No-mingling rule putting a damper on open-mic nights

Dubai hotel is fined Dh20,000 for breaking rule.

Performers at an open-mic night at the Majestic Hotel in Bur Dubai sit separated from the audience by a velvet rope.
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A hotel in the emirate was fined Dh20,000 last weekend after a musician was caught speaking to friends in the audience, breaking municipal rules.

The incident, which happened last Friday during the rock night, Metal Asylum, at Champs Bar and Grill (formerly known as Aussie Legends) at the Eden Hotel in Satwa, is the latest example of stepped-up enforcement of the longstanding rule.

In recent weeks, Dubai Police CID officers have increased their visits to music venues in Dubai to check if performers are breaking performance and licensing rules, including the rule against speaking to guests.

The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, which regulates the entertainers in the emirate, last week said artists are prohibited from “mingling with the audience”, a rule believed to be an attempt to prevent prostitution and foul play at public events.

Organisers say the crackdown is severely hampering live entertainment. The tourism department did not respond to a question about the reason for the rule.

Entertainers say the reason has not been explained to them. “This rule is killing the entertainment business,” said Rodi Hennawi, who has been organising the Metal Asylum event twice a month for six years.

“You can’t expect me to put these guys on a leash; no bands would ever come down to play,” he said. “What if someone’s mum came down to watch? They can’t talk to her either?”

Mr Hennawi said CID officers have come to the event to check for permits, but the hotel had never been fined before. “We’re very professional and I always make sure all the licences are clear.”

He said the event on Friday was over and most people had left at the time the fine was issued.

“One of the band members was just about to leave and was chatting to his friends who had come from Al Ain to watch him play.”

The CID officer immediately issued the fine, which the hotel – formerly the Rydges Plaza – must pay.

Jasmin Carr, who has been running the weekly Jam Night at The Music Room in Bur Dubai’s Majestic Hotel for two years, discontinued their open-mic night last week as she “can’t afford to get a fine”.

Ms Carr will keep organising music events, but said the open mic nights were difficult to control, as different people go every week.

“This is their chance to get more gigs and make contacts, and if they can’t do that, what’s the point of them coming to play?”

She said she has been forced to write the no-mingling rules into her contracts with bands to “spell out the law in black and white”, as it is “almost impossible to keep musicians in a corner”.

A Dubai club manager, who did not wish to be named, said the bars are “losing money and customers” due to the rule.

“Musicians are important for PR, because they bring in their friends,” she said. “Now people who used to come in to see our resident band are not coming in anymore. It’s just a shame.”

She said the only solution was to have security people escort musicians from the stage and out of the venue.

"But then there's almost no point in holding the event because their friends will leave too, which means we'll stop making money and eventually lose our business."