Giant desert rave signals Kingdom’s mighty changes 

Special An electronic musical festival billed as one of the largest in the world, and a sign of Saudi Arabia’s rapidly expanding entertainment landscape. (Supplied)
An electronic musical festival billed as one of the largest in the world, and a sign of Saudi Arabia’s rapidly expanding entertainment landscape. (Supplied)
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Updated 05 December 2022

Giant desert rave signals Kingdom’s mighty changes 

Giant desert rave signals Kingdom’s mighty changes 
  • In its biggest and most diverse festival yet, Soundstorm returns to Riyadh, bringing music to thousands
  • Attendance expected to increase from last year’s 730,000, organizers say 
  • Soundstorm is arguably the largest electronic music festival in the world

RIYADH: An electronic musical festival billed as one of the largest in the world, and a sign of Saudi Arabia’s rapidly expanding entertainment landscape, has drawn hundreds of thousands of people to a remote desert area outside Riyadh over the past three days. 

Rave-goers at the third edition of Soundstorm crowded the stages, dressed in an eclectic mix of local Bedouin attire, Saudi national dress, and streetwear in the form of colorful hoodies and jackets with the addition of glitter make-up. 

MDL Beast, the Saudi entertainment company that launched the festival in 2019, is one of the most high-profile examples of the rapid social changes that have swept the Kingdom since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan was launched in 2016. 

Last year more than 730,000 people attended the festival over the course of four days, and this year organizers expect the number to increase for the three-day festival, which ended on Dec. 3. 

Soundstorm shows the power of music to bring people together for moments of shared joy.

“This is about love,” shouted American record producer and rapper DJ Khaled from the Big Beast stage on Friday during his first performance in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

With MDL Beast introducing rap and hip-hop to this year’s line-up, rap legends Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future, Rick Ross and T.I joined DJ Khaled on stage in “DJ Khaled & Friends.”

The inclusion of hip-hop stars also underlines Soundstorm’s increasing variety of music genres, mixing top Saudi and Arabic performers with international acts — a sign of an increasing desire by global artists to perform in the Kingdom.

“The feedback from the international talent has been incredible, and we’re seeing more and more artists from abroad looking to come out to our festival to perform, which aligns with our mission to provide fans with the best possible experience,” said Talal Al-Bahiti, MDL Beast chief operating officer, and head of talent bookings and events, in a statement. 

Headlining global superstars playing for the first time included Bruno Mars, Marshmello and Post Malone. Returning DJs, such as Carl Cox, DJ Snake and David Guetta, lit up the stage, while a strong contingent of female Saudi DJs, such as Biirdperson, DJ Cosmicat, Dorar, Kayan and Solskin joined their peers Dish Dash, Vinylmode and regional star DJ Aseel, making this year’s line-up the most diverse to date.

“We have such strong women Saudi DJs now,” Danah, 27, a Saudi DJ playing in Soundstorm at VIB, told Arab News.

The Saudi music scene, previously underground, has become “a beautiful culture of shared encouragement,” she said.

“One DJ would offer me her equipment; we all shared and encouraged each other,” she said. “It was such a beautiful dynamic where women were empowering women to play music, men were empowering women to play music, and it wasn’t just to fill the gap in the market. We continue to spread this love today.”

“The event represents our great unveiling,” said Ahmad Alammary, chief creative officer at MDL Beast and a DJ who goes by the name Baloo. 

“If Soundstorm had a middle name, it would be upgrade,” he added. “We love to upgrade by the way we design the event. From last year, we have learned more about people’s behavior, their preferences. And there is a lot of growth need that comes with this quick shift and lifestyle.” 

This year’s festival experience was enhanced for Premium and VIB — Very Important Beast or VIP — who moved from stage to stage to exclusive view areas via a connected network of elevated walkways akin to several large loops.

Soundstorm’s enhanced structure also included open seating spaces in the form of park-like areas aligned with food and beverage stations, and parking on site for all general admission ticket holders.

The festival, which follows the three-day XP Music Conference in the JAX district of Diriyah, signals Saudi Arabia’s rapidly expanding entertainment sector. 

“Heading into our third edition of Soundstorm, we do so now knowing the substantial impact the festival has on helping inspire, amalgamate and grow the Kingdom’s and wider region’s music scene and industry,”  MDL Beast CEO Ramadan Al-Haratani told Arab News. 

