Coronavirus: Gulf hotel performers hanging by a thread after tourism shutdown

Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe performs in a hotel in Dubai. (File photo: Reuters)

With the live music industry suspended indefinitely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the region’s musicians who previously relied on contracted work with hotels and restaurants have seen all opportunities vanish overnight, leaving the community on the verge of collapse.

“They’re going through a very tough time right now. And I hope something is done, you know, from the country to help them. These guys right now are going back to the finances and savings. Some of them have that, some of them don’t,” says Hassan Ahmad Dennaoui, a Dubai-based Saudi Arabian MC and radio host known professionally as Big Hass.

Though it has only been around six weeks since both local and international governments suspended events and live entertainment to promote social distancing and curb the spread of the virus, many musicians were already in tenuous enough circumstances that they have now been forced to leave, unable to wait for a potential recovery.

“A lot of the bands that were on contracts with hotels and were doing six nights a week were given a day or two notice that they were losing their jobs, and then they were here for a while afterwards before they could get flights out. A lot of them have since gone home. More recently, a lot of people who were freelance musicians have had to go as well,” says Louise Shufflebotham, a vocalist and presenter for Dubai Music originally from Manchester, England.

Major entertainment and cultural events have been postponed across the region, such as the first annual Red Sea International Film Festival that was scheduled in Jeddah from 12-21 March but has been postponed indefinitely, and Sikka Arts Festival Dubai, which was deferred until November. For local acts, regular performances inside multi-function venues were given no specific return date, leaving the performers in limbo.

“I’m living in a maid’s room with no windows. I’m just trying to do little bits here and there to keep myself sane. There’s a lot of people out there who have recording equipment and they’re taking the time to work on original material or original covers, but I haven’t got the money for something like that, so I’m doing Facebook Live videos and joining in with other people. For the moment I’m ok but it’s a month by month situation at the moment,” says Shufflebotham.

Not all performers have the ability to leave as some cannot get flights or don’t have money for tickets, according to a long-running Dubai-based DJ who asked not to be named. Some, who are contracted resident performers in hotels, have been given free food and board, but are no longer getting a salary, while freelance musicians have no such material support to fall back on.

“I don’t know how long they can last. Many are also supporting their families in the Philippines, as well. I’ve started seeing some advertise their instruments for sale on social media,” the Dubai-based DJ told Al Arabiya English.

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Last Update: 07:06 KSA 10:06 - GMT 07:06
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