Long-awaited concert music to Saudi ears

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Saudi Arabian singer Rashed Al-Majed peforms during a concert in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS)
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Saudis attend a music concert by Rashed Al-Majed who performed in Riyadh. (AFP)
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Saudis attend a music concert by Rashed Al-Majed who performed in Riyadh. (AFP)
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Saudi Arabian singer Rashed Al-Majed peforms during a concert in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS)
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Saudis attend a music concert by Rashed Al-Majed who performed in Riyadh. (AFP)
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Saudis attend a music concert by Rashed Al-Majed who performed in Riyadh. (AFP)
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Saudis attend a music concert by Rashed Al-Majed who performed in Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 11 March 2017
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Long-awaited concert music to Saudi ears

RIYADH: Legendary Arab singer Rashed Al-Majed gave his fans three encores in the Saudi capital Thursday night. Why not? They had waited about three decades for such a show.
Al-Majed opened for Mohammed Abdu as part of what one music lover called a “paradigm shift” in the conservative Islamic Kingdom, which has cautiously begun introducing entertainment despite opposition from Muslim hardliners.
Both singers have Saudi roots and are popular throughout the Arab world, but fans said Abdu had not sung in the Saudi capital since 1988.
Local media reported there had been no other concerts in Riyadh since the early 1990s, after which they were effectively banned, although private musical events did occur.
“We missed them a lot,” Jamal Al-Onzi, a 31-year-old bank worker, said of the singers.
He was among the audience of 2,000 — all men — who paid between 500 and 2,500 riyals ($133-$667) for the performances at King Fahd Cultural Center hall.
“We sold out in 30 minutes,” Habib Rahal, of the organizers Rotana Music, told AFP.
Dressed almost exclusively in traditional white thobes and chequered headgear, the crowd was initially sedate despite the infectious drum beats and melodious strings that accompanied Al-Majed.
In the shadows, one spectator mouthed the words and moved his arms in time to the music. Another tapped his left hand on his thobe.
There was lots of enthusiastic shouting and calls of “Rashed” before the energy peaked, pushing the singer to his three encores.
They swayed in time to the music. Some even stood up to dance.
After more than 90 minutes, it was time to do it all again when Abdu took the stage at around midnight.
Less pop-influenced than Al-Majed, the elder man sings patriotic and traditionally romantic songs.
“I have feelings of happiness and joy and pleasure,” he told reporters before ending his long absence from a Riyadh stage.
Abdu gained fame long before Abdulaziz Al-Shudayyid was born, but the 21-year-old student said the veteran artist “sings for my generation. I know by heart all his songs.”
Although conservatism still runs deep, there is pressure for change in a country where more than half the population is younger than 25 and people are connected to the wider world through the Internet.
They have a champion at the highest levels of power in Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, who is pushing economic diversification and social reform of the oil-dependent Kingdom.
One of the most visible aspects has been entertainment, partly out of an economic motive to get Saudis spending at home rather than elsewhere in the Gulf.
The Kingdom still bans alcohol, public cinemas and theaters. It usually segregates unrelated men and women in restaurants and other public places.
But hundreds of men and women, side by side, clapped to the hip hop beat when New York theatrical group iLuminate performed in October.
That began an entertainment calendar that has so far included WWE wrestling and the Kingdom’s first Comic-Con pop culture festival. The US-based Monster Jam truck competition is scheduled for next week in Riyadh.
There has, however, been resistance. On Thursday, a member of the religious police disrupted a musical performance by a group from Malaysia at a venue hosting Riyadh’s International Book Fair, damaging their sound system.
The Information Ministry called it “an isolated case” by the religious police, whose power has been greatly reduced.
A scheduled show by Abdu last September in Riyadh did not take place, but in January he performed without incident in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, widely considered somewhat more liberal than Riyadh.
Abdulrahman Al-Shaya, 28, a chemical engineer who attended the Riyadh concert, said Saudi Arabia is going through “a paradigm shift” with such events that have proven popular.
“This is towards the good of the country, and I hope they continue,” he said.


Misk Global Forum: Panelists spoke about future skills, AI and social intelligence on the first day

Updated 15 November 2018
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Misk Global Forum: Panelists spoke about future skills, AI and social intelligence on the first day

  • Princesses and politicians, entrepreneurs, an Olympian and football legend joined forces to power a skills revolution

“What does the future look like, in a world where everything is changing?” This question rang out as a video montage played at the “Skills for Our Tomorrow” Misk Global Forum on Wednesday.

From the vantage point of  the third annual forum in Riyadh, the future buzzed with possibilities as more than 3,500 delegates were treated to sessions with political ministers, princesses, inventors, entrepreneurs and athletes. They had all assembled to share their vision of what is needed to deliver the skills that will be needed in future.