After the debut Soundstorm in 2019, “the economic and social impact was nothing any of us had expected,” he said.

Soundstorm is fostering the growth of soft power in Saudi Arabia after years of closure. The festival offers young Saudis newfound pride in their country through the creative expression and enjoyment of music on a personal and collective level, he said.

“It gave a platform for so many talents in the region and allowed Saudis to be aware of these unexpected talents.”

According to MDL Beast, 83 percent of Saudi youth believe that Soundstorm increases opportunities for local musicians and creatives in the country, with 86 percent of young Saudis saying that their pride in the creativity and culture in Saudi Arabia has grown because of the first festival.

MDL Beast said that there was a 36.5 percent increase in demand for global artists for 12 months after the first Soundstorm in 2019, according to the IMS Business Report 2021.

According to Al-Haratani, the festival demonstrates how “the ambitious expansion of the music ecosystem can be fundamental to the Kingdom’s social transformation, including connecting Saudi fans with the global artists they love, and the establishment of new venues and record labels and the continued growth of our burgeoning music ecosystem.”

Among the challenges MDL Beast has faced is how to handle unprecedented large crowds of men and women dancing all night long in a country where this was unheard of a few years ago.

After several harassment claims during the first and second editions, MDL Beast launched the “Respect and Reset” anti-harassment campaign, and said it would take action against anyone who is abusive or offensive.

Signs with “Respect & Reset” and “Visit our R&R spaces for help with harassment” were publicized throughout the venues. A designated white tent to help those who had experienced harassment was set up next to a medical tent. 

Al-Haratani said that security was increased this year to over 3,800 personnel on site, with an estimated one guard for every 35 guests. Additionally, the festival was monitored by more than 300 CCTV cameras. Free water was available throughout the night in all venues.

Baloo said that the festival set-up included “safe dancing zones.” 

“If anyone is feeling insecure or unsafe or just wants to dance alone or in a couple, then we have created zones within the big stages where women and couples can go dancing comfortably,” he told Arab News. “Everyone is welcome to come.”

“In the last three years things have changed from zero to 100 here,” Lana Alshareef, 23, social media coordinator for XP Music Futures, told Arab News.

“It’s so beautiful to see this for the music industry. Everything is happening now. There’s a lot of opportunities and everyone wants to find talent. We want to build connections with everyone from here in Saudi, encourage local talent and bring international artists. We want to become a new benchmark for the music industry.”


Saudi Arabia condemns ‘provocative’ Qur’an burning in Denmark

Saudi Arabia condemns ‘provocative’ Qur’an burning in Denmark
Updated 29 January 2023

Saudi Arabia condemns ‘provocative’ Qur’an burning in Denmark

Saudi Arabia condemns ‘provocative’ Qur’an burning in Denmark

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Saturday strongly condemned the burning of copies of the Qur’an by extremists in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, “in a new provocative step to the sentiment of millions of Muslims around the world.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated the Kingdom’s position, which “strongly rejects all these blatant acts that have unfortunately been repeated in several European capitals recently, under the pretext of freedom of expression, without a clear reaction toward stopping these practices.”

The Kingdom called on all European governments in which these extremist violations occurred, to urgently address all these practices that contribute to fueling hatred and conflict between followers of religions, the ministry said in a statement.

Rasmus Paludan, a far-right activist who holds both Danish and Swedish citizenship, already infuriated the Muslim world by staging a Qur’an-burning protest in Sweden on January 21. On Friday, Paludan replicated the stunt in front of a mosque as well as the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen and vowed to continue every Friday until Sweden is admitted into NATO.

Several regional and international organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Muslim World League, Arab Parliament and Gulf Cooperation Council, also issued statements strongly denouncing the incident, along with Pakistan, Jordan, Turkiye and Oman.


Saudi Arabia, France discuss peaceful atomic energy cooperation

Saudi Arabia, France discuss peaceful atomic energy cooperation
Updated 29 January 2023

Saudi Arabia, France discuss peaceful atomic energy cooperation

Saudi Arabia, France discuss peaceful atomic energy cooperation
  • They also discussed opportunities in renewable energy, clean hydrogen, and electrical interconnection

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman held a meeting on Saturday with French Minister of Economy, Finance, and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty Bruno Le Maire in the capital, Riyadh, the state-run SPA news agency reported.

