x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Open-mic organisers irked by rules and costs

Organisers and singers at open-mic nights say police are enforcing rules that discourage them from performing.

The Boxtones perform at a weekly open-mic night at The Music Room bar at Majestic Hotel in Bur Dubai.
The Boxtones perform at a weekly open-mic night at The Music Room bar at Majestic Hotel in Bur Dubai.

The amateur singer enters the nightclub with a cast of friends to cheer him on as he belts out his tunes.

But before the group can secure a table, the performer is pulled into a roped-off area and told not to mingle with anyone in the crowd or take any photographs, or he will face a fine of between Dh10,000 and Dh20,000.

The rules, enforced by the Dubai Police CID, are threatening the local music scene, open-microphone event organisers and performers say.

"They're being treated just like criminals," said Mark Maynard, who runs the open-mic night every Tuesday at Citymax hotel in Al Barsha.

The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), which regulates entertainers in the emirate, "prohibits artists from mingling with the audience", said Nabil Ali, the deputy director for inspection and tourism permits.

Mr Ali said the number of checks had not been increased recently but were intended to be regular.

He would not give a reason for the regulations, which Mr Maynard called ludicrous. He said he had only recently heard of the rules after working for five years in the Dubai music industry.

In recent weeks the CID has visited various music establishments in the emirate to check for proper performance permissions, organisers say.

Those who do not have the proper permits are asked to step down from the stage under the threat of fines.

Mr Maynard said a police officer was recently prepared to issue a Dh20,000 fine after noticing one of the performers talking to a friend in the audience.

He was let off with a "strict warning", but Mr Maynard said he was worried musicians would stop coming because of this new enforcement.

Dubai Police would not comment on the rules or their enforcement of them.

All performers, including singers, dancers and comedians, must obtain entertainment permits from the DTCM to perform live. Only those at weddings and birthday parties are exempt.

The permits cost Dh750 for each entertainer at non-ticketed events. For ticketed events, the permits cost Dh1,330 a day, which covers all performers.

There is also a Dh520 submission fee and a Dh810 permission fee for both types of events. The licences can take up to two weeks to be issued.

But Neil D'cruz, the lead singer for local rock band Nikotin that performs in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, said most shows were confirmed at the last minute.

That means getting a licence "makes everything much more difficult". D'cruz said he "very rarely" had confirmation of a show one month in advance.

Similar rules on music performance licences apply in Abu Dhabi, where they are issued through the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (ADTA).

Only the 130 hotels already licensed by the authority can apply for an entertainment permit. All others must go through the National Media Council, in conjunction with Abu Dhabi Police.

Performance permits are "a control mechanism to ensure optimum security for hotels or hotel apartments and their guests", an ADTA spokesman said.

Last year, 1,928 permits were issued by ADTA, the spokesman said, adding the authority conducted quarterly open forums for the hotels to "ensure all regulations regarding the issuance of performance licences are constantly reviewed and upgraded".

Jasmine Carr, who runs the open-mic Jam Night at The Music Room in Bur Dubai's Majestic Hotel, said she might have to cancel the weekly event, which had been running smoothly for more than a year, because of the threat of fines for mingling.

"Jammers might not want to come down any more, because they won't want to sit in the back corner," Ms Carr said.

Nikhil Uzgare, the lead singer of the local rock band Point of View, said the rules made no sense.

"There's no logic. Why would you quarantine the musicians by forcing them to be separated from the rest?" said Uzgare, who also runs the concert promotions company Rock Nation UAE, and plans to bring weekly music nights to Abu Dhabi.

molson@thenational.ae