Weam Al-Dakheel, the first woman to anchor the main evening news on Saudi Arabian TV, introduced the forum’s executive manager Shaima Hamidaddin. “We want you to be inspired, not just by our speakers, but by your fellow guests,” said Hamidaddin, as she welcomed delegates. 

Hamidaddin asked for a show of hands from different parts of the world, showing that there were delegates from every continent except Antarctica — the forum would work on that for next year, she promised. She then asked for a show of hands for those under the age of 35 to demonstrate that this was the youngest Misk Global Forum yet.

She added that thanks to technology, we are already more connected than ever before, but urged people to interact with the speakers and guests from different cultures. “We must seize the opportunity for uniquely human collaboration,” she said.

As the moderator of the first session, “It’s All About Skills,” Arab News’ editor in chief Faisal J. Abbas began by holding up the morning’s newspaper: “Two years ago people used to read the news like this,” he said.

But as he pointed out, the news industry has changed drastically, with digitally connected audiences increasingly using online platforms such as Twitter.

With media tweeting out his comments, Abbas introduced his guests: Ahmed bin Suleiman Al-Rajhi, the Kingdom’s minister of labor and social development; Shaima Hamidaddin; Jayathma Wickramanayake of Sri Lanka, the UN Secretary-General’s envoy on youth and Sue Siegel, chief innovation officer for General Electric.

Abbas asked Al-Rajhi how the government was tackling the challenge of finding jobs for young people. “With Vision 2030 programs ... we have a lot of initiatives and there is potential,” the minister said. “We all need to work together and collaborate with the education system, employers who create the jobs and the ministry to give a clear direction of where we are going today.”

Arab News Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas hosted a panel on skills. (Ziyad Alarfaj/Arab News)

Asked whether job creation is considered to be an issue worldwide, the UN youth envoy said: “It is not a national or regional issue but a global one: Our world is younger than it has ever been before.” 

Wickramanayake said that by 2030, South Asia and Africa will supply 60 percent of the world’s workforce. “We have a large majority of young people who are working but still live in poverty,” she said, adding it is important to invest in them. “If we are serious then this is the time to make those investments to be productive citizens and employees and employers.”

A group that has been making just this sort of investment in Saudi Arabia is the forum’s organizer, the Misk Foundation, which. was founded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2011. 

Abbas asked the question that is on everyone’s minds these days: Are machines going to take our jobs? Siegel answered that while everybody looks at artificial intelligence and has this fear, actually AI will create new jobs and be used for more mundane tasks. 

AI was the topic of another session later in the day. Julia Glidden, general manager, global government industry for IBM Corporation in the US, said it is really important to know what AI is not. “It comes back to you and what you bring to your societies, which is your humanity, your passion, your vision and creativity, because machines will never replace that,” she said. 

Another panel on the topic of social intelligence stressed that technology could sometimes hinder people from interacting with the world around them.  Adeeb Alblooshi, the UAE’s youngest inventor, said it is important to develop social intelligence. 

He advised young people: “You have to start simple by understanding little things people do and that’s how you can gain experience. You don’t need to have the best equipment and the latest technology to develop. Just don’t give up ... always have faith.” 

Princess Reema bint Bandar, deputy of planning and development at the Saudi General Sport Authority. (Basher Saleh/Arab News)

The day wasn’t just about skills and intelligence. Athletes led the afternoon sessions, including a panel on the Future of Sport moderated by Princess Reema bint Bandar, deputy of planning and development at the Saudi General Sport Authority. 

Lubna Al-Omair, the first Saudi female Olympic fencer, interviewed Amir Khan, the Olympic medalist and light-welterweight world champion, who appeared wearing traditional Saudi clothes. He said that he hoped to help the next generation of Saudi boxers to become Olympic champions, and the only way to do this is by opening academies here. 

British boxing legend Amir Khan. (Ziyad Alarfaj/Arab News)

Khan said he believes there is a reason Saudis are good boxers: “Maybe it is in their blood — they are warriors.”

Winding up the day, Brazilian football legend Ronaldinho appeared on stage to a chorus of cheers and gave a talk entitled “The Discipline — and Fun — of Teamwork. ”

His advice for the audience? “Prepare yourself and help your colleague or team member,” he said. “Humility is important. Try to stay humble.”

He also said to train hard, read as much as you can and don’t fear failure. “I failed a lot of times,” he said. “Football is like that. You can’t always win. You have to seek lessons from the defeats and not lose hope.” 

Now retired, Ronaldinho is more concerned with giving back. “After I stopped playing, I have soccer academies. That’s what I’m proud of, and it has given me pleasure. To give something back (as a) thanks to football and everything it has given me.”

The forum was continuing at Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh at Kingdom Center on Thursday.

Brazilian soccer great Ronaldinho. (Ziyad Alarfaj/Arab News)