DUBAI // The organisers of last week's Akon concert have avoided heavy fines, but were forced to apologise after the R&B star stripped to the waist during his show. The singer caused a stir and put the event's organisers, Music Plus and Vibe, in hot water when he threw his T-shirt into the 4,000-strong audience during a performance at the Palladium in Media City on Thursday.
Concert organisers risk having their events closed and paying heavy fines if they do not abide by the rules imposed by the Ministry of Interior and Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce. Abdul Razzak of Music Plus said authorities "understood that no offence was meant, and so it wasn't a problem, but of course in these situations, we could be fined". He said concert organisers in the Emirates could suffer serious penalties if artists did not behave correctly or if an event ran over the allotted licence time. A monitor is always present to ensure that everything conforms to guidelines.
He said the company had spoken with the Ministry of Interior and apologised on Akon's behalf. Thomas Ovesen, managing director of AEG Live Middle East, which is behind Keane's Dubai concert in July, said most artists coming to the Emirates asked for advice on local sensitivities. In some cases they over-censored themselves, which ruined their performance for fans. Mr Ovesen said that there were no universal restrictions for concert promoters; events are discussed with the authorities on an individual basis.
It is the responsibility of organisers to foresee problems if they believe an artist could pose a risk. "We haven't had any of the situations known from Malaysia, where shows are being forced to be cancelled, nor do I think fans paying to see their preferred stars would want a restricted show unless particularly controversial behaviour is cut out," Mr Razzak said. "Dubai wants the biggest and the best, and we have to be careful with restricting creative rights of the performers unless it pertains to derogatory attitude to other people's faith or beliefs, and as long a there is no unnecessary vulgar behaviour."
Akon was recently charged with throwing a teenage fan off a stage in New York, for which he was fined US$250 and sentenced to 65 hours of community service. "You have to take into account what you want to associate yourself with but the fact that people are buying tickets for these concerts shows maybe that people here judge an artist by his music," Mr Ovesen said. "I don't think we should put our industry above others when it comes to ethics and morals. I would like the public to be the judge."
Concert promoters in the emirate said clearer guidelines may help. Jackie Wartanian, managing director of Dubai-based Center Stage Management, said regulations made it easier to control artists and the crowds. "There are rules in place laid down by the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce and the municipality, which they discuss with each promoter before the event happens," she said. "We have artists sign a contract to make sure they are followed when they arrive. If they do bring girls who need to perform, for example, they will be dressed appropriately.
"In our contracts, we make sure they are aware of the country's respect for culture." Last year, when Akon played at Dubai Festival City, Ms Wartanian devised strict guidelines for the star to follow on stage, including no swearing and no nudity. Elissa Murtaza, director of Live Nation, which has put on several concerts in the emirate in recent years, said: "There are not any specific guidelines that we know of, but we tend to always brief the artist prior to their arrival."
She said the company chose artists appropriate for the region and took into account the artists' backgrounds when bringing them here. "We try to make an informed judgment which is also fair to the artist." The artists generally try to adapt their performances to the guidelines, she added. firstname.lastname@example.org