Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town

Special Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town
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CEO of MDLBEAST Ramadan Alharatani outlines the program for Balad Beast. (Supplied)
Special Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town
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CEO of MDLBEAST Ramadan Alharatani outlines the program for Balad Beast. (Supplied)
Special Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town
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Balad Beast will take place in Al-Balad, Jeddah, on Dec. 9 and 10. (Supplied)
Special Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town
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Balad Beast will take place in Al-Balad, Jeddah, on Dec. 9 and 10. (Supplied)
Special Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town
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Balad Beast will take place in Al-Balad, Jeddah, on Dec. 9 and 10. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 December 2022

Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town

Balad Beast ready to take center stage at Jeddah’s Old Town
  • Balad Beast is a boutique music festival organized for a reduced capacity of between 12,000-15,000 people daily, Dec. 9 and 10, in Al-Balad, Jeddah
  • MDLBEAST is expanding into multiple events and diversifying its portfolio under MDLBEAST Records to feature more artists representing different genres

JEDDAH: Ahead of the arrival of musical event Balad Beast, Ramadan Alharatani, CEO of MDLBEAST, received local and regional media for an exclusive press preview, including a tour of Jeddah Old Town’s famous districts on Wednesday.

The pre-event promotion was organized in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Culture.

MDLBEAST is taking place over two days on Dec. 9 and 10 with more than 70 local, regional and international artists performing in the neighborhood alongside the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s epic surroundings.

Alharatani explained the inspiration behind Balad Beast and detailed how the site will be preserved during the event. Speaking to Arab News, he said: “After months of behind-the-scenes preparations, we are delighted that the time has finally come for Jeddah’s Old Town to take center stage and host the first-ever Balad Beast.

“Since a historical area like Al-Balad requires extra caution, various extensive sound testing across the past two weeks has been performed to measure the effect of the sound vibrations and waves on the area’s buildings and ensure the volume is at a safe limit.”

Alharatani added that the Balad Beast is a boutique festival organized for a reduced capacity with about 12,000-15,000 people in attendance each day.

“We aim to provide the full experience to the music lovers in Jeddah similar to what other festivals of multi-stages and multi-genres have along with an ability to move from one place to another, enabling visitors to enjoy the music at every corner,” he said.

“The crowd in Jeddah has always been demanding for MDLBEAST. Although we have been here before by executing the Formula One concerts in March and November, this is the first time we are bringing the MDLBEAST through Balad Beast in historic Jeddah,” he added.

The event will bring renowned headliners, emerging talent and cutting-edge features together in a historic, culturally significant site fusing the past with the present and thrusting the spotlight on both Jeddah’s history and vast potential to become a thriving local and regional hub for music.

During the conference, Alharatani said that extra steps had been taken to prevent harassment of any kind at the event. “We work to promote fun and consensual music experiences. Therefore, we have launched an anti-harassment campaign called ‘Respect & Reset’ aimed at education, prevention and support resources,” he said.

Alharatani warned that anyone who violates the policy will be immediately removed from the festival site without a refund and will be referred to the authorities for legal recourse, adding that offenders will be banned from all future events.

MDLBEAST is expanding into multiple events and diversifying its portfolio under MDLBEAST Records to feature more artists representing different genres. It is also expanding into venues to provide creative spaces and cultural hubs for aspiring artists to gather, create and be part of the community.

Balad Beast announced that US rapper Busta Rhymes is making his way to Saudi Arabia for the festival, while era-defining DJ Carl Cox will also be part of the action-packed bill. Italian duo Tale of Us will also take part, along with Lupe Fiasco, Salvatore Ganacci, as well as local artists including Dorar, Dana Hourani, Biirdperson and many others.

Tickets for Balad Beast are available now across two tiers: General Admission, which offers access to all five stages of the event, and VIB, which will give ticket holders the privilege of accessing historic building lounges, entrances from a separate VIB gate and complimentary gourmet food.


Sundance Film Festival 2023 closes with three Mideast filmmakers winning awards  

Sundance Film Festival 2023 closes with three Mideast filmmakers winning awards  
Updated 30 January 2023

Sundance Film Festival 2023 closes with three Mideast filmmakers winning awards  

Sundance Film Festival 2023 closes with three Mideast filmmakers winning awards  

DUBAI: The 2023 Sundance Film Festival — which took its final bow this weekend in Park City, Utah, after its first in-person edition since 2020 — saw three Middle Eastern films winning awards, including “The Persian Version,” “Shayda” and “Animalia.”  

Iranian American director Maryam Keshavarz’s “The Persian Version” won the Audience Award and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award in the US Dramatic Competition.  c

The film follows a large Iranian American family gathering for the patriarch’s heart transplant when a family secret catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past.   

It was one of three films at Sundance this year to be directed by Iranian women, the others being “Joonam” and “Shayda.”  

