of dealing with the concerns.

“We will consider all aspects involved. What is important is to find ways to make these events attractive to all whilst considering all sensitivities involved.

“That may be a challenge, but I

don’t think it is something we cannot overcome, ” he adds.

Supporting the call for more live events in Malaysia, Gobind says the ministry is doing whatever it can to create a more convenient system to hold more events here.

“We should acknowledge the huge benefits such events present to our country, both financially and in terms of showcasing Malaysia and our local music industry to the world.

“I’ve attended events with performances by local artistes and bands.

“I can tell you that we have great, world-class local talent.

“The huge turnout indicates that Malaysians appreciate and support such events, ” he says.

Gobind also points out that live events present opportunities and a platform for our artistes to showcase their talent.

“If we can have successful local concerts and there is support for them, I don’t see why we cannot do the same for foreign artistes who either perform by themselves or on a joint platform with our talents, ” he adds.

The recently tabled Budget 2020 is also supportive of live events, with a form of tax exemption on arts, cultural and recreational events being included.

Concert organisers expressed excitement about the government’s move to lighten their load.

However, they are also hoping for less restrictions on live events.

Religious and cultural sensitivities

There have been a number of times when concerts by international acts have been questioned based on religious and cultural sensitivities.

In 2013, American pop singer Kesha’s concert here was cancelled following concerns that it could hurt cultural sensitivities.

Also that year, American heavy metal band Lamb of God was denied a permit to stage a concert in Kuala Lumpur.

Pop star Selena Gomez’s performance in Malaysia in 2016 initially faced some flak due to her sexy appearance. But the show went on, with the American singer clad in a pair of black slacks and a long-sleeved top.

In April this year, a performance by black metal band Devouror was axed after some groups raised concerns that it coincided with Easter Sunday.

Alife chairman R. Para says a limited number of acts can perform here because they are subject to approval guidelines.

“There are also limited suitable music venues.

“The weaker ringgit is also a contributing factor to why international performers choose to go neighbouring countries like Singapore and Thailand instead of here, ” he explains.

Alife is a non-profit organisation representing 180 companies comprising event promoters, suppliers, venue, and all other event support service providers.

“It’s out of Alife’s hands should international acts choose to perform elsewhere.

“But we always paint Malaysia as a welcoming country because we are, ” Para adds.

But he points out that governing bodies have the higher power on deciding for the masses.

“Current policies and regulations are very much integrated with the country’s religious beliefs and cultural concerns.

“They believe a performer’s personal beliefs, values and dressing a certain way would undermine and influence the consuming market, ” says Para, who is also the managing director of PR Worldwide.

While it has been tough, Alife pledges to defend live entertainment in this country.

“It is only fair that local organisers get the freedom to choose the type of entertainment the Malaysian market wants to consume.

“This is as long as it is not against federal laws in the country, ” he says.

There is just a need to have a better balance between freedom of expression and respecting cultural sensitivities.

“It is a two way-traffic and we still have a long way to go, ” Para adds.

Challenges in the industry

Live events are statistically proven to improve the revenue streams of hotels, travel companies, transport operators and food and beverage outlets, among others.

“The live events industry contributes around RM400mil yearly in revenue, ” Para estimates.

“We need to be more accepting and open-minded, and not so quick to judge the performers or events that take place.

“Our neighbouring countries like Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia have long embraced the experience economy, which contributes significantly to their country’s GDP, ” Para says, citing the Formula 1 Singapore race as an example of an event that uses live concerts to enhance the race experience for fans from all over the world.

Last year, there were a total of 77 ticketed entertainment events held by Alife members.

Of that total, most were concerts by artistes from Western countries (43), followed by Korean and Chinese stars (nine each), comedy shows (seven), six local acts and three Indian live performances.

Concert promoter Intour Live managing director Bonor Seen has observed a slight decrease in live events involving Western celebrities over the past few years.

Only regional performers such as K-pop stars and Chinese singers have been fairly consistent, he notes.

“Malaysia is not a priority market on the touring route for many major artistes in some situations, ” adds Seen.

And it doesn’t help that there have been impromptu and inconsistent decisions on the permit application process.

“Some international acts choose to go elsewhere to perform, partly due to censorship regulations on performances in our country, ” he notes.

He says Malaysia’s performance policies are related to sensitivities on religion and culture, the artiste’s outfits or image and sexual preferences.

“We should have more open-minded policies when it comes to evaluating performances and overall advantages instead of considering objections from the minority, ” Seen urges.

The weaker ringgit is also undoubtedly a negative factor, putting Malaysia at a disadvantage when promoters work on budgeting for a show – be it a small gig or major festival.

“We will have a significantly higher expense compared to stronger currencies in other countries, ” he says.

On Alife’s proposal for age-rated events, Seen offers his support for such a rating system.

“Malaysia as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country should keep a neutral view on potential artists and live events in general such as that practised in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and as far as Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

“If these countries have no issues with hosting certain live events, our country should be the same, ” he adds.

Akhiroth Abu Bakar, public relations manager of metal gig organiser Goatlordth Records and In Solitude Conspiracy, supports Alife’s push for more live events in Malaysia.

“The biggest challenge we face as concert organisers is restrictions with the local authorities.

“Most small-scale concerts and gigs we plan do not get approved even though we applied for the necessary permits.

“For some bands, especially in the metal genre, it is rather impossible for us to hold them due to the religious and cultural stigma, ” he says.

Akhiroth is all for the government to ease up the application process to hold live performances, especially those involving international acts.

For metal bands, he believes it is suitable to have age limits for concerts.

“The show will be able to go on without influencing those who are underaged, similar to watching 18-rated films at the cinema, ” he says.

Live events will encourage youths to explore their talent in performing arts and help Malaysia generate revenue, Akhiroth highlights.

“In just a few months, it will be 2020. Malaysians need to change their views on

the entertainment industry, which is also evolving with the times, ” he says.

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