The forgotten tour: US band that rocked Saudi Arabia

The rock band Starbuck was formed in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1974 by lead vocalist and record producer Bruce Blackman. Bandmates Darryl Kutz, Johnny Walker and Bo Wagner played gigs throughout their 1978 trip to Al-Ahsa in the Eastern Province.
Updated 12 January 2019
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The forgotten tour: US band that rocked Saudi Arabia

  • Photos of an American rock group’s trip to the Eastern Province in the 1970s spark nostalgia on social media

RIYADH: A series of photos of the US band Starbuck on tour in Al-Ahsa in the 1970s has been doing the rounds on Twitter. And by the looks of it, they had a rockin’ good time.

Starbuck was formed in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1974 and rose to fame with their 1976 hit “Moonlight Feels Right,” which reached No. 3 on the US Billboard Charts. 

Oil giant Aramco invited the band to perform in Saudi Arabia in 1978 to entertain the American geologists it employed. Their tour lasted two weeks, during which time they played at Aramco outposts along the Kingdom’s east coast. 

Although pictures from the tour were posted eight years ago on Facebook, they grabbed attention when they were posted to Twitter in early January by Mohammed Al-Khalifah (@desertlover79), who is well known for posting vintage photos of Saudi, particularly the Eastern Province.

Al-Khalifah came across them while searching for old photos of his home region of Al-Ahsa. In the first two days they were on Twitter, the photos had garnered over 700,000 views.

The photographs were first shared on Facebook by Davie Holifield, daughter of Starbuck’s lead guitarist Darryl Kutz. On a tribute page to the late musician, Holifield has posted more than 800 photographs chronicling her father’s life, including those of the band’s Saudi tour.

“My father was a career musician and we had so many photos we wanted to share with friends, relatives and fans of all of the bands he was in. When he died suddenly of a heart attack at age 46, we were devastated. So we started the page as a place to share his photos,” said Holifield.

The album dedicated to the Saudi Arabian tour contains almost 200 photos of the various band members, mostly taken by Kutz. And judging by their quality, he could have made it as a photojournalist if he hadn’t been a musician. 

The pictures feature the pristine beaches of Ras Tanoura, the blooming bougainvillea trees of the Aramco compound in Dhahran, and the magnificent rock formations at Jabal Qarah. The pictures also show the members of Starbuck, along with their interpreters — Mohammed and Alawi.

Kenny Crysler, Starbuck’s drummer, expressed how fondly he remembered the trip. “As you can see from the beautiful pictures that Darryl took, we really had a good time visiting and experiencing the country,” he said. “Everyone we met seemed to really appreciate our being there. It was quite an adventure being able to just walk around and visit some of the old towns.”

According to Crysler, the band mainly stayed in Dhahran, though he recalls visiting several different towns during the tour. Kutz’s photos show them taking one of Aramco’s F-27 planes during their stay, and Crysler recalls them taking planes to get around.

“I remember flying to one concert and, shortly after taking off, Darryl had a problem with his inner ear and we had to land. We left Darryl on the ground and then flew to the next concert venue. Darryl was able to make friends and somehow get a ride to the concert without speaking the language. He was amazing at making friends wherever we happened to be,” Crysler said.

As the photos continue to gain traction on Twitter, there have been numerous responses from people pleased to see the region in the spotlight.

“These are beautiful. Long live Al-Ahsa!” tweeted one user.

“Weird to think that when these pictures were taken, 70% of Saudis weren’t even born yet,” pointed out another.

Holifield hopes that the pictures will help her father’s memory — and that of the band — live on. “Maybe others who remember that trip will get to see them,” she said. “And as for my father, we miss him terribly, but we love being able to keep him alive in the memories from those days.”


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”