How diverse music traditions have influenced Saudi Arabia’s identity and culture

How diverse music traditions have influenced Saudi Arabia’s identity and culture
“Talal Maddah, a pioneer in Saudi music known as The Earth’s Voice, was the first to sing Al-Mkblahah, or long songs,” said Saudi poet Abdullah Thabit. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 September 2022

How diverse music traditions have influenced Saudi Arabia’s identity and culture

How diverse music traditions have influenced Saudi Arabia’s identity and culture
  • Travelers carried folk traditions across the Arabian Peninsula, blending cultures and influences 
  • Today, the Kingdom embraces a diversity of world music, while never losing sight of its heritage

JEDDAH: Folk music traditions in Saudi Arabia are diverse and complex, combining distinctive tones, rhythms and melodies with poetry, percussion, and dances that have been passed down through generations.

Over the centuries, poets and musicians have traversed the Arabian Peninsula and the wider Middle East, exchanging and combining modes of expression through song, music and dance.

The contemporary soundscape echoes these ancient traditions, expressed through popular rhythms and songs that emerged from classic literature, epics, and heroic poems, mirroring the history, values, norms, and consciousness of society.

Since pre-Islamic times, singers and reciters have helped spread poems among tribes. This practice found its way to the courts of the caliphs, where celebrated singers set poems to melodies and performed for private audiences.




Another layer of percussive sound in Saudi music is clapping and dance, the latter of which falls into two categories. The first encompasses steps in unison, such as the dance of “al-dahha” in the north, and “al-khatwa” in the southwest. (SPA)

With time, the courts disappeared, but the practice remained.

Nearly all melodies from the region fall within the esthetic principles of the centuries-old maqam system, a hallmark of Middle Eastern music. It describes a series of modes or scales and a way of improvising and forming melodies within those modes.

Maqam scales usually have seven notes that repeat at the octave, while a few extend beyond eight notes. Though there is no harmony, harmonic intervals can sometimes be heard for a moment or two in passing.

While visiting the Hijaz in 1814, Swiss orientalist Johann Ludwig Burckhardt documented the region’s distinctive musical notation in his book, “Travels in Arabia,” where he described performances by women separated into two choirs, each featuring six, eight or 10 individuals. One group would begin singing and chanting, while the other repeated after them.

In the Hijaz, there is rich musical culture based on song traditions that have more complex melodies than elsewhere in the Kingdom, expressed using instruments such as the oud, qanun, nay (the flute), and more recently, the violin.

For centuries cities like Makkah and Madinah had a musical life that rivaled or even surpassed those of neighboring Arab cities, such as Baghdad and Cairo, where music at royal courts was plentiful.

The migratory lifestyle of the Bedouin discourages excess baggage, including musical instruments, so these communities tended to stick to simple rhythms, with the beat counted by clapping or striking together everyday implements that formed the basis of the music.




King Salman partaking in the “ardah,” an old war dance. (SPA)

Drums were and still are considered an orchestra in themselves, as most Saudi and Gulf folk music uses shallow frame drums held in the left hand and struck with the right in a unique multi-toned rhythm.

Another layer of percussive sound in Saudi music is clapping and dance, the latter of which falls into two categories. The first encompasses steps in unison, such as the dance of “al-dahha” in the north, and “al-khatwa” in the southwest.

The second is a freestyle dance, often performed solo or in pairs, by dancers twirling colorful bisht (cloaks), such as the “majroor” in Taif and the “yanbaawi” and “mezmar” in the western region.

Blending elegiac poetry with singing, drumming, and slow, majestic movements, the “ardah,” an old war dance that later became one of peace and celebration, is now an iconic part of traditional Saudi Arabian culture. 

The poems sung are patriotic, and their dignified, masculine, and proud movements tell a historical tale of bravery, resilience and continuity.

Over in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, folk arts are derived from the region’s rich traditions of pearl diving, seafaring, oasis agriculture, and long-distance trade. There are date-harvest songs in Al-Ahsa, and shepherding songs from the southwest and other regions.




