Egypt's Musicians Syndicate decision to impose 'dress code' on female singers fuels hot debate

Soha Elsirgany, Wednesday 2 Sep 2015

Singer Nadia Mostafa says 'kitschy' stuff must go; former head of the syndicate Mostafa Kamel agrees but questions how the rule will be implemented; dissenters continue to describe attempt as 'ridiculous' and 'distracting'

Nancy Ajram
Lebanese songstress Nancy Ajram (File photo: Reuters)

The controversial decision by the Musicians Syndicate, headed by singer Hany Shaker, to require female singers to wear "decent, unrevealing clothes during their performances," has garnered mixed reactions from the music world.

Some commentators have previously expressed displeasure at some singers’ outfits, claiming that the female artists dress immodestly.

Other artists say the syndicate seeks to distract attention from real problems that musicians and the industry face.

"Tasteless art"

A number of singers support the decision, including singer and syndicate board member Nadia Mostafa and former head of the syndicate singer Mostafa Kamel.

“The decision targets kitsch and tasteless art,” Mostafa, a one-time 1980's pop star, told Ahram Arabic.

She went on to say the issue is not only about inappropriate outfits but the general cadre of "cheap lyrics, music and performances."

“There is a difference between fine, elegant performances and provocative ones," Mostafa said.

She gave examples of what is acceptable for performers saying that the well-known 1960s patriotic song El-Wattan El-Akbar, performed by several singers, qualifies as "decent."

"In El-Wattan El-Akbar the artists Shadia, Warda, and Sabah all wore partially revealing dresses but we didn’t see any provocation. Also, look at Nancy Ajram, who wears partially revealing clothes yet maintains a respectable appearance,” Mostafa said.

Mostafa Kamel, a composer, provided further support for the decision, saying it would help "cleanse the music scene, which has been in decline for years."

“I know that Shaker is working towards a noble cause,” said Kamel in a statement to Al-Ahram Arabic news website.

"Shaker wants to cleanse the music market of poor quality, but this has to be part of a complete perspective. It must include lyrics, music and performances that are overtly sexual. The question of the outfit comes later," Kamel said.

Nadia Mostafa went on to say “The decision we’ve taken has nothing to do with stifling artistic creativity. We want to develop the music scene and preserve Egypt’s status, and any singer who wishes to present fine work would surely be untroubled by such a decision."

“The artist has a responsibility towards the audience, and I am someone who was affected by those examples [of kitsch] because they draw people in for reasons other than appreciating the human voice" she said.

Kamel said that "the listener judges on the big picture not only on the outfit, for instance Nancy Ajram and Elissa, both Lebanese superstars, started out in very provocative outfits but ended up being the most important Arab singers."

Male singers too?

Yet Kamel questions how the syndicate intends to enforce the decision.

“What are the parameters for enforcing the decision? Will there be a sort of percentage for how much the outfit covers and how much it reveals?” he asked.

Ahram asked how the decision will be implemented, whether it will apply to concerts only or also to music videos and if it is to be applied to male singers who wear shorts.

Nadia Mostafa responded that for the time being it will be implemented on concerts, and they will look into music videos at a later point, as this will bring up other issues and involve the Actors Syndicate.

She added that the new stipulation does not include male performances but that it would be appreciated if singers "respected the prestige of the stage and wore a shirt and trousers."

According to Mostafa there is no set penalty for defying the decision, however an errant singer will receive a warning and then face investigation if they reoffend.

Mostafa Kamel said he feared "this decision will create an opportunity for corruption and bribery, as the rule will be hard to implement in concert arenas and night clubs across the whole country.”

Walid Mansour, a concert organiser, said he would not be affected by the decision, seeing as the concerts he holds do not feature the "kind of singer" targeted by the decision.

"Morsi could not dare do this"

Producer Mohamed El-Adl, however, mocked the decision on his Facebook account saying that not even during the Islamist rule of Morsi was such a decision reached.

“Apparently there is a confusion around the role of the syndicate and its board members, I think they believe the head of the syndicate is like a school’s principle, ringing the bells and running the syndicate with an iron fist, disciplining everyone. Yet defending the rights of the musicians and syndicate members being put off,” El-Adl wrote.

“Instead of focusing on the dress code of singers, Shaker should be focusing on developing art and refining it during these difficult times,” music critic Tarek El-Shennawy said in an interview with MENA on Tuesday.

“For the time being, art is suffering from stagnation, especially with the spread of piracy that has led many producers to be reluctant with projects and hindered large art and music events,” he added.

Shennawy said he believes that the decision will be deemed ridiculous by everyone since Shaker has himself previously acted in films featuring belly-dancers

Harpist Manal Mohy El-Din concurred.

“It’s so ridiculous that it leaves one speechless, we’re supposed to have bypassed this stage of discourse already,” Mohy El-Din said.

Shennawy pointed out that even if Shaker were to impose a dress code on local singers such as Bardis, Shakira, and others, he would be unable to impose much on big stars such as Haifaa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram, and Elissa.

“Honestly, I don’t know how Shaker will be able to specify the type of attire appropriate for each singer or who will even determine this,” Shennawy said.

The music critic added that with this statement, Shaker, whom Shennawy said he respects as an artist with a long history in the music scene, is asking for a fight with a large number of people who work in the scene. 

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