Riyadh Rocks! Highlights from Riyadh Season

It is Riyadh season’s first year. (Getty)
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Updated 18 January 2020

Riyadh Rocks! Highlights from Riyadh Season

  • The Kingdom’s biggest entertainment season yet had more than 100 events taking place over the past few months

Saudi Arabia’s capital hosted the Kingdom’s biggest entertainment season yet, with more than 100 events taking place over the past few months, from international music legends performing live to local theatrical shows. It’s been an amazing first year for Riyadh season, as our selected highlights show.


Riyadh Season saw a multitude of music stars visit the capital city. From superstar Arab acts including Amr Diab to international artists including K-pop legends BTS, US rapper French Montana and Belgian DJ duo Dmitri Vegas and Like Mike. But the headline attraction was the three-day electronic festival MDL Beast, which will long be remembered as the biggest party Saudi Arabia has ever thrown. Local stars including DJ Dish Dash got their opportunity to shine in front of thousands, while legends such as David Guetta, Steve Aoki (complete with remix of tracks from Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu), Tiesto, Martin Garrix and Sebastian Ingrosso brought a Soundstorm to Saudi.


October 31 saw the first female professional wrestling match to be staged in Saudi Arabia when WWE Crown Jewel took place in Riyadh. Natalya and Lacey Evans faced off in a match “clearly put in place to break barriers” according to Heavy.com. “And for that I have to give it the utmost props.” Elsewhere on the bill, British boxer Tyson Fury defeated Braun Strowman, Saudi wrestler Mansoor defeated Cesaro, and the WWE’s largest tag team “turmoil” match — with nine teams participating — saw The O.C. emerge victorious.

In November, the South American super classic football match between Brazil and Argentina was played in Riyadh for the first time, and local fans got to see Lionel Messi — arguably the greatest player of all time — up close and personal. And the Argentinian legend didn’t disappoint, scoring the only goal of the game to give his team bragging rights over their rivals.


Aside from all the talent on show at Riyadh Season’s myriad events, a whole host of famous names came over just to visit the country and take in some of the entertainment. US actors Armie Hammer, Wilmer Valderrama and Ryan Phillippe all visited the Kingdom’s capital, as did Egyptian-Jordanian actor Bassel Alzaro, Lebanese designer Eli Mizrahi, US singer-songwriter Teyana Taylor, and numerous well-known models including Megan Williams, Stella Maxwell, Neels Visser, Irina Shayk, Romee Strijd, Joan Smalls, Winnie Harlow, and many more. And sure, an all-expenses-paid luxury trip is rarely going to upset anyone, but they all seemed to be having a good time.


Riyadh had its coolest winter yet thanks to the importing (and expanding — according to the organizers, it was twice the size) of London’s Winter Wonderland — the famous Hyde Park Christmas attraction. The huge theme park proved a hit with visitors, thanks to its blend of simple kid-friendly shows, including clowns, and more thrill-packed rides and stands. It also included the Middle East’s largest ice rink.


The Riyadh Safari brought the African savannah to the heart of the Saudi capital. Visitors got to see elephants, giraffes, antelopes, wolves, parrots and a whole lot of other animals in the flesh, surrounded by lively animal-themed entertainment, rides and music.


Nabd Al-Riyadh was the event to visit if you wanted a taste of some more-traditional Saudi Arabian culture. Every day, it showcased the cultural heritage of a different region of the Kingdom through a mixture of cutting-edge technology and old-school artisans. You could see folk dances and traditional music performances, handicrafts that have been passed down through generations, but also digital displays and laser shows. All based around the historically significant Al-Masmak Fortress.


There were some top theatrical performances during Riyadh Season too. The highlight was probably Cirque du Soleil’s “Bazzar,” inspired — as the name suggests — by the sights, sounds, colors and interactions of a bazaar. The performers wowed audiences with astonishing acrobatics, stilt-walking, dramatic fire-breathing and more.

“Thriller Live” brought the ever-popular magical music of Michael Jackson to the capital and was — as expected in a region where Jackson’s popularity remains sky-high — a huge hit.

The season closed with a performance of “Leila: The Land of Imagination” — a show in which a young girl dreams of travelling around the Kingdom in a single night. Elsewhere, Saudi comedian Nasser Al-Qasabi’s play “Al-Theeb fe Al-Gleeb” proved popular with audiences.