Tarouf Abdel-Kheir Adam, popularly known as Etab. (Supplied)

These traditions did not appear in complete isolation, however. Trade caravans, pilgrimages, and the search for new pastures carried traditions across great distances, blending cultures and spreading influences.

“If you look at the map of Saudi Arabia, you will find that it is surrounded on all sides by different musical and lyrical (traditions in) countries,” Abdullah Thabit, a Saudi poet and writer, told Arab News.

“You have Yemen from the south, Iraq and the Levant, Turkey from the north, Gulf countries from the east, and Egypt and Sudan from the west. Regions were influenced by their surrounding regions over centuries.”

It is therefore not immediately clear to the untrained ear what constitutes a definitively Saudi Arabian musical style, distinct from its neighbors, but common across the Kingdom’s provincial boundaries.

Thabit says the modern musical style that can be described as distinctly Saudi Arabian was developed by Tariq Abdel-Hakim, commander-in-chief of the Kingdom’s Army Orchestra in the Saudi Army Band, and the maestro who composed the Saudi national anthem.




In the Hijaz, there is rich musical culture based on song traditions that have more complex melodies than elsewhere in the Kingdom. (SPA)

The contributions of Abdel-Hakim, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, were considered a turning point for music in the Kingdom, as he transferred Saudi music from the aural melody to written musical notation on sound scientific foundations.

“It was his student, Omar Kadras, who tried to mesh between the rhythm and sounds of folklore, giving birth to a new sound in Saudi music,” said Thabit.

“Talal Maddah, a pioneer in Saudi music known as The Earth’s Voice, was the first to sing Al-Mkblahah, or long songs. Mohammed Abdo then contributed to popularizing the new form of music, but you will find that before this new and matured form of music, it was greats such as Hisham Al-Abdali, Hasan Jawah, Abdulrahman Muezzin Platin, who was also a muezzin at the mosque, and more who made it popular.”

In the second half of the last century, the artistic movement expanded and witnessed the emergence of several composers, such as Siraj Omar, Kadars, and many singers, led by Maddah, Muhammad and Abu Bakr Salem, then Abdul Majeed Abdullah, Abadi Al-Jawhar, Rabeh Saqr, Rashid Al-Majed and others.

“Women’s voices also appeared with them, although they are unfortunately very limited, such as Ibtisam Lutfi, Etab, Sarah Qazzaz, and Toha, who were closer to popular singing,” said Thabit.

Today, Saudi music encompasses everything from jazz, hip-hop and rap to techno and rock ’n roll, with many of these genres incorporating aspects of folklore traditions, such as Majed Al-Eisa’s songs “Lifestyle Samry,” “Lehe” and “Hawages.”




It is not immediately clear to the untrained ear what constitutes a definitively Saudi Arabian musical style, distinct from its neighbors, but common across the Kingdom’s provincial boundaries. (SPA)

While these traditions are colorful and lively, Saudi youth are also drawn to foreign music genres. Jara, one of Saudi Arabia’s youngest big-name performing artists, made waves when her rap single “966” was released in 2020, while hip-hop artist Qusai continues to make his mark a decade after his first release.

“Using sounds from the region is simply a way to celebrate my heritage which feeds into the concept of exporting our beautiful culture,” Saud Al-Turki, a Khobar-based record producer, told Arab News.

“As a producer, I never wanted to feel restricted in regards to the sounds that I could tap into. In my opinion, connecting with a global audience is more impactful. The beautiful thing about Saudi sounds is that you can hear the inspiration from different parts of the region depending (on) where you are geographically.”

Before the Kingdom began opening up in 2016 and started to promote creative industries and youth participation, Al-Turki says experimenting with musical styles was not commonplace.

“Back then, there was no support from government entities and big corporations. On the contrary, they did not receive the same acceptance, respect and support that current artists are receiving,” he said.

Today, Saudi Arabia is embracing the diversity of world music and evolving tastes, while never losing sight of its heritage.

