Saudi Arabia announces live music permits as part of ambitious ‘year of entertainment’

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Turki Al-Sheikh, the new CEO of Saudi Arabia's General Entertaintment Authority (GEA), speaks during a presentation of the 2019 GEA program at the Four Seasons hotel in Riyadh on January 22, 2019. (AFP)
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Turki Al-Sheikh, left, the new CEO of Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority (GEA), with Saudi actors during a presentation of the 2019 GEA program at the Four Seasons hotel in Riyadh on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2019

Saudi Arabia announces live music permits as part of ambitious ‘year of entertainment’

  • In his first press conference since he was appointed to the role, Turki Al-Sheikh unveiled a number of initiatives and projects
  • Planned events include soccer matches featuring Beckham and Zidane, concerts, theater shows and Islamic competitions

RIYADH: 2019 is shaping up to be the year of entertainment in Saudi Arabia, with an ambitious program of events planned on a scale never before seen in the Kingdom.

The coming attractions, announced by General Entertainment Authority Chairman Turki Al-Sheikh in Riyadh on Tuesday night, aim to transform Saudi Arabia into one of the top 10 international entertainment destinations. To achieve this, he said, the GEA has negotiated long-term contracts with more than 100 local and international partners. In addition, restaurants and cafes will be able to apply for entertainment licenses.

Traditional and culturally significant local events feature prominently in the plans.

“Competitions are an important element of entertainment,” said Al-Sheikh. “The most important will take place during Ramadan and will be of an Islamic nature, with the supervision of Islamic scholars.

“The first competition will be for the most beautiful reciting of the Holy Qur’an, and competitors from all over the world are invited. The first prize will be SR 5 million.

“The second Islamic competition is for the athan (call for prayer). In addition to receiving a large prize of SR 2 million, the winner of the first prize can also look forward to raising the athan in the Prophet’s Holy mosque.”

Al-Sheikh also announced a SR1 million prize for participants in a  Hijra Journey contest. It will require participants from around the Muslim world to walk between Makkah and Madinah in a reenactment of Prophet Muhammad’s journey of migration.

Soccer fans, meanwhile, are promised exhibition matches featuring football heroes such as former England midfielder David Beckham and French star Zinedine Zidane. The GEA is also looking into the possibility of holding an NBA championship basketball game in the Kingdom.

For those who prefer gentler pastimes, there will be a baloot championship and e-gaming events, while culture vultures can look forward to a varied program of concerts, theatrical events, comedy shows and feats of magic. There will also be a running of the bulls, a “winter wonderland” event, TV game shows, circuses from around the world, bazaars, floating restaurants and outdoor cinemas in 13 cities, plus much more.

One of the biggest new attractions expected to open in 2019 is the Madame Tussauds waxworks museum, which will have venues in Riyadh and Jeddah and feature a wax model of King Faisal.

Although many of these events and attractions have not been seen in Saudi Arabia for many years, if at all, Al-Sheikh emphasized that they will be presented in a way that respects local values.

“Our traditions and culture will be respected,” he said. “Our religion is clear and we will adhere to our Islamic values,” he said.

He also pointed out that similar events were common in the Kingdom at one time, and added: “This is us; we used to be like this 40 years ago, now we are returning to what we had.”

One pastime that is a more recent arrival in Saudi Arabia is drifting, a motor sport hobby that has become popular among Saudi youths. While it is frowned upon by the authorities on public streets, there are plans to give fans a chance to compete in organized events and competitions.

“Now rather than have someone drink soft drinks and annoy us on the streets, we have a new initiative with the General Sports Authority to launch rallies where youths can drift in safety, far from the public streets,” said Al-Sheikh.

One of the aims of the GEA is to discover and develop local talent and give it a chance to prosper internationally. Among the first to benefit from this are Osama, the “animal whisperer,” and Al-Juaad group, who will travel to Germany to showcase their talents. 

“One of the many visions we have is that our local talent performs not only in Saudi Arabia but also abroad,” added Al-Sheikh, who also unveiled a colorful new GEA logo.

“Entertainment is a sector we heavily rely on for vision 2030, in realizing our dreams. We won’t attain our goals unless we work together.”

He said that in addition to the pleasure it provides, the entertainment industry is a vital part of the economy, adding: “It creates jobs and investment opportunities. There is an opportunity for everyone.”

To help support small and medium-sized local companies benefit from this, Al-Sheikh and Minister of Commerce and Investment Majed Al-Qasabi have signed an agreement that will help with the issuing of licenses for entertainment purposes. Al-Sheikh said coffee shops and restaurants will be issued permits to host live musical performances and stand up comedy events.


Arabic anime voice actors prepare for new show at Riyadh expo

Updated 12 min 27 sec ago

Arabic anime voice actors prepare for new show at Riyadh expo

  • Waheed Jalal's voice acting as “Treasure Island” antagonist John Silver has captivated generations

RIYADH: Visitors to Riyadh’s first anime expo stopped by the first panel on Saturday unaware that they would be leaving the stage with memories renewed of their favorite voice actors of all time.

Waheed Jalal and Jihad Al-Atrashi will forever live on in the hearts of fans of “Grendizer” and “Treasure Island (Takarajima),” the two shows that introduced the Arab world to anime in the 1970s.

Jalal, whose voice acting as “Treasure Island” antagonist John Silver has captivated generations, expressed how delighted he was to be with the audience.

“I want to thank you and your Kingdom of generosity and culture,” he said.

Al-Atrash, who portrayed Duke Fleed, echoed his sentiments: “You are great people with great values, thank you to the people of the Kingdom that stand next to people of all nations.”

Jalal was touched by the audience’s love and warm welcome, “You guys are the reason we continued this far, without you it wouldn’t have been possible,” he told them.

“We’re persevering to this day because people loved these characters we portrayed so much, our other works pale in comparison,” he added.

Jalal said that the reason “Grendizer” remained with so many people is because of the values and morals depicted in the show, teaching generations to be loyal and loving to their nation and their people.

Artist and creator Ibrahim Al-Lami. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

The voice acting pair talked about the importance of speaking in formal Arabic in these shows. Jalal said it’s because “you’re presenting to the entire Arab world.”

Local dialects would be difficult for others to understand, so we must all aspire to perfect our formal Arabic, added Jalal.

Before concluding the talk, a teaser was played of the first Saudi anime “Makkeen” by artist and creator, Ibrahim Al-Lami, who announced that 60 percent of the work was completed through local efforts.

“We’ll introduce a new work that is by our people, written by our people and voiced by our people,” he said to the audience.

The work will feature characters voiced by Jalal and Al-Atrash, who have become symbolic to the Arab anime world. “I told them, this work wouldn’t be complete without you two,” said Lami on his choice of voice actors. “We want these works to see the light of day. We need to provide the new generations with tales of our own,” added Al-Atrash when asked why he wanted to partake in the anime.