Pushing Back The Frontiers

Although the Ricky Martin shows Elissa Murtaza promoted in Beirut and Cairo provided a few local difficulties, she was quick to admit that they were something of a breeze compared to transmitting a “Peace Message To The World” from Libya.

The Mirage Promotions director might have produced a genuinely “secret gig.” Any efforts to publicise the April 14th bash at “The Leaders Compound” in Tripoli would have the potential to cause security problems.

According to her Mirage co-director Thomas Ovesen, the performances Jose Carreras and Lionel Richie gave to an invited audience comprising 500 diplomats and influential business people were the first any Western acts had done in Libya in 35 years.

With the lifting of trade sanctions and the reopening of full diplomatic ties, the Libyans were keen to welcome the West and show off the country to a wider global community.

They wanted the event to be symbolic of a new beginning and send out a peaceful and progressive message to the world. But the security risks attached to putting on a show in front of 500 dignitaries meant that everybody would have to keep quiet about it until after it actually happened.

Then, the message could be sent out to the media. Ovesen said it worked in the sense that the show got international coverage.

Security issues aside, Murtaza was faced with the problems of producing a quality show in a city that doesn’t have a live music business.

Gearhouse flew the production in and most all the key staff came from the United Arab Emirates.

In these parts, Murtaza explains, a delivered show really is a delivered show.

As in Egypt and Lebanon, the only local staff are drivers and runners, a workforce that Murtaza runs with a simple “carrot and stick” method.

Apparently, they need to be paid “as they go” (carrot) and Murtaza is happy to do that.

But when the drivers aren’t needed or are just taking a break, she hangs on to the vehicles’ ignition keys to stop them from bunking off when they’re satisfied with what they’ve earned for the day.

The May 29th Ricky Martin show at Media City, which is a like a movie lot in central Cairo, was another show where Murtaza would have her local knowledge and patience tested to the full. But in comparison, she speaks of his Beirut date as if it were like putting on a gig in the U.S. or Europe.

The Arab market frontiers are being pushed back and, commenting on the progress made over the last five years, Murtaza said putting on a show in Lebanon – in comparison to Libya or Egypt – has become similar to working on the regular international touring circuit.

Apart from Martin, Elton John, Mariah Carey, and Phil Collins are among the most recent international acts to play there.

– John Gammon