“We should never forget where we come from,” said Al-Turki. “Saudi Arabia is historically diverse and there’s nothing more beautiful than a diverse culture. We have different sounds in every region that deserve to be appreciated and showcased.

“It is our duty to highlight and pay homage.”


Saudi-US trade ties can only go one way — and that is up, says US official 

Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Arab News Noor Nugali and Arun Venkataraman. (AN photo)
Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Arab News Noor Nugali and Arun Venkataraman. (AN photo)
Updated 02 February 2023

Saudi-US trade ties can only go one way — and that is up, says US official 

Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Arab News Noor Nugali and Arun Venkataraman. (AN photo)
  • “What is most impressive is that we see Vision 2030 already being implemented. It is not just a vision; it is becoming a reality,” said Venkataraman

RIYADH: A senior US official remains optimistic that Saudi-American trade relations will flourish — in contrast to the dire predictions of many Western pundits that recent political disagreements might hinder the ongoing strategic and mutually beneficial 80-year relationship between the two nations.

US-Saudi economic relations can be taken to a “new level,” according to Arun Venkataraman, assistant secretary of commerce for global markets and director general of the US and Foreign Commercial Service.

“What we see here in Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a spectacular transformation that began as a result of Vision 2030.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman meets with US President Joe Biden. (File/AFP)

Venkataraman expressed his pleasure at being able to witness the changes in person. “And what is most impressive is that we see Vision 2030 already being implemented. So, it is not just a vision; it is becoming a reality and I am so pleased to be here and see it in person.”

The reason behind his visit and meetings in Saudi Arabia was explained in this way. “We hope through our meetings to build on the existing commercial work plan designed to strengthen our commercial partnership, which is so critical, and which underpins the strong strategic relationship between our two nations.”

Furthering commercial relations is at the top of his agenda in addition to deepening the already existing partnership. “We know there are many areas for collaboration in the business between our governments. The opportunities we have, and the way they complement our economies and our private sectors, are so vast that we want to make sure we take full advantage of them. Only by doing so can we be sure that the actions will benefit both our peoples.”

Assistant secretary of commerce for global markets and director general of the US and Foreign Commercial Service, Arun Venkataraman. (Supplied)Caption

Since the launch of Vision 2030 in 2016, the Kingdom has gone through significant transformations on several fronts, including the empowering of women and diversifying the economy. Venkataraman called the transformations “game changers.”

“We see women taking their rightful place in professional society and in driving the work of both the private sector and the government. In meeting both American and Saudi companies today, I was really taken with the fact that both groups of companies emphasized how much they depend on women to fill the talent gaps. In addition, they are looking to women to be the future leaders in their companies in Saudi Arabia.

During his trip to Riyadh, Venkataraman held many meetings but what stood out the most for him was the Apple Academy at Princess Nourah University. “The first visible sign is noting how women have taken on a new role. In my visit to the Apple Academy, it was so inspiring to see the university supporting the young women’s skills development in a space that women have really not until now been present in, either in Saudi Arabia or the United States.”

He was impressed with the level of skill the young women have acquired. “To see those young women develop the skills and start creating completely new apps out of the blue, and to see the passion and the pride that they exhibited in doing so was striking. That’s the kind of spirit and passion that is at the core of Vision 2030.”

 

US President Joe Biden can be seen during a trip to the Kingdom. (File/AFP)

Venkataraman noted that there had been diversification of the economy in many sectors. “We see that in the digital sector. We see that in the move to the development of clean energy, moving away from dependence on fossil fuels. We also see tremendous advances in healthcare, not only in terms of pharmaceuticals, but really looking at smaller, more cutting-edge areas of healthcare, like research, development and clinical trials.”

“I think we also see something of particular interest in the entertainment space. We know that Saudi Arabia has a long history of being a cultural leader in the region in terms of disseminating culture. To see it now, however, as it expands that role and gives our partnership special opportunities for American cultural industries, is really exciting.”

