BY JENNA BAGCAL
Live music may soon come to an end at The Red Pipe Café in Forest Hills. as the owners struggle to raise funds for music licensing agreements from three big music nonprofits groups.
Those agencies — American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) — are three of five “performing rights organizations” in the United States that are responsible for paying royalties to all those involved in the performance and creation of licensed music.
“First we were contacted by BMI, and they said you can’t play live music without a license,” said Red Pipe owner, Rene David Alkalay. After BMI, he was subsequently contacted by ASCAP and SESAC with similar sentiments.
“For us to continue, we have to raise the funds. I don’t want to break laws or take the risk,” Alkalay added. He further shared that continuing to play live music without the proper licenses could result in a lawsuit.
Alkalay started a GoFundMe in February 2018 called “Keep Culture Alive in Forest Hills,” with a goal to raise $2000 to cover the licensing fees from each of the music companies. As of April 18, 15 supporters donated a combined $616 to the campaign, about 1/3 of the intended goal and enough to cover one license for a year.
In 2014 Alkalay opened the Red Pipe Café, a popular vegan restaurant located at 71-60 Austin St. in Forest Hills. He frequented restaurants in the area and noticed there was a lack of live music at these venues. His goal was to bring live music to the community, and after a year, other restaurants on Austin Street and Metropolitan Avenue followed suit.
Through donations to the Genesis Society, a 501(C)3 not-for-profit which he founded in 1996, Alkalay was able to provide a free music program for local performers to share their music at his café.
But now local musicians like Gary Brocks, who started performing at The Red Pipe about two years ago, may lose this local performance space. Each week, Brocks performs both licensed and unlicensed music in the café’s intimate setting. The trombonist and jazz vocalist who has lived in Forest Hills for the past 40 years said that The Red Pipe Café has served as a platform to showcase jazz to people who are not as familiar with the genre.
“A place like Red Pipe provides, unexpectedly, a place to people younger than myself to hear music that they’ve never heard,” said Brocks who has performed every week at the café until January of this year, and every other week following.
Some Forest Hills residents have also expressed their disappointment with the situation and called for others to donate to the cause. Nichole Michelle shared the link to the GoFundMe on the Forest Hills-Rego Park-Kew Gardens Facebook page.
“I hope all our neighbors who love the promise of Austin Street, the inclusiveness of this area, the Red Pipe, local industry, and an opportunity to perform or support your neighbors performing will also throw a little bit in the pot,” wrote Michelle.
In addition to live music and open mic nights, The Red Pipe Café hosts movie screenings, art exhibits and open mic poetry at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, all of which are free to attend.
“We need to raise donations for our goal by April 20, 2018,” wrote Alkalay in the GoFundMe description, and he hopes to raise enough money soon. “We live in a violent world, a world with more and more wars. The arts are essential to reestablish a peaceful dialogue.”