‘Knot’ bad: Students (secretly) double up as singers for extra cash
Some Saudi women graduating from college as well as high school students are reaping a good income by becoming wedding singers. Aside from singing, these women must also master certain musical instruments as the job involves tapping on tambourines and playing electric piano during their performances.
The average income they earn from these musical gigs depends on the demand, as costs may spike due to the increasing interest that has spread in the Gulf society for such bands as well as the equipment used and the number of band members, including the lead singer.
Mashael, 22, a student at a private university, explained that the cost per night varies from one region to another. In small towns, the band price ranges between SR7,000 and SR11,000, while in big cities, it may reach SR100,000, but the average does not usually exceed SR35,000.
But added to the price comes a burden for some too. Mashael admitted that “burqa” became her companion since she began this profession seven years ago during her first year of college. “In order to avoid embarrassment, I wear ‘burqas’ so as not to be recognized by my colleagues and some of my relatives at the university. A large number of university graduates are entering this job market nowadays,” she said.
Despite the nice income, the share of the “wedding singer” is little because the money is divided among the band members, consisting of more than nine. The money they earn after each wedding is apportioned among them in addition to the rental cost of electronic devices that is up to SR2,000 per night. This includes of course, the driver of the band, who should have a share of the concert price every night, the installation of the instruments and the audio system integrated under the supervision of a sound engineer. This specialist receives a reward of up to an average of SR5,000, in addition to some other service requests, according to the wedding organizers. Besides these costs, Saudi wedding singing must now also champion girls from other nationalities that have began to take over the job.
Wedding planner Khoulod Hassoun believes that the entertainment of the wedding depends on the willingness of the client or his budget, but that wedding singers are on the rise.
“Despite the large number of technical teams, the demand still increases, and wages are increasing significantly. Whoever wants to hire a band needs to book before the occasion date in long periods of up to a full year sometimes,” she said.
“Payment is made in advance as a verbal contract to prove the price guarantees the rights of both parties. However, it was usual in these agreements that people keep their word without conditions or even contracts or witnesses,” she added.
Noor Al-Bader, a wedding singer, stresses that the amount received by the lead singer is not as great as some claim, because of the high price of devices and musical instruments that are used in their concerts. She also points out that the amount received also has to be distributed among a large number of people, shrinking the profit margin.
Another disadvantage wedding singers must face is that it is still a taboo profession and the majority of the women change their names and hide behind aliases or nicknames.
“Some believe that compound names help in proliferation and fame, while others feel that the name change is a kind of disguise and escape from the perception of inferiority that may face from society,” Al-Bader said.
Dozens of website pages full of numbers and addresses for wedding singers from various Gulf countries are appearing nowadays.
The singers exchange news regarding their profession on the Internet forums and networking sites as a means of promoting work through the publication of phone numbers and information about the singer.
These wedding gigs are not only for college and high school graduates, as famous singers from the Gulf and other parts of the Arab world also sing at weddings sometimes.
Their wages, though, differ radically from their more amateur counterparts since many times their trips include travel costs for the artist with the band and accommodation in high-end hotels.
Wedding singing is no longer limited to women and their parties, but men compete strongly to entertain the groom’s party. It’s still rare to see mixed parties, with both sexes mingling during the entertainment portion of the wedding, unless the couple has a tight budget.