Music Master pulls out of Kuwait over censorship woes

Music distributor shuts up shop after Gulf state clamps down on bestselling artists Lady Gaga, Beyonce
Music Master pulls out of Kuwait over censorship woes
Albums by mainstream artists such as Beyonce and Lady Gaga have run into problems in Kuwait
By Shane McGinley
Tue 31 Jan 2012 11:43 AM

A leading music distributor has shuttered its Kuwait operations after claiming the Gulf states’s censorship of albums and artwork had made it impossible to run a full-scale operation.

Music Master, which distributes music from major labels such as Universal, Sony and EMI, said curbs on content from bestselling artists such as Lady Gaga and Beyonce had left it battling to maintain its profit margins.

“It comes down to censorship issues. There is too much censorship to justify having a full-scale operation there,” said Saeed El Ajou, managing director of the Dubai-based company. “If you can’t push your top-selling artists then it makes it hard to justify having a full-scale business. The avant-garde artists - Lady Gaga, Beyonce - who are the bestsellers, tend to cause a problem.”

Music Master, which last year launched a music download website, is one of the Middle East’s largest distributors with operations in the GCC, Egypt and Lebanon.

The company sells into some 50 stores across Kuwait, but said it had struggled to maintain sales in the face of strict rules on album artwork and lyrics that shut some artists out of the market.

“It is basically lyrics and artwork and anything that is seen as provocative won’t go through. Anything which has any provocative lyrics or any innuendo,” said El Ajou. The country’s restrictions eclipse those enforced by conservative Saudi Arabia, he added.

“It is purely Kuwait-specific, everywhere else we are very fortunate that there are no censorship issues. Even Saudi has been liberal in what they allow through.

“Kuwaiti people are very forward-thinking so it is unfortunate.”

The withdrawal of Music Master from the market raises questions over the future of some of Kuwait’s music retailers. Virgin Megastores is reviewing the scale of its retail operations in the Gulf state following the news, a source told Arabian Business.

A spokesperson for Virgin Megastores declined to comment.

Kuwait, like many Gulf states, has walked a careful line between modernising its society and maintaining its more conservative traditions. Music shops were closed in 2008 and politicians called for music education to be banned in 2009.

A number of singers have also been banned from performing in the Gulf nation, including Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram who was refused permission to hold a concert in 2005.

Egyptian singer Tamer Hosni’s concert in 2008 ended abruptly when a fan jumped up on stage and kissed him.

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