US President Joe Biden is received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit to the Kingdom. (File/AFP)

Commenting on the recent Bloomberg report that the Saudi economy had grown 8.7 percent in 2022, he said: “Saudi Arabia had a fantastic year last year with a growth rate that we could only wish the rest of the world had enjoyed, particularly as we emerged from COVID-19 in 2022. Saudi Arabia’s growth was historic.”

According to Venkataraman, what that really shows is that “Vision 2030 is working. The intention to diversify the economy which the government is supporting is evident. It translates on the ground to what we are excited about from our perspective as the government pushes to diversify the economy.”

“We are proud that American companies have a role to play and can really greatly contribute to that diversification across a wide range of sectors. Such partnerships will further strengthen and underpin the strength of our bilateral relationship.”

US President Joe Biden is received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit to the Kingdom. (File/AFP)

Venkataraman reiterated that relations between the two countries can only go one way — and that is up.

“I think we are fortunate to have such a strong broad-based foundation to our relationship. And what that means is that the commercial opportunities that exist are so vast that really, I see the opportunities as limitless. This is true whether we want to talk in terms of supporting Saudi Arabia through weapons sales, or whether we talk about supporting the movement away from fossil fuels by supporting clean energy development, or supporting the expanded role of tourism in the Saudi economy.”

“I think there are so many areas, both old and new, that will form the basis for the next stage of impactful, high-level economic activity between our two countries. I would say the future looks bright for our bilateral relations and I look forward to being a part of that relationship and facilitating it in the future.”

 


AlUla: the perfect destination for Saudi cycling

AlUla: the perfect destination for Saudi cycling
Updated 02 February 2023

AlUla: the perfect destination for Saudi cycling

AlUla: the perfect destination for Saudi cycling
  • 2.1 category Union Cyclists event being organized across the region

ALULA: The third edition of the Saudi Tour cycling race, currently taking place and being broadcast on the Experience AlUla YouTube channel, shows AlUla’s ambition to become the cycling capital of the Kingdom.

AlUla is the perfect location to take Saudi cycling to the next level, according to the coaching staff behind the Saudi Cycling Federation team, speaking exclusively to Arab News on the sidelines of the 2.1 category Union Cyclists International event, which is taking place across the region from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. 

The Saudi Cycling Federation team has enjoyed a wonderful learning experience mixing in the peloton with UCI World Tour teams such as Team Jayco AlUla, Astana Qazaqstan Team, Bahrain Victorious, Cofidis, Movistar Team, Team DSM and UAE Team Emirates. 

Five-time Tour de France stage winner Dylan Groenewegen of Team Jayco AlUla, two-time Cycling Monument winner John Degenkolb, and Jonathan Milan of Cofidis have all demonstrated their abilities during the race, providing the Saudi team of Hassan Al-Jumah, Abdulaziz Hashim, Hani Al-Mhrhoon, Azzam Al-Abdulmunim, and Murthada Al-Shaghab with priceless riding experience. 

Salem Al-Salem, a vital member of the coaching team, told Arab News: “I am from Saudi Arabia, and since I was born in 1980, I have gone to cities all over the Kingdom, and AlUla looks incredible. It is a beautiful venue for hosting a world-class cycling event such as the Saudi Tour. 

This has been a real learning curve for the team and me, and I think that AlUla is the perfect place to move to the next level. It has everything necessary for a training camp, from the accommodation, food, and facilities to the right cycling conditions,” he added. 

The Royal Commission for AlUla recently signed a deal to become a second named sponsor of the Australian-based Team Jayco AlUla, the UCI World Tour team currently considered among the top three teams in the world. 

The partnership aims to put the destination of AlUla on the map for 1.7 billion road cycling spectators around the globe. The cyclists and teams in the Saudi Tour are finding out for themselves exactly what the destination has to offer. 

Al-Salem added: “I don’t think you can imagine how important this will be for developing cyclists from Saudi Arabia. AlUla would be perfect for training camps, national races, one and two-day events, and even international races. When I look at AlUla and the facilities and infrastructure here, I can’t see how we would want to train anywhere else from December to March each year.” 

