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As virus mutes Dubai nightlife, Filipino bands feel pain – travel

Eric Roman held the back of the stage and microphone in his torn jeans.

It is midnight on Friday and at normal times, he will hear wild applause from this tightly filled hotel bar in one of the old neighborhoods along Dubai Creek. The sweaty sweat of fellow Filipinos, Arab businessmen and mall employees would hit the latest dance floor from their dance floor as they didn’t perform the Journey “Don’t Stop Bilvin ‘with their nine-piece Filipino band.

But now the crowd, along with their bandmates, have disappeared – in compliance with coronovirus restrictions that ban dancing and cap the number of musicians on stage. When his club reopened after lockdown, Roman deducted 65% of his salary. Guitarists, bassists and drummers were not so lucky.

“Dubai is dead,” Roman said, 40. “Every day we are thinking how we are going to get our next meal, our next glass of water, how we will survive in this city.”

Dubai’s nightlife has a long animated role in the Philippines’ show band, satisfying a hunger for rock, R&B and pop that has grown with the emirate’s migrant population. Now, when the epidemic showcases the city’s live-music scene and affects its economy, hundreds of Filipino artists are struggling to survive.

The traveling Filipino house band burst prominently in the early 1900s during the American occupation of the archipelago. Already well versed in Western church music and military paradigms from three centuries of Spanish imperialism, Filipinos cleverly picked up the latest American music trends, from jazz to rock ‘n’ roll, Assistant Professor of Asian-Pacific Studies Mary Lacanale he said. California State University in Dominguez Hills.

By the end of the century, karaoke was a national pastime. Filipino artists – with an indomitable ability to imitate Western music legends – became a mainstay at emerging secret dinners throughout Asia and the Persian Gulf. Dubai attracted veterans of the Filipino cover band to make rapid changes from a desert pear port to a regional party capital.

“Our music builds Dubai’s reputation as a place that crosses political, racial and geographical divisions,” said Paul Cortes, Philippine Consul General in Dubai, who also happens to be a singer.

An uncertain fate now awaits musicians, from foreign provinces to work in the Smoky Lounge and hotel bars abroad.

“Agents promise you heaven and give you hell,” said AJ Zakarias, a singer-keyboardist and president of the Filipino Bands Alliance of the United Arab Emirates, an advocacy group. “We are some of the world’s most sought-after artists, and they treat us like garbage here.”

Zacharias said that British singers could earn close to making Filipinos in a month. He added that managers reserved “good hotel suites” for Indian dancers to visit, while Filipinos often have a room packed for unnatural accommodation.

“This is unfortunately the reality of the market. It is cheaper to hire a band from the Philippines, ”said Ricardo Trimillos, an Asian performance specialist at the University of Hawaii.

When the clubs closed in Dubai, dozens of Filipino musicians living in the dormitory at the mercy of their employers had nowhere to go.

According to the Band Association, 70% never received their promised gratuity for purchasing food and other basics. Some are selling their clothes for a living. Gyrating, backflipping and blowing kisses to followers who send them money – the out-of-work dancer, like 33-year-old Catherine Gallano, has taken to livestreaming their routine.

The Filipino Bands Alliance of the UAE stated that some 80% of Filipino artists had visas revoked by their employers, a result of the UAE’s “Kafala” labor system that links links to residences at their jobs.

For the millions of low-paid migrant workers from Asia, Africa and elsewhere who have made the United Arab Emirates a hub of the global economy, the virus has brought back decades of abuses such as wage theft, delayed pay and living. Difficult situations of. Zaydin, a Gulf researcher in Human Rights Watch. This is especially true for domestic laborers, she said – another precarious work that dominates Filipinos.

When the virus came out in March, 38-year-old singer and stand-up comedian Jhun Neri was stranded – literally. As a “public health precaution”, he said, his manager locked all doors and shut down the elevator of his crowded doormat, closing 11 artists inside for months. Staying away from the weekly delivery of rice and red chutney, the band was pressed, performing Whitney Houston’s hit films.

“I was thinking, at least I’m still singing, at least I’m still alive,” Neri said.

Weeks later, he was woken by the landlord to cut off electricity and evict everyone. He is still determined to make it to Dubai, though he said most of his friends “gave up hope” and went home.

But leaving the city is not so easy. Like thousands of other Filipinos, Romel Cusson, a 30-year-old guitarist in a hotel bar, has been frozen for months on a repatriation waiting list, unable to pay his employer his way and reducing the collectibility of those returning to the Philippines . When Cuison’s cash-strapped club only brought back singers from lockdown, they sold their cherished guitars for food.

For artists performing fortunate these days, Dubai’s new relaunched music scene looks very different. Hotels struggle to fill rooms. Partyboys have continued to decline as the epidemic has given everyone a place in their pocketbook. Undercover health inspectors patrol the clubs and threaten a $ 13,600 fine for the violation. There are no more mundane hours – the speakers close at 1 o’clock

Marino Raboy, a rock singer in Dubai’s working-class district Deira, said his club looked desolate. Some nights, he only performs for the hostesses who line up to serve Heineken’s pitcher at the bar.

As the virus continues to grow in the UAE, many expect hard times. Dubai’s live shows and large conferences, including its Expo 2020, have been pushed back. Rating agency S&P Global said the city’s state economy would shrink by 11% this year, to be completed by 2023.

Roman said with a voice like Journey’s former frontman Steve Perry, the new reality means fewer tips and meager salaries – not enough to cover the bills of his old mother and four children in the Philippines. Still, he feels he has “no choice”, but hopes.

“This is the worst time of my life,” he said. “I have to believe at some point that it will end.”

(This story is published from a wire agency feed without textual modifications.)

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