The two ministers praised the relations between their two countries and discussed prospects for cooperation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

They also discussed future opportunities in various energy fields, including areas of cooperation in renewable energy, clean hydrogen, and electrical interconnection.


Body of Saudi student killed in US to be flown home

Al-Waleed Abdullah Al-Gheraibi
Al-Waleed Abdullah Al-Gheraibi
Updated 29 January 2023

Body of Saudi student killed in US to be flown home

Al-Waleed Abdullah Al-Gheraibi
  • The victim’s uncle, Mohammed Al-Gheraibi, told Saudi media outlet Sabq that the accused lived in the same building as his nephew and fled the scene after the attack

RIYADH: The body of a 25-year-old Saudi student stabbed to death in Philadelphia in the US will be returned home to his family, the Saudi Embassy in Washington has said.

Al-Waleed Al-Gheraibi died after an attack alleged carried out by 19-year-old US citizen Nicole Marie Rodgers on Jan. 23 in a shared property in Germantown, Philadelphia.

Police said that the student’s valuables were stolen along with his mobile phone.

Rodgers faces charges of theft, murder and possession of a weapon, police said.

HIGHLIGHT

Al-Waleed Abdullah Al-Gheraibi died after an attack allegedly carried out by 19-year-old US citizen Nicole Marie Rodgers on Jan. 23 in a shared property in Germantown, Philadelphia.

The victim’s uncle, Mohammed Al-Gheraibi, told Saudi media outlet Sabq that the accused lived in the same building as his nephew and fled the scene after the attack.

Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US, extended her condolences to Al-Gheraibi’s family and offered “full assistance to them during this painful time.”

In a statement on Friday, the Washington embassy said that it “has followed with great sadness and sorrow, from the first day, in coordination with the Kingdom’s Consulate General in New York, the circumstances of the killing of citizen Al-Waleed Abdullah Al-Gheraibi.”

The embassy said that the accused is under investigation, and expressed its appreciation for US security authorities’ help since the incident.

 

 


Sri Lankan foreign minister’s trip to Saudi Arabia yields ‘positive vibes’

Sri Lankan Minister Ali Sabry met with several Saudi officials and ministers during his recent visit to the Kingdom. (AN photo b
Updated 28 January 2023

Sri Lankan foreign minister’s trip to Saudi Arabia yields ‘positive vibes’

Sri Lankan Minister Ali Sabry met with several Saudi officials and ministers during his recent visit to the Kingdom. (AN photo b
  • Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia sign double tax avoidance deal to boost trade, investment
  • Framework agreement with GCC in the works

RIYADH: Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry has held talks with ministers and senior officials in Saudi Arabia, as the crisis-hit island nation seeks to boost cooperation with the Kingdom and other Gulf countries.

Sabry met with his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Secretary-General of Organization of Islamic Cooperation Hissein Brahim Taha, Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajraf, and CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development Sultan Al-Marshad, as well as officials from the Islamic Development Bank.

Sabry said that his visit to the Kingdom was “successful and that it will further cement and strengthen the bilateral relationship between our two countries as we see a lot of positive vibes that have been infused into our relations.”

Talks between the two foreign ministers covered enhancement of bilateral relations, increased investment with Sri Lanka as a gateway to South Asia, and employment for Sri Lankans in the Kingdom.

HIGHLIGHT

Ali Sabry, the Sri Lankan minister of Foreign Affairs, signed the double tax avoidance deal with the Kingdom’s Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority to boost trade and investment. Sri Lanka is said to be facing the worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948.

“Saudis have identified Sri Lanka as a very important geographical location, so (there are) investment opportunities in renewable energy, petroleum and hospitality industries,” Sabry said.

“We are interested in getting Saudi investment into the renewable energy sector for development, energy security and making Sri Lanka a regional energy hub.”

Discussions also took place around resuming airline services between Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka following their suspension during the global pandemic.

In a bid to enhance trade and investment relations between both countries, the visiting minister “signed a double tax avoidance agreement with the Zakat and Income Tax Authority here” to prevent fiscal evasion on income.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, with the government battling a shortage of foreign earnings, runaway inflation and recession.

The Sri Lankan minister thanked the Kingdom for its help with debt restructuring at the International Monetary Fund and Paris Club.

The Paris Club of creditor nations has proposed a 10-year debt moratorium on Sri Lankan debt and 15 years of debt restructuring as a formula to resolve the island nation’s currency crisis.

