Hard-hit singers question govt’s delay in reopening pubs

Pub singers are struggling to stay afloat as their normal performance venues remain barred from resuming operations.

PETALING JAYA: Glen Salay, a vocalist and percussionist, used to earn a living performing at pubs and other venues.

When the movement control order to curb the spread of Covid-19 was implemented in March, Glen who is a member of the Pandavas Fusion Band was unprepared for the extent to which this would affect him.

Now, four months later, restrictions remain in place for pubs which means that he has been without a gig since March 18.

Music is the main source of income for Glen, who is the breadwinner in his family.

“I am very badly affected,” he told FMT. “We are living off whatever money we had put aside.”

Other pub performers are also feeling the pinch, with Glen saying they have lost an average of RM20,000 in income so far.

He said most singers and performers are extremely low on cash, and that some had even been kicked out of their homes by unsympathetic landlords.

He and his friends are waiting for the authorities to reopen the sector, especially since family karaoke centres and massage parlours are now allowed.

He asked why pubs were still barred from resuming operations, adding that the same SOPs for karaoke centres and massage parlours should be applied for bars and musicians.

“Why are they lumping us (together) with patrons? Musicians are not out there to have fun and to party but to earn a living.

“If there are SOPs, we will be more than happy to oblige.”

For musicians, he added, social distancing is not an issue as performers are usually on-stage.

“And when we are (on-stage), the band is not standing shoulder-to-shoulder.”

Eddie Zachariah

Jazz singer Eddie Zachariah, who has seen his income from performing at pubs plunge 100%, is also living off his savings.

Fortunately, he can continue giving piano lessons although the number of his students has dropped from 13 to four.

He said some of his friends in the industry had been forced to sell their musical instruments and equipment just to make ends meet.

Calling the government’s decision to disallow bars and pubs from reopening “ridiculous”, he said small outfits such as two-piece bands, trios and soloists at least should be permitted to perform.

“If the concern is about social distancing, something can be done. It is not a problem that cannot be overcome,” he said, referring to the SOPs in place for other sectors.

He also questioned the lack of social distancing at some mamak outlets where he said many sit at the same table and do not wear face masks.

Adding that musicians also contribute to the economy, he said they would not be able to do so if they were not allowed to perform.

Freddie Fernandez

Malaysian Artistes’ Association (Karyawan) president Freddie Fernandez meanwhile reiterated his appeal to the government to expedite the SOPs for the reopening of clubs, pubs and lounges, adding that these should be religiously followed.

“We must convince the government that we can follow the rules. We cannot give them a reason to close down these venues again once they’ve been allowed to operate,” he said when contacted.

He also voiced concern for the welfare of musicians, saying many had been unable to earn an income for four months.

“We can only make so much with part-time jobs,” he added. “Many have not been able to find alternative work and have been evicted from their homes.”

Fernandez had, in May, proposed SOPs to the government including social distancing for performers on-stage and among customers as well as the regular disinfection of microphones.

He speculated that the serving of alcohol might be a factor in the government’s apprehension about allowing pubs and clubs to resume operations.

“People tend to lose control over their actions when they are intoxicated. That could be one of the main concerns.

“I hope once they are allowed to operate, all patrons as well as musicians will strictly abide by the SOPs provided and allow the clubs to operate so that all musicians can start working again.”

On Sunday, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said the SOPs for the sector were being fine-tuned.