Noora Niasari’s “Shayda” took home the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. The film follows Shayda, a brave Iranian mother, who finds refuge in an Australian women’s shelter with her six-year-old daughter. But when her estranged husband re-enters their lives, Shayda’s path to freedom is jeopardized.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The third regional film to win an award at Sundance is “Animalia” by Morocco's Sofia Alaoui, who took home the Special Jury Award for Creative Vision. The film follows a young mother-to-be as she experiences an alien invasion with a sense of dread that slowly turns into liberation.  


Egyptian soprano, Bocelli-Jameel recipient Laura Mekhail charms Jeddah

Egyptian soprano, Bocelli-Jameel recipient Laura Mekhail charms Jeddah
Updated 24 min 9 sec ago

Egyptian soprano, Bocelli-Jameel recipient Laura Mekhail charms Jeddah

Egyptian soprano, Bocelli-Jameel recipient Laura Mekhail charms Jeddah
  • In an exclusive interview after the performance, Mekhail told Arab News that receiving the Bocelli-Jameel scholarship at the Royal College of Music was the most amazing experience she ever had

JEDDAH: The second recipient of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation-Community Jameel Scholarship was awarded to Egyptian talent Laura Mekhail in 2021, who enthralled a Jeddah audience with her stunning performance on the Hayy Jameel stage on Jan. 28.

Mekhail is the first Arab woman to receive the scholarship, as the inaugural recipient was French soprano Clara Barbier Serrano.

The Arab soprano performed next to Italian pianist and composer Daniele Ciminiello, who had coincidentally also performed with Serrano last year at the same venue.

Mekhail performed classics by composers such as Mozart and Puccini, and Arabic songs including ‘El Helwa Di’ by Fairuz. (AN Photo by: Abdullah Al-Faleh)

During the show, Mekhail took her audience on a spectacular journey through the history of opera, covering classics by legendary composers such as Handel, Mozart and Puccini, followed by Arabic songs such as “Ana Albi Dalili” by Laila Mourad, and “Sahar El Layali” and “El Helwa Di” by Fairuz. She completed her performance with breathtaking renditions of English songs “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Pure Imagination.”

In an exclusive interview after the performance, Mekhail told Arab News that receiving the Bocelli-Jameel scholarship at the Royal College of Music was the most amazing experience she ever had.

FASTFACT

Laura Mekhail is the first Arab woman to be awarded the Bocelli-Jameel Scholarship in 2021, which was previously awarded to French soprano Clara Barbier Serrano. The Bocelli-Jameel scholarship was established in 2019 with the aim of supporting emerging talents to study opera at the Royal College of Music in London.

“It is truly a dream come true to study at the Royal College of Music. It is now the top school in the world, and it’s not easy to get into. I cannot believe that I am one of the very few people who get to be there and receive this amazing education that will put me on different stages all around the world.”

The same performance also took place at the Kingdom’s cultural and historic destination AlUla at the award-winning Maraya Concert Hall on Jan. 27 where Mekhail performed next to Andrea Bocelli.

She described the thrill of singing with the legendary talent.

“I felt so comfortable. I thought I would be scared or shaky, but he made me feel like it was going to be fine. He encourages and believes in young talent. So, it felt amazing to sing next to him.”

Mekhail discovered her passion for singing during her childhood when she was part of a church choir in Cairo. She has performed at the Cairo Opera House, and the influences on her singing include many Arab musicians, along with Bach and Rossini.

She studied music performance at West Virginia Wesleyan College in the US, where she was a member of the a cappella choir and worked closely with Dan Hughes, the director of Choral Activities, whom she credits for heavily influencing her vocal development.

After graduation, Mekhail taught singing at the Chesterbrook Academy for six years before deciding to pursue a career as a professional soloist.

Mekhail’s performance at the Hayy Jameel stage is the latest development in the rising star’s professional musical career.

The seating arena was fully packed, including the theater balconies. Music enthusiasts from elders to teenagers cheered “Bravo!” after every aria and song.

Mekhail said that the heartwarming response from her Saudi audience energized her to keep singing.

Menwar Azraie, 64, a Saudi educational supervisor in the field of fine arts who attended the show with his wife, told Arab News: “I am a big fan of opera and I always like to encourage young talents. I like to attend opera gigs at the Muse music club here in Jeddah.

“I was invited to attend today’s amazing show by my daughter. I am extremely thrilled as the show perfectly captured the essence of a professional Italian opera, and what doubled my joy was that the show combined Western and Middle Eastern music styles using only the human voice and a piano. It was truly a dose of happiness, and I would love to see more of it.”

His wife Wafa Mustafa said: “I love arts and classical music, and the vibes of today’s performance were absolutely magical.”

The opera scholarship is open to students from around the world. Community Jameel, which supports the scholarship, and Art Jameel, which runs Hayy Jameel, are sister organizations founded by the Jameel family of Saudi Arabia.

The Bocelli-Jameel scholarship was established in 2019 with the aim of supporting emerging talents to study opera at the Royal College of Music in London.

Mekhail shared some words of advice for young Arab sopranos and classical singers in the region.

“You have to be persistent in your dream because it is not easy to be a classical singer, especially if you live in the Middle East,” she said. “And even if you go abroad and try to achieve that dream, it is really hard and competitive as there are very, very few Arab people in the international community. Do not be frustrated. Just be persistent. Keep following your dream. I promise you are going to get there.”