Sri Lanka is also in discussions with the IMF to secure a $2.9 billion bailout seen as vital to getting its economy back on track.

Sabry highlighted Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka’s long-standing relations and the former’s support in international forums.

“Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia have been traditional friends for a long period of time. To strengthen bilateral relationship, particularly in the multilateral fora — the UN and other agencies — we have to support each other,” he said.  

“They (Saudis) have been supporting us when we have been cornered unfairly by some powers for no reason. They have stood by us time and again. So we need to strengthen that relationship.”

Sabry and Al-Marshad discussed development issues of common interest, and the Sri Lankan minister praised the Kingdom’s efforts in developing infrastructure in Sri Lanka through SFD projects.

The minister’s meeting with Al-Hajraf focused on ties between Sri Lanka and the GCC.

“GCC is very important. We are looking at signing a framework agreement with the GCC, we want to expedite it as soon as possible,” Sabry said.

On his discussions with Taha and OIC observer status, Sabry said: “They are exploring the possibility of observer status, but we haven’t made the decision yet. Traditionally, we have had good relationships.”

Sabry also reassured Taha about the conditions of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

 


Sensational Pakistani singer delights Jeddah audience with hit songs

Pakistani music star Kaifi Khalil performed at a concert held on Jan. 26 at the WA Hotel in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Pakistani music star Kaifi Khalil performed at a concert held on Jan. 26 at the WA Hotel in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Updated 29 January 2023

Sensational Pakistani singer delights Jeddah audience with hit songs

Pakistani music star Kaifi Khalil performed at a concert held on Jan. 26 at the WA Hotel in Jeddah. (Supplied)
  • Speaking to Arab News, Khalil said: “My excitement hit the roof when I first learned that I will be performing in Saudi Arabia. I cannot describe this moment and the love I have received from the time I stepped into the country”

JEDDAH: Rising Pakistani music star Kaifi Khalil captivated audience members at a concert held on Jan. 26 at the WA Hotel in Jeddah.

The singer enjoyed a rapid rise to fame thanks to his mesmerizing vocals and soulful music. During the concert, he performed recent release “Kahani Suno 2.0” — which hit global world charts last year — along with other desi, folk and Sufi songs.

Speaking to Arab News, Khalil said the amount of love and warmth shown from the audience in Jeddah at his first international concert was “spectacular,” adding: “I had promised myself to fill the evening with a rendition of all my songs and tried my best to make sure every single person had a good time.”

Pakistani music star Kaifi Khalil performed at a concert held on Jan. 26 at the WA Hotel in Jeddah. (Supplied)

He said: “My excitement hit the roof when I first learned that I will be performing in Saudi Arabia. I cannot describe this moment and the love I have received from the time I stepped into the country.”

Although he has performed many times back in Pakistan, Khalil was overwhelmed to see the response from an international audience, which has inspired him to return to the Kingdom.

The constant cheering from the crowd was pure magic. When the performance was coming to an end, it dawned on me that everything that I felt was so precious that I will cherish it forever.

Kaifi Khalil

“The constant cheering from the crowd was pure magic. When the performance was coming to an end, it dawned on me that everything that I felt was so precious that I will cherish it forever,” he said.

After Khalil’s music went viral last year, the singer became an inspiration to many, with children, teenagers and adults attending in the Jeddah concert.

One concertgoer described the event as a “magical night,” adding: “I don’t know how many times I have listened to Kaifi Khalil’s songs. To watch him perform live was a dream come true moment. He has such a soulful voice that made the entire hall sing along with him.”

Mohammed Abdullah, another fan, said: “I was so excited to experience the vibe and music of Kaifi Khalil. He is totally a gem in the music industry. Besides, I would like to extend gratitude to the organizers for the very well executed event as we could watch him clearly from our seats.”

Alongside Khalil, the event also included versatile singers Abida Hussain and Saleem Rifiq.

Nosheen Waseem, founder of Nosheen Arts Culture Center, which oversaw the concert, said that the center aim to take the entertainment industry in the Kingdom to the “next level.” The event was organized to mark the successful completion of the first year of NACC, which involved organizing a range of nonprofit events.

Salman Lodhi and Talha Abdul Ghafoor, who organized the event, said: “The turnout was incredible — around 300 people attended the musical night. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone had a great time and the audience was on their feet for the entire performance.”