A few months ago, a Street Music Festival was held in Kuwait that featured a great line up of musicians. I got caught up working on a soundscape installation and couldn’t make it to the event. However, reading the flyer of the event was fascinating as I realized that the organisers had tried to pick groups with Kuwaiti citizens as the leaders. When you book artists around Kuwait as much as I do, you can tell by the line-up what the event producer wants to communicate. A show with mixed languages or one with only amateur singers speaks volumes. The dates one picks for a show are also important as it all adds up to how we enjoy music. You learn to spot these intentions over time.
The people behind this particular endeavour were on the right path, not because they picked Kuwaitis but because there was an actual curation process, a purpose behind the selection and not a mish-mash of all the brand name artists jumbled in a room or an open mic full of the same people. They even picked a low profile date and a relaxed time for the show.
The event featured a blind clarinet player who had reached the finals of a popular televised talent show watched across the Arab region. Even as I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to go to the performance, I knew I would see glimpses on my social networks as someone from the audience would surely record and upload a part of it.
Later that night, I received news that the artist’s performance was condemned by an old Kuwaiti man at the event. As information travels fast on WhatsApp, I received a video upon request, of the incident. It showed a man of over 60 in traditional Kuwaiti attire waving his cane at the artist and shouting; not so much combative as frustrated. The video also shows the artist on a small stage sitting and performing his Arab instrumental music, and then slowly stop playing to acknowledge the man’s frustration.
Then two things that I have never seen happen in the music scene in Kuwait occur in this video. A manager of the venue intervenes and in the most gentle, polite and affectionate manner, leads the old man away, diffusing the situation entirely. He was extremely respectful to the man and sensitive to the cultural context. This was followed by the second amazing occurrence — the crowd cheering and commending the artist and manager for handling the situation well, encouraging the artist with applause and great fervour to continue his performance.
A first-hand account of the incident reveals that the old man was scared that the music could have been too close to the prayer time which explains his frustration and adds more depth to the incident. I greatly respect the manager for his intervention as this situation could have played out with worse outcomes and could perhaps even have gotten dangerous.
So now we come to the question — who protects the music artist? These are the people that work in the background to organize and manage shows, the brokers that put their name on all the permits and deal with the hecklers, the collectives that help them with performing and recording like The JukeBox, the French Institute, Ajna Records, and Talentshop, the heritage programs like the NCCAL and DAI, as well as established and emerging venues that allow music artists to showcase their work. Protection also comes through programs and awareness campaigns that help law enforcement with intellectual property and copyright laws.
Protection is often hidden like the manager at the event. It is seamless and prevalent even when the crowd or artist may not notice it. There are lots of people involved in creating a show for people to enjoy that have nothing to do with the actual performance. Even though there is a long list of protectors, we are still far from music artists feeling safe. It takes a full community to be behind them, and a change of thinking about music artists.
Instead of seeing our music artists as something that will take away from our spirituality, we must realise that they bring a peaceful addition to the quality of life we enjoy in Kuwait. Music by law in Kuwait stops at prayer time, and all artists adhere to it. I have never seen anyone break this law. We respect it because it shows that we understand our environment.
To protect it all, we must change our perception of music as being dangerous. We should equate music to food or perfume, a way of enhancing the little things in life. These little things that have an actual value worth protecting. In the end we will protect music when we believe in the goodness and value of it. Those will be the ones that protect it. Will you?
Amin Fari a Kuwaiti-Puerto Rican singer-songwriter, producer and music supplier who has received wide acclaim with his solo act Mr Fari, and as the frontman of The Watertowers. He also runs an events booking company where he works on content development for YouTube, producing shows on the music scene of Kuwait, as well as music in foreign countries.
By Amin Fari