Thursday, May 24, 2007
pressures on musicians
From the Saudi Debate website: Beyond the public condemnation by conservatives of live music and theatrical performances that are criticised for falling short of Islamic practices, a burgeoning community of artistic talent is finding a growing audience among Arabs across the Middle East and around the world. From Bahrain’s ‘Spring of Culture’ festival to London’s ‘Ramadan Nights’ season, Arab musicians and others are defying various forms of popular and governmental censorship despite serious risks – including death threats – against which they have little or no protection. As Susannah Tarbush writes, the fury meted out against the Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife and the Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad in response to their staging in Bahrain recently of the love story Laila and Majnoun, was disconcertingly typical of the artists’ plight. 20 May 2007.
The ongoing investigation by a Bahraini parliamentary committee into the "immoral" and "anti-Islamic" performance of a new work by Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife and Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad is just one example of the intense political and religious pressures on the freedom of musical expression in some Arab and Muslim countries.
The new work by Khalife and Haddad is an interpretation in music, poetry and dance of the classic Middle Eastern love tragedy Laila and Majnoun. It was performed two nights running at the beginning of March as the inaugural event of Bahrain's annual Spring of Culture Festival.
Khalife and Haddad are two of the most prominent artists in the Arab world, known for constantly pushing forward the creative boundaries in their respective fields. Their version of Laila and Majnoun features male and female dancers in intimate positions. It triggered fury among Islamist MPs, who control three-quarters of the 40 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. But a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Information's Culture and Heritage Department, which organised the festival, said the response to Laila and Majnoun had been overwhelmingly positive.
The Salafist Al Asala Islamic Society issued a statement saying the dances were "depraved and offended our religious and moral sensitivities as well as our traditions." The lyrics were "a blatant violation of our Islamic precepts and values." MP Shaikh Mohammed Khalid, of the Sunni Islamist Al-Menbar bloc, dubbed the festival "the Spring of Foolishness". He told the Gulf Daily News that Khalife and Haddad's work was against Islam because "it depicted adultery between the two main characters. The actions of the dancers was clearly meant to depict a sexual act between a man and a woman." Khalid called for future Spring of Culture festivals to be modelled on festivals in Saudi Arabia, and to consist of poetry recitals and lectures.
The Chamber of Deputies voted to set up a seven-member committee to investigate the controversy. The committee is due to report back within six months. If it finds evidence of wrong doing, information minister Dr Mohammed Abdul Ghaffar may face parliamentary questioning and a vote on whether he should be sacked.
The MPs could hardly have chosen a more high-profile Bahraini cultural event as their target. The six-week festival of art, poetry, music, dance, theatre and lectures was supported by the Economic Development Board and sponsored by telecommunications company Batelco. Among the international and local artists participating were the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, Bahraini singer Khalid al Shaikh and the spectacular Brazilian group Brasil Brasileiro...