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Musicians Syndicate crackdown disproportionately affects underground music

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“Legally, all musicians must be members of the Syndicate of Musicians,” said Ismael. “So what the syndicate does is demand musicians pay a fine in exchange for letting them play without being members, even though 30 percent of profits go to the syndicate when musicians perform at the Culture Wheel,” said Ismael.

A protest in support of Egyptian underground music is being planned for Friday 9 November in the aftermath of several upcoming concerts being cancelled at the Sawy Culture Wheel. The popular cultural venue has launched the careers of many underground musicians over the years but recently the Syndicate of Musicians has been targeting musicians who do not belong to it and who do not bear its ID.

“As underground musicians, we do not want to belong to the syndicate because then, we will have to be very limited in terms of what we present as art. We also cannot belong to the same syndicate as musicians who aim for something different like Marwa or Haifaa. How can one syndicate represent all of us?” said Islam Ismael, the organiser behind the protest.

The syndicate does not interfere with the actual music produced or its content. Another government entity however, Al-Mosanafat, is responsible for going through lyrics and presentation if artists are planning on releasing an album and artists have to obtain its permission with no interference or bearing on the part of the syndicate itself. In the case of a performance, the vocalist alone, and not any of the musicians, has to have permission from the entity but this does require syndicate ID.

“Legally, all musicians must be members of the Syndicate of Musicians,” said Ismael. “So what the syndicate does is demand musicians pay a fine in exchange for letting them play without being members, even though 30 percent of profits go to the syndicate when musicians perform at the Culture Wheel,” said Ismael.

Despite the legality of the crackdowns, Egyptian underground musicians are now saying that the law is discriminating against them and that the law itself needs to be changed. “We need our own syndicate for all underground and independent arts: music, art, graffiti, et cetera should all be represented differently or at least given a subdivision within the syndicate lead by an elected member of us,” said Ismael.

The first general meeting of the musicians supporting the protest will be Thursday 1 November at Maktabet el Balad in Downtown at 6 pm. The protesters will define their demands and present them to both the Sawy Culture Wheel and the syndicate.

The issue follows the Eed fe Eed (Hand in Hand) concert that was cancelled during the past Eid holidays in Minya, after a significant amount of pressure from Salafist groups in Minya. The groups were protesting the use of Christian hymns by the band, claiming it was ‘proselytising’, a controversial issue in Egypt that pits freedom of expression and belief against hard-line conservative values. Both incidents have become signaling red flags for musicians who feel they are being singled out.

At the time of writing a spokesperson for the syndicate could not be reached to give a reaction on the planned protest and give an explanation on why the syndicate decided to change the way it has dealt with musicians who perform in the Sawy Culture Wheel in the past.


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