Hassna Mattar, a singer from Lebanon, performs frequently in the Kurdistan Region's capital of Erbil where she has a big following. Photo: Mattar FB
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — With the Kurdistan Region emerging from crippling economic crises, Arab singers are returning to stages in Erbil, but Kurdish singers are unhappy with the foreigners cutting into their market.
"As Lebanese singers, we come to Erbil out of our love to the people of Kurdistan,” said Milisia, a Lebanese singer who held a concert in Erbil in January.
She said though their concerts do well in Lebanon, yet they prefer Erbil because of its peoples’ love for art.
"Many times we make less money in Erbil than we would make for a party or a concert in Lebanon or anywhere else," she added.
Often Arab singers who perform in Erbil say in interviews back home that they enjoyed Kurdistan beyond their imagination, vowing to visit more.
"Before I went to Erbil, some of my friends were describing Erbil to me with apprehension, but I had a different view of the city and had heard about its reputation differently," said Maryam Klink, another Lebanese singer.
She also echoed the sentiment that she has much support in the Kurdish capital.
"I am always willing to go back to Erbil and hold parties and concerts there. My fans there made me very happy,” said Klink.
Typically, private companies bring Arab singers to Erbil’s upscale hotels and market and publicize their performances to attract fans.
Zana Karim, the head of marketing at one such company says they hire singers who do not ask for much money.
"Currently, we are unable to invite top Arab singers as they ask for huge amounts of money. If we do this, the company will have to spend a lot of money and there is no guarantee that all the tickets will be sold… Therefore we bring second tier singers at a lower cost," Karim explained.
On the high end, some singers demand six-figure sums for performances.
"In addition to travel expenses and accommodations for them and their staff, some Arab singers ask for $100,000 for one party," he added.
But, Kurdish singers have a conflicting point of view, believing that spending money on Arab singers has damaged their markets.
A Kurdish singer who performs live music and sings at restaurants in Sulaimani in the evenings says their only source of livelihood is their art, but it has damaged by the foreign singers.
"The flock of Arab singers to Erbil is collapsing the market for Kurdish singers," he said.
He said he was happier during the economic crisis as fewer Arab singers came to the Kurdistan Region. But, now that the economic hardship is coming to an end, they face the same issue that they suffered from before 2014.
Reporting by Darbaz Younis