Saudi Arabia could anchor new Mideast tour circuit, says boss of entertainment firm Flash

US DJ Swizz Beatz, left, after the F1 race in Abu Dhabi. With the F1 shows now over for another year, Flash is seeking to expand in Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
Updated 03 December 2019

Saudi Arabia could anchor new Mideast tour circuit, says boss of entertainment firm Flash

  • Saudi Arabia looks to attract more visitors and invests heavily in the entertainment sector

LONDON: A 4 a.m. phone call rarely brings good news — as Flash Entertainment CEO John Lickrish discovered, just days before Travis Scott was due to perform at the Abu Dhabi F1 concerts. The call was from the rapper’s management team to say that he was not going to be traveling to the UAE, for reasons that Lickrish declines to disclose.

It was a very early start to a very bad day at the office for the Canadian who has worked for the Abu Dhabi government-owned entertainment company since its inception 10 years ago.

A flurry of calls ensued to arrange the almost impossible task of finding alternative artists to headline an event that in the past has included the likes of Paul McCartney, Rihanna and Eminem. It paid off, and fellow Atlanta-based rappers Future and Gucci Mane were able to step in at incredibly short notice to play on the opening night of the three-day festival which ended on Sunday.

“We understand his decision. He just couldn’t make it. For an artist of that caliber to cancel a show, they don’t take these things lightly,” he said. “When you get a cancelation that close, it’s heartbreaking and of course it’s complicated. So we’re all running a bit ragged.”

Speaking to Arab News on the eve of last weekend’s opening night, Lickrish sounds surprisingly sanguine for a man who only a few days earlier was staring at a Travis Scott-shaped hole in his F1 lineup.

But with the F1 shows now over for another year, the Flash boss is already looking ahead and busy preparing the ground for the arrival of the company in Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an important step in creating a regional touring scene to attract the world’s biggest artists.

The opening up of Saudi Arabia’s entertainment sector is drawing interest from international promoters who are especially attracted by the Kingdom’s youthful demographics. At the same time, the country is playing host to increasingly high-profile sports events such as next weekend’s much-anticipated rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr., with three versions of the world heavyweight title at stake.

But unlike one-off sporting events, attracting top artists can present more challenges for promoters in the Middle East, which is why establishing a regional touring scene is so important.

“It’s much more economically viable for the artist,” Lickrish said. “To take four or five days out of your touring schedule to do one show is quite taxing on the overhead and the cost so if you can say ‘let’s do Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam’ — that right there will attract attention and give us more opportunities and economies of scale. It’s very important for the region that we have this touring element that can bring us multiple shows.”

While Flash has already promoted a few events in the Kingdom, it has not yet established a dedicated presence. That could soon change as Saudi Arabia looks to attract more visitors and invests heavily in the entertainment sector.

“We believe there’s a great opportunity. When we come to Saudi we want to be there on a 10-year plan,” he said. “We don’t want to just come for the boom and take advantage of the situation, we want to establish a presence so we can bring more content into the region and we believe the Saudi market will support that. Hopefully that’s going to be happening sooner rather later. We are going through the legal process now and we want to hit the ground running.”


India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

Updated 13 December 2019

India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

  • Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants
  • On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on

GUWAHATI: Internet access was cut in India’s northeastern city of Guwahati on Friday as thousands gathered for fresh protests against a new citizenship law, a day after police shot dead two demonstrators.
Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and which other critics say is anti-Muslim.
On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on, with residents hurrying out to buy essentials.
No fresh violence was reported but Guwahati and other areas remained littered from the detritus of recent days, with some roads blocked by fallen trees, concrete poles, stones and iron railings. Many cash machines have run out of cash and most petrol stations were also shut.
A local government official said that Internet access in the Guwahati, the main city of Assam state, had been cut and an AFP reporter confirmed that connections appeared to have been suspended.
The Meghalaya state government has also cut off mobile Internet, with parts of the capital Shillong brought under curfew since Thursday evening.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was planning to scrap a visit to the city due to begin on Sunday as the security situation deteriorated, media reported Friday. The Japanese leader had been slated to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Thursday, police had fired live and blank rounds as thousands of demonstrators in Guwahati and elsewhere took to the streets, some vandalising property and torching vehicles.
The two demonstrators killed in the city were among around 20 people being treated in hospital, “a few” of whom had gunshot wounds, said Ramen Talukdar, a doctor at a Guwahati hospital.
Hundreds of passengers stuck at Guwahati airport were brought to the city on government buses with police escort in the early hours of Friday morning.
Several thousand troops have been drafted in to help police, who fired tear gas and charged demonstrators with batons, in recent days.
Security was increased at the Bangladeshi consulate in Guwahati after a vehicle in the consul’s convoy was attacked Wednesday by mobs, the foreign ministry in Dhaka said.
“They cant settle anyone in our motherland. This is unacceptable. We will die but not allow outsiders to settle here,” Manav Das, a protester told AFP on Friday.
“We will defeat the government with the force of the people and the government will be forced to revoke the law,” said local activist Samujal Battacharya.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), signed into law by the Indian president late Thursday, allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities from three neighboring countries, but not Muslims.
For Islamic groups, the opposition and rights groups, it is part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. He denies this.
The US State Department on Thursday urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities,” according to Bloomberg.
But many in India’s northeast object for different reasons, fearing that immigrants from Bangladesh — many of them Hindus — will become citizens, taking jobs and weakening the local culture.
The chief ministers of the states of Punjab in the north and Kerala in the south also said that they would not implement the law, the Hindu daily reported.
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