The festival, which took place from Jan. 11 to Jan. 20 on Jeddah’s waterfront, is part of the General Entertainment Authority’s (GEA) effort to provide Saudis with activities and events to keep them rooted to the Kingdom during the mid-school year break, and to promote internal tourism.
The carnival-like event attracted more than 1,000,000 visitors five days into its Jeddah leg, and the number has continued to increase by the hour.
The one-square-kilometer space can accommodate up to 400,000 visitors, occupied by six different stages — including the Spanish stage and sailor’s stage, 100 booths and 600 organizers, as well as patrolling police to ensure visitors’ safety.
The event is supported by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the GEA; Luxury KSA organized the event, having run 45 others throughout Saudi Arabia.
The festival brought together a variety of people from all over the Kingdom, accommodating the tastes of all music lovers — from violin covers of famous tunes to house music and DJ remixes of everyone’s favorite song.
The Boulevard includes dazzling lightshows, a dance performance by the Saudi Dance Crew, acrobatic performances, side games for children, as well as 16 food trucks to satisfy the hungry.
During the waterfront event, DJs rocked the main stage, garnering the crowd’s attention with uncharted beats.
Sisters Al-Anoud and Nouf Al-Oufi from Jeddah, who studied their master’s and bachelor’s degrees respectively in San Francisco, spoke to Arab News about their experience at the festival. “I didn’t know such performances were even possible in Saudi Arabia. It was very refreshing to attend. I did notice some people around me were a little reserved, but I enjoyed the performance seeing that it’s a new experience for me in Saudi Arabia.”
Al-Oufi said: “It was really fun. It reminded me and Al-Anoud of San Fransisco; it was an entirely different vibe in Saudi Arabia. The event was well-organized and we had a blast.”
The DJ-ing scene has changed for the better, according to music maverick, Hany Al-Banjary, who used to DJ for Panorama FM.
Al-Banjary told Arab News: “The DJ-ing scene has definitely changed since 2006 for instance; back then you could only make out 5-10 professional DJs. Not to mention, during such times, we could only DJ outside the country or in underground events, private events, ceremonies and occasions.
“Lately, though, when we’re performing publicly, people started taking videos and they look like they’re enjoying themselves — through that you can tell that their outlook has changed, that they’re growing to accept the idea. I remember during an event I did in 2007, some people were offended to hear music playing publicly, so we’ve come a long way since then.”
DJ Hassan Ghazzawi told Arab News: “People have gotten more curious about music. If you recall a few years back, people used to call house music ‘techno,’ but now they are aware there’s deep house, tech house — that there is more than one genre of music. People are getting more involved in music making and what goes on beyond a track — now, when they listen to a song they like, they want to know who the DJ is and what goes on behind the scenes and what synthesizers are being used.”
Hussain Al-Qadi, known as DJ Sain, agreed. “People started to understand the music you’re playing; surely there’s room for improvement and we haven’t fulfilled everything, but this is a dream come true,” he said, describing how he felt about DJs having the opportunity to perform at large-scale events like Entertainment Boulevard.
Sain adds: “The surprising thing to me lately has been the demand for DJs. I’ve had many ask me: ‘Why aren’t you doing anything’ and ‘why aren’t you playing here?’ People want this kind of vibe. DJ Hany and I were the opening act before the Nelly and Cheb Khaled concert, and the atmosphere and vibe during that night was unforgettable. We didn’t expect to perform for such a large crowd; 10,000 people came and listened to us. And even at the Boulevard, when you see all the work and set-up going into it, all of the people there, it’s just phenomenal: a beginning for greater things to come.”
Al-Banjary is discouraged by the rising number of young DJs who are accepting any gig or performance for free, just to make a name for themselves or seek fame.
For others, DJ-ing is a full-time career. “It’s definitely a successful career path, I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years but the younger DJs are going to public and private events for no charge, and we work hard, we compose and bring our own playlist and equipment, and I say we earned our pay. DJ-ing isn’t for fame, it’s a career.”
When facing odd looks and criticism from the public, Al-Banjary said: “Although it’s less pronounced, prejudice against DJs still exists and people retain this bad image about DJs, but DJ-ing is an art, just like any other. I think people need more time to become aware about the DJ culture and to learn how we create music from scratch.”
DJs all over the region have faced criticism that their music is fully Westernized. Al-Banjary rejects this: “We are exchanging cultures through music. You have people on the Western side of the globe Easternizing their tunes to create new sounds. Even in my playlist on radio live shows I try to add an Arabian touch into my mixes, which makes the experience unique to listeners. So, I’d say no, I’m not really helping Westernize my society or their music taste. I’m trying to reflect my own culture to others.”
“I don’t believe music has a certain country or nationality that it belongs to,” DJ Sain adds. “Music is a universal form of art, no matter what you play and the language you speak, people either feel it or they don’t: It’s a sensuous feeling.”
DJ Ghazzawi reflected on his residency in London, Italy and Egypt. With his brother they form Dish Dash, and they are two of the most influential DJs in the country.
“We still play with an Arabic twist no matter where we are; we still portray our heritage through an oriental sound. The genre we play isn’t really Arabic — it’s deep house and techno. When we perform outside Saudi, people enjoy our sets because they’re different, especially in London and Rome; when we play there, we vary from their sound and try to link our heritage. We’re called Dish Dash (which is the garment worn by Arab men known as thobe) and we often perform wearing mishlah (another garment worn over thobes) so we are not discarding our identity at all.”
“I feel that in a couple of years, DJ-ing will have a big impact as a job. If you’re good at it and you’re in it for the right reason, you can go big places,” he said.
“Five to six years ago when I used to host DJ events for Red Bull, I had a title attached to my name, and the looks I was compared to when I discarded the Red Bull brand ... it was stigmatized, definitely. But now, as a DJ/producer, I notice people’s outlook has changed and it’s gotten easier for an individual to go out and say ‘I’m a DJ’.”