As well as giving the riders top-level experience, the Saudi Tour has showcased the stunning landscapes, natural beauty and ancient history of AlUla, with the five stages passing the area’s extraordinary sights, including preserved tombs, historic dwellings and monuments, both man-made and natural, and geological formations that hold 200,000 years of largely unexplored human history. 

The first stage was a 180-km sprint leg that showcased both the evolving infrastructure and heritage of the region, starting at the redeveloped AlUla International Airport and finishing in the stunning landscape of Khaybar, featuring rare white volcanoes, lava fields, caves and wadis with freshwater springs supporting an abundance of plant and animal life. 

The second stage was a 184-km sprint from Winter Park through Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, which finished up at Shalal Sijlyat Rocks, an area of natural wonder and dramatic rock formations. Wednesday’s third stage was a 159.2-km journey from the Al-Manshiyah Train Station to Abu Rakah via short climbs. 

The architectural splendor of Maraya offered a unique backdrop for the start of the 163.4-km fourth stage today, which will finish at the Skyviews of Harrat Uwayrid. In contrast, Friday’s fifth stage will provide a fitting finale, a 142.9-km ride that takes the peloton through the streets of AlUla Old Town and Al-Jadidah’s Arts and Culture District, before finishing up at Maraya.

Saudi Arabia’s many sports fans can follow the third edition live on the Experience AlUla YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/experiencealula


Importance of boosting Gulf- French ties stressed

Importance of boosting Gulf- French ties stressed
Updated 02 February 2023

Importance of boosting Gulf- French ties stressed

Importance of boosting Gulf- French ties stressed

RIYADH: Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, stressed the importance of strengthening the Gulf-French strategic partnership, in a way that contributes to serving common interests.

He expressed these views during a meeting with the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna in Riyadh on Thursday.

The two sides discussed ways to strengthen the strategic partnership and Gulf-French relations and develop them in all fields, through the joint action plan for 2023-2028.

They also discussed several issues of common interest, in addition to following up on the latest regional and international developments.

The meeting was attended by the GCC assistant secretary for political affairs and negotiations, Dr. Abdulaziz Hamad Al-Owaisheg.


Saudi’s Formula E races showcase Kingdom’s sustainability efforts, says top driver

Saudi’s Formula E races showcase Kingdom’s sustainability efforts, says top driver
Updated 02 February 2023

Saudi’s Formula E races showcase Kingdom’s sustainability efforts, says top driver

Saudi’s Formula E races showcase Kingdom’s sustainability efforts, says top driver
  • Mexico City E Prix winner Jake Dennis impressed by nation’s evolution
  • Made world breakthrough at Diriyah, he says on ‘The Mayman Show’

DIRIYAH: Saudi Arabia’s Formula E races at Diriyah showcase the Kingdom’s ever-evolving sustainability efforts, according to top driver Jake Dennis from team Avalanche Andretti. 

Dennis, who appeared recently on “The Mayman Show,” made his debut at the first-ever Diriyah E Prix in 2018, which he regards as the ideal location to host electric car racing. 

 

 

“I think the cool thing with Formula E is we don’t just race countries just for the sake of it, you know. We don’t just choose a location to go, okay, we want to race there just because it’s cool. You know, every race we go to, there’s a reason. Saudi are obviously doing their best to try and promote sustainability,” he said. 

This season’s debut of the Gen3 car is an example of the ongoing focus on protecting the planet and is likely to be the future of motorsport. “These cars are super-fast now, you know, the acceleration is the same as Formula One cars … We reach some serious top speeds of close to 300 kph.” 

Dennis said that Saudi Arabia is shattering the stereotype of an oil-producing country. “So it’s great to see that, you know, even though, yes, they are known for oil and obviously bringing a lot from that. But it’s to try and promote sustainability. And I think a lot of countries need to lean more towards that as well.” 

