Should concerts, art and culture be politicised?

SYAHIRAH MOKHTAZAR
SYAHIRAH MOKHTAZAR
05 Jun 2023 04:37pm
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Music, as we know, is a form of art. Art equals freedom of expression, influenced by different factors from culture to politics, religion, surroundings, and more.

While the creative-cultural industry can get intertwined with politics, in this pluralistic society, that sometimes happens harmoniously, other times not.

The most recent political brouhaha unleashed over Coldplay’s upcoming concert in Malaysia is not an unprecedented scenario.

In the past, political parties like Pas and religious councils have called for the cancellation of other high-profile performers such as Selena Gomez, Beyonce, Kesha, Pussycat Dolls, and more.

Whether we like it or not, politics does affect our lifestyle and choices.

University of Nottingham Associate Professor at The School of Media, Languages, and Cultures, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Professor Gayathry S Venkiteswaran said there is a fundamental right to expression.

“However, what I worry about is that political parties like Pas have the machinery and power to a large extent to influence policies and influence actions.

“What is the ground for calling a cancellation of performances and what is the public interest here in wanting to get policymakers to stop performances from happening?

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“What they are calling for is a denial of others’ cultural expression. It is an infringement on the rights of others when there is no clear harm in these activities,” she said.

British band Coldplay's upcoming debut concert in KL caused a political commotion recently.
British band Coldplay's upcoming debut concert in KL caused a political commotion recently.

While it’s okay to bring up these issues at a political level, it’s problematic when it becomes a tool for political parties to create a sense of otherness.

It’s part and parcel of a democratic debate. Discussions are fine, but it has to be both ways or three ways, and not just a dominant voice, added Gayathry.

Last month, the political film “Anwar: The Untold Story” was released. Many viewed that it would change the public’s perception of Anwar if they watch the film.

But are films a tool for political influence?

“Films have always been a tool of propaganda, but I think there are moments in history that need to be documented.

“Whether or not you support the film, that's okay as it’s supposed to create feedback.

“But I think audiences nowadays are more discerning these days, they probably see the actual footage, and they can make up their own minds,” she said.

Meanwhile, Malaysian ambassador to the United States and former Tourism, Arts, and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz said he doesn’t view Anwar’s biopic as a political influence.

“I would genuinely watch it out of my interest to know more about Anwar as a person and his political life.

“It’s a film about Anwar who happens to be a politician. That’s all,” he said.

“Arts and culture flourish because of the freedom of expression given, it shouldn’t be politicised.”

He added that as long as it doesn’t violate the human rights of others, there shouldn’t be any moral policing of arts and culture.

Commenting on the upcoming Coldplay concert, Karyawan president Datuk Freddie Fernandez said: “When certain people use this issue to advance their political career, it does great damage to the country.

“Internationally, our image will be dampened and efforts to find investments from abroad will be adversely affected because every time there is a concert, there will be an issue.

“There is nothing wrong with the concert, it’s just a band performing on stage,” he said.

Nazri then added that Malaysia is a multiracial, multilingual country and that we need to be sensitive toward our surroundings and communities.

“The peace co-existence that we are experiencing now, doesn't come without some control over what we do. It’s something we have to safeguard.

“Who is Pas to tell people what they can or cannot do? In a democratic society, you cannot tell people what to do,” he said.

While Freddie thinks politics and the creative industry should not mix but he is not opposed to politicians who voice out against acts of extremism like mocking other religion in the name of art.

Nazri also agreed and said that insulting other communities’ beliefs is wrong, referencing a local female comedian who went viral for her mockery of Islam, while performing at a comedy club.

In retrospect, concerts will boost the economic growth of the country, especially in the tourism sector.

“Our state of economy is bad, the cost of living is expensive. We need investments in tourism to boost the economy,” said Freddie.

Malaysia is listed as one of the countries in the region in which Coldplay will make a stop besides Indonesia, Australia, Tokyo, and Taiwan. Prior to this, the band has performed in Singapore twice.

With Malaysia finally listed in the tour line-up, we can expect an influx of tourists towards the second half of the year. Other than Coldplay, Muse will also be performing in Kuala Lumpur this July.

This will likely contribute to Toursim Malaysia’s plan in targeting 16.1 million foreign tourists this year.