The Riyadh Motorshow 2019 brought together some of the world’s most-remarkable cars in the Saudi capital — including the electric GFG Style 2030, which was bought at auction for almost $855,000. From vintage vehicles and classic muscle cars to the latest supercar models, the motorshow was a huge draw for petrolheads from across the region and further afield.

Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti helps ink new golden age for Arabic calligraphy

Arabic calligraphy has become a very progressive and sought-after form of art, according to renowned artist Taha Al-Hiti.(Supplied)
Updated 7 min 34 sec ago

Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti helps ink new golden age for Arabic calligraphy

LONDON: Arabic calligraphy has become a very progressive and sought-after form of art, according to renowned artist Taha Al-Hiti.

In celebration of 2020 being the Year of Arabic Calligraphy in Saudi Arabia, Arab News spoke to the Iraqi artist to get his take on the unique art.

He pointed out that Arabic letters and their forms were very distinctive in the way they were shaped.

“I have found a relationship between all the elements of the letter, which I later found out were linked to the human body and the golden section and all these proportions of beauty, which have just enchanted my eyes since a very young age,” he said.

Arabic letters, he added, were designed to emulate the human body, animals and nature in general. The “golden section” (also referred to as the golden ratio or mean) appears in geometry, art, architecture and other fields that are designed to make some of the most beautiful shapes.

Several renowned buildings and artworks apply the golden ratio, such as the Parthenon in Greece, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” and the “Mona Lisa,” Salvador Dali’s “The Sacrament of the Last Supper,” as well as UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia and Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Iran, among others.

Al-Hiti noted that Arabic letters had their own components of the human body and were “based on a very organic way of building.” They are referred to as either “the chin, neck, body, or chest of the letter,” and so on and were also grouped into families.

“For example, the letter Alif (or A in English) in calligraphy is written in a straight, vertical line. But in Arabic calligraphy, it is a straight line leaning slightly forward with a chest that’s protruded forward and the lower part is going backwards, just like the human posture,” he said.

Other examples are the letter Ein (or Aa in English) which takes the form of the eyebrow (or Hajjib in Arabic) and the letter Hha and Kha and Jeem (H, Kh, and J) which are from the same family and are shaped like an ear of a horse.

A graduate of architecture from the University of Baghdad in Iraq, Al-Hiti, was pressured into pursuing a medical degree or one of a scientific nature by his father.

“My dad was a doctor and he suggested I became a doctor, and I said no forget it, I want to be an artist. I thought architecture had got a lot of mathematics and science, as well as arts,” he added. This enabled him to combine his passion for calligraphy and Islamic arts, while also pleasing his family.

Al-Hiti was drawing his name and his parents’ before he learnt to read.

“I used to draw the names, not knowing which one was my name or which was my dad’s or being able to read them. I used to just replicate the shapes that I saw, in enchantment of the beautiful letters and then it was always present with me.”

He compared Arabic calligraphy to any other art form. “I suppose, like all sorts of arts or skills, calligraphy predominantly is a skill mixed with a good or variable bit of talent, but it’s a skill like playing the piano or sketching in pencil, these are all skills that you acquire through practice. Calligraphy requires a lot of practice, mixed with the talent and character of the calligrapher.”

He said each calligrapher’s work was based on the teachings of their “master,” ranging from various countries including Iraq, Iran, Morocco, and Andalusia in Spain, which has deep Islamic artistic roots.

“Calligraphy is an art that is inherited by generations that teach it to each other, so you could tell which master or if it was from a Baghdad, Moroccan or Turkish school. All the different calligraphy forms are developed in different nations of the Islamic world,” he added.

Comparing the different types of calligraphy, Al-Hiti said that Arabic calligraphy was always drawn horizontally, as opposed to, for example, Japanese or Chinese calligraphy, which was drawn vertically, and also used different techniques, inks and pens.

However, he said he aspired “to find a modern form of doing calligraphy or compositions” and “started forming vertical letters for mosques’ minarets,” and had done many successful trials, one of them 90 meters high.

“It’s the versatility in breaking the rules and how good you are in breaking those rules and coming up with something new, not necessarily replicating traditional forms, but no harm in sticking to the original rules of calligraphy as well.

“I think it’s changing for the better, there’s more interest, and the proof is this interview, that you want to convey more about this beautiful art to the public, and that is a beautiful thing.

“And the more you look at it, whether you’re an Arab or non-Arab, whether you can read it or not, you will actually find the rhythm in it, you will find the balance, you will find the harmony, you will find the contrast,” Al-Hiti added.