 

 

The driving prodigy from Nuneaton, England, who started competing at the age of 8, said his fondest moment was at the City of Earth Diriyah for his first E Prix. “It was actually here, because this was where they used to hold the first race of the year and … it’s my first one.”  

Dennis said he was impressed with how Diriyah’s circuit has been developed over a short period and that it has now become a favorite with drivers. “I think the most standout thing of the circuit is just that it’s a night race, so it really makes these cars look alive. You know, it’s super fast through the mountain section.  

“So just the circuit has such good flow, such good rhythm. And for the driver, that’s what makes a great circuit. And today, obviously, under the floodlights, it’s a very special feeling. And yes, I mean, I enjoy coming back here each year.” 

 

 

Dennis said the most important moment for him as a driver was making his debut. “You’re in the garages at the moment and you drive to the grid and you’ve got that one lap to like, you know, get all your emotions out. 

“And you really think, okay, I need to fully focus for this and give it my all, and then you’re set on the grid waiting for the lights to come on. Okay, this is it. Like I’ve made it. I now need to perform and do well, what I’ve been made to do. 

 

 

“I think every racing driver has experienced that at least once in their life. And if their goal is always changing, then they’ll experience it a few times. But, you know, that main goal is just to make it as a professional, that that would be it. And something which, you know, I remember forever.” 

Dennis made his debut in the 2020–21 Formula E World Championship driving for the BMW Andretti team. His first victory came in the second race of the 2021 Valencia E Prix, held at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, and a second win in the first race at the Excel Arena in London. 

 

 


Digital Cooperation Organization hosting 2nd General Assembly in Riyadh

Digital Cooperation Organization hosting 2nd General Assembly in Riyadh
Updated 02 February 2023

Digital Cooperation Organization hosting 2nd General Assembly in Riyadh

Digital Cooperation Organization hosting 2nd General Assembly in Riyadh
  • DCO’s General Assembly will be the platform to notarize international cooperation between governments
  • Organization aims to enhance global collaboration on the digital economy

RIYADH: The Digital Cooperation Organization will host its second General Assembly in the Saudi capital, bringing together DCO member states to discuss strategic directions and initiatives to enable digital prosperity for all nations.

“The 2nd General Assembly aims to address challenges associated with the cross-border expansion of the digital economy and facilitate dialogues to promote more cooperation to achieve digital prosperity for all,” the DCO tweeted.

Ministers representing DCO member states, along with high-level delegations from DCO observers and representatives from guest countries and international organizations, will convene for the General Assembly to discuss the state of the digital economy and the challenges facing all nations in achieving equitable global digital growth and development.

Deemah Al-Yahya, secretary-general of the DCO, said: “Digital technologies have immense potential to transform economies and empower groups, including women and entrepreneurs with new opportunities, especially (given) that 70 percent of the new value created in the global economy over the next decade will be based on digitally enabled platforms. So, it is of critical importance that all nations have the same ability to leverage the power of digitalization to achieve their goals.

“The DCO was formed to accelerate digital transformation through collaboration and knowledge sharing among all stakeholders to empower nations to develop strategies and programs to drive their own digital development and equally participate in the global digital economy,” she said.

The second General Assembly will be the first-ever in-person meeting of the DCO member states, marking two years of progress for the international organization, which was founded to help achieve social prosperity and growth by unifying efforts to promote interest in the digital economy.

“I am very pleased that the ministers from DCO member states will convene in Riyadh, the headquarters of the DCO, for the second General Assembly to mark two years of progress toward the DCO’s goals, and to continue the discussions on how we can achieve digital prosperity for all in collaboration with our international observers from the ecosystem stakeholders representing the private sector, academia, think tanks and civil society organizations,” Al-Yahya said.

The monumental event will also reflect the qualitative leaps made by member states in their shift toward a tech-powered economy.

The DCO is a global digital organization founded in 2020 by seven member states — Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — but has recently added Morocco, Djibouti, Cyprus and Rwanda to its ranks.