Madonna, Shakira or Lady Gaga in Malaysia? Dream on

Madonna, Shakira or Lady Gaga in Malaysia? Dream on
US singer Katy Perry

If you have always dreamt of watching Madonna, Shakira or Lady Gaga performing live in Malaysia, you can dream on.

According to Sepang Inter­national Circuit CEO Datuk Razlan Razali, they would not even get through the pre-approval stage in Malaysia. (Concert promoters need to seek a pre-­approval before submitting a full application to bring in a foreign artiste.)

He has tried to bring them to Malaysia, says Razlan, but as soon as their names come up, religious objections are raised.

This does not include the international stars, namely Beyonce, who pulled out of their agreed show due to their unwillingness to comply to the strict concert rules in Malaysia and fear of religious backlash. And this was before the latest updated guidelines on entertainment from the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim).

"We already have a flawed and archaic permit application system for concerts and live events that is damaging the industry.

"Jakim's new guidelines are taking us 10 more steps backward," says Razlan who is also acting president for Arts, Live Festival and Events Association (ALIFE), an association representing concert organisers and other players in the local live event industry.

Already nervous about the new rules, the industry was slapped with the return of an old disease - last-minute cancellation - when the Thirst 2015 Dance Festival had its permit revoked at the eleventh hour last Saturday.

It has been a while, Razlan dryly concedes.

"We hope the authorities can seriously and proactively engage with ALIFE to review and improve the permit application process."

As he alludes, the modus operandi of the authorities seems to be "ad hoc" and "knee-jerk ­reaction".

"They usually don't take into account the industry or stake­holders."

To address the issue, ALIFE is currently working to meet up with the Central Agency Committee for Application for Filming and Foreign Artistes Presentations (Puspal), which is in charge of coordinating and processing the permit applications to bring in foreign artistes to Malaysia.

It was set up in 2001 as a one-stop centre to facilitate the process for live event promo­ters and organisers, who have to obtain at least 12 approvals and permits to bring in an inter­national star.

With all these "problems", however, Razlan thinks that it is time to review Puspal's role.

"My personal view is that we can self-regulate. It is an ongoing battle for us with Puspal to keep our live event and live music scene alive.

"I don't even know why we need Puspal now - it is supposed to be the central organisation for the permit application process but promoters still need to do the running around and do everything ourselves anyway," he laments.

One sore point for ALIFE, whose members are the country's big and major concert organisers, is that most decisions concerning the industry have been made without engaging or consulting them.

"After all these years, Puspal still does not understand our business, and sometimes it feels like it is refusing to understand the business, especially the cost," he says.

When a promoter secures an international artiste, they will have to sign a contract of agreement with the artiste and pay a booking fee, which usually comes up to 50 per cent of the total fee. Needless to say, a last-minute cancellation will be costly for the promoters.

Another issue is the pace of the scene where, sometimes, decisions have to be made at the spur of the moment.

"Most of them (in Puspal) don't understand the business of securing an artiste. They also think you can plan six months ahead, or a year ahead. You can't.

"When an A-list artist decides to do a concert tour and is going to Japan or the Philippines in Asia, they might suddenly decide to add Singapore and Malaysia, and you will need to say yes or no there and then."

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