The Akon affair has, to a section of the Colombo-based media fed up with drab, flagitious politics, become something like a welcome shower to the farming community in the drought affected dry zone. The name, Akon, has suddenly become as familiar as Abeykone to Sri Lankans and even those who may have mistaken R&B for a kind of fizz like `EGB` a few weeks ago are now talking about him as if they knew him from his childhood days. Even some grandmas in rural backwaters are said to be asking, `Ara Akon lamayata mokakda vela thiyenne?` (`What has happened to that Akon boy?)
Some time ago we were not short of people who boasted that they were sponsoring Akon but today he is nobody s baby! Nay, he has become a hot potato after a recent incident where a mob protesting against the so-called Akon show went berserk and kicked up an ugly row.
Akon`s local sponsors found themselves in the soup, as is well known, because of his controversial video where some scantily dressed women perform an execrable dance against the backdrop of a Buddha statue. (One is reminded of temple murals where three luscious damsels, to wit, Tanha, Rati and Raga, who are anthropomorphic representations of the evil forces of Mara, gyrate titillatingly in front of the Enlightened One in a bid to seduce him into indulging in worldly pleasures, but in vain.) Why some Buddhist activists are perturbed is understandable but the violent reaction of a handful of troublemakers has left us speechless it is abominable to say the least.
Sadly, some artistes, both local and foreign, seem to believe that anything goes when they create something. Iconoclastic tendencies of the artistically inclined are monumental but there are situations where they ought to act with self-restraint, mindful of religio-cultural sensitivities and concerns of the mainstream society. Else, they find themselves on a collision course with others. Of late, in this country, we have seen the consequences of their disregard for sacred images. Last week, the Catholic clergy took strong exception to some political advertisements that carried images holy to Christians. The other instance was the March 23 attack on the MTV head office in Colombo.
The Akon affair was, in our book, totally mishandled right from the word go. The organisers of his concert should have known that his video in question would be made an issue of. They blundered by taking the so-called fleeting glimpse of the Buddha statue in it for granted. Although there should be no room for a culture police , as we argued the other day, the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, a co-sponsor of the event, ought to act cautiously in organising events to promote tourism, if it is to avert untoward situations. The sky is certainly not the limit.
Among the other reasons for stiff resistance to the Akon show were his track record and controversial conduct which made even Australia hesitant in granting him a visa initially. He is known for his whacky antics such as `crowd surfing` which is to dive into the audience slap-bang leaving some of his fans injured. A few years ago in India, Akon had it in one of his crazy plunges into the crowd he returned minus his valuable wristwatch! A smart Indian had relieved him of it, maybe as a souvenir! Had he come here and tried his `crowd surfing` with our guys in the audience, perhaps he would have returned home sans not only his watch but also some parts of his ebony anatomy! Perhaps, he would have met the same grisly fate as an incorrigible political brat who once, sozzled to the gills after a nightlong binge, plunged into a swimming pool, which had been drained the previous day for repairs.
One may not care whether Akon comes or goes but the manner in which his tour of Lanka had to be cancelled has left a bad taste in many a mouth. It has become ammunition for those bent on casting this country in a bad light internationally. The story that the world hears through the western media is that the whole country exploded on March 23 with `rock throwing` people unleashing hell. Regrettably, an isolated incident is being made use of to project Sri Lanka as a country affected by a different kind of Talibanism. This is what the sponsors of the Akon show and the violent protesters who scuttled it have achieved!
The kind of publicity the Akon Affair has generated Sri Lanka could do without at a time sinister attempts are being made in some quarters to give it a bad name and her tourism industry is fast reviving.