Any musician or singer in Uzbekistan hoping to make a living on their stage has had for years to contend with the all-important parastatal Uzbeknavo performance agency. Dancers, meanwhile, obtained their performing licenses from an analogous body called Uzbekraks.
Media have reported this week that these two entities are by presidential decree now to be dissolved and merged into a single body, Uzbekkoncert, which will operate under the aegis of the Culture Ministry.
The new organization will oversee around 2,500 solo and group acts. Authorities have said this entity will be a more effective mechanism for developing the performance industry.
Historically, Uzbeknavo has been used in large part as a stick to wield over artists to keep them in line. Denial of licenses typically represents the death of any jobbing musician’s career as it deprives them of the right to make a living performing at public venues and most certainly on television or the radio.
In the best-publicized instance of licenses being revoked, perceptions of moral failings or suspect political views have usually been at play. Officials are also wont to voice concern at what they see as alien and culturally inappropriate fads.
Prior to the announcement that Uzbeknavo was to be dissolved, its head, Murod Madjidov, was switched out in favor of Kabul Yuldashev, about whom little public information is available. Yuldashev, 49, who was previously deputy head of Uzbeknavo, will now preside over the Uzbekkoncert merger.
Cultural observers need not expect a sudden pull toward liberalization of the arts scene. An article in Podrobno.uz reporting on the creation of Uzbekkoncert mentions in passing that the newly formed body will work toward output that “reflects the intense spirituality and the vibrant and distinct culture of the people of Uzbekistan.” Uzbekkoncert’s operations are to be financed out of a “culture and arts development fund,” but it is not clear where this body’s budget is to come from.
A Culture Ministry spokesperson told EurasiaNet.org that the objective of the shakeup has been to streamline the bureaucracy — code for a reduction in the number of staff — and that Uzbekkoncert will take over license-issuing duties from its antecedents.
The previously existing bodies “partially duplicated one another. Now they will be merged under the Culture Ministry,” the spokesman said.
Speaking to EurasiaNet.org, singer and musician Vahid Amonov was likewise unimpressed by the development and said there were pressing problems affecting entertainers that needed addressing urgently.
“It would have been better if they had brought down the cost of licenses, since at the moment they are very expensive. To [earn the right to] perform at wedding you need to pay $1,500. For concert performances it is $2,100. Famous performers have no trouble paying for their licenses, but for people like me this is really hard,” Amonov said.
Licenses are renewed annually.
Once you add up all the figures, this translates into a serious multimillion dollar affair.
According to official figures, from January to September last year, Uzbeknavo granted 2,074 licenses. Fifty performers were refused licenses.