 

 


John Legend serenades Riyadh at Diriyah E-Prix

John Legend serenades Riyadh at Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 30 January 2023

John Legend serenades Riyadh at Diriyah E-Prix

John Legend serenades Riyadh at Diriyah E-Prix
  • “John Legend has been one of my favorite artists, especially because he’s an R&B singer and this is something that I actually follow and listen to — specifically him,” Saad Mohammed, who was present at the concert, told Arab News

RIYADH: American singer and songwriter John Legend performed at the Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday.  

The renowned artist played some of his most popular songs, including “All of Me,” which peaked on the Billboard 100 charts for three consecutive weeks, as well as “Green Light,” “Nervous” and “All Night Long.”

“John Legend has been one of my favorite artists, especially because he’s an R&B singer and this is something that I actually follow and listen to — specifically him,” Saad Mohammed, who was present at the concert, told Arab News.  

“I don’t want to brag but I want to be the best you’ve ever had, Riyadh…We’re going to have some fun, I promise,” Legend said.

With stunning visuals as his backdrop, the singer encouraged the audience to dance along with him to the pop anthem “All She Wanna Do” and to join in singing the chorus to “All of Me.”  

“You sound so beautiful,” Legend told the crowd.

HIGHLIGHTS

• John Legend played alongside others including Egyptian singer Mohammed Hamaki and French Montana.

• Starting off the night’s festivities was Saudi DJ Dani Bogari.

Mohammed said he was ecstatic that he no longer had to travel abroad to experience live entertainment shows by big acts such as Legend and French Montana.

“Part of our culture is hospitality and getting to experience this with foreigners and expats makes me happy. It’s as if you’re able to cook well but can’t share this talent that you have, and now we can finally do it,” he said, referencing Saudi’s portfolio of extraordinary events and celebrations.

Another audience member, Dalal Mohammed, said: “I came for John Legend, honestly, and he sang my favorite song, ‘All of Me!’” she told Arab News excitedly, describing the performance as a “dream.”

She too expressed her joy at being able to attend concerts and other events just five minutes away from her home, instead of having to travel abroad to do so.

“I love that international singers are coming to know our culture and hospitality and to see the new Saudi,” she said.

In her second time at Formula E, Fatima Al-Attas commended the event’s choice of music and artists.

“I am a fan of John Legend, and what’s nice is that he’s a really good performer and he seemed to enjoy the show and that had an effect on us, so we had more fun,” she told Arab News.

Legend played alongside others including Egyptian singer Mohammed Hamaki and French Montana, who took to the stage to deliver a trap setlist following Legend’s show.

“This is my first time in Saudi since 2019, so let me reintroduce myself. Let’s go!” the Moroccan American singer said onstage, kicking off the setlist with “All the Way Up.”

“I came for French Montana, of course. My favorite song is ‘Unforgettable,’ and I’m excited to hear that,” Dubai-based Rana Baeshen told Arab News.

Baeshen initially came to experience the Riyadh Season and visit family, taking the opportunity to also see Montana live.

“This country is developing so rapidly. I’m happy with what I saw here tonight,” she said.

Starting off the night’s festivities was Saudi DJ Dani Bogari following racer Pascal Wehrlein’s win.

Bogari told Arab News: “I’m absolutely immersed in joy. It’s my first time playing on such a large stage, so it feels incredible.

“It feels like there are lots of opportunities for local talent, so today being part of this experience, being alongside John Legend and French Montana — I don’t think there’s anything that I can say to describe it.”

While his performance diverged from his typical Afrohouse sound, his beats complemented the headlining R&B performances, as he mixed more lyrical and dance music into his set.

“When there’s a culture of music, it really means that this country is growing in the right direction. It’s creating positive energy within the people,” Bogari said.

 

 


Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  
Updated 29 January 2023

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

DUBAI: It would not be an understatement to say that we are living in the golden age of television when it comes to sheer diversity in terms of content. That much is evident when a Dungeons & Dragons game that started out in someone’s living room is now a full-blown animated series on a massive streaming platform — and it has returned for a second season.   

 “The Legend of Vox Machina” is based on the hugely successful D&D actual play series Critical Role, in which players livestreamed themselves playing the tabletop game. The adult animated series made fans in its debut season for its ability to carefully balance juvenile humor with immense character depth, set against a lore-heavy fantasy setting.   

Season two builds on that promise and comes back even stronger with greater character arcs for its seven main characters: Half-elf rogue Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien), his ranger twin sister Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey), half-elf druid Keyleth (Marisha Ray), gnome bard Scanlan (Sam Riegel), goliath barbarian Grog (Travis Willingham), his BFF gnome paladin Pike (Ashley Johnson) and human gunslinger Percy (Taliesen Jaffe). This is an impressive feat to achieve given that the episodes have a run time of under 30 minutes.   

The new season picks up exactly where season one left off — with a group of large and ancient dragons attacking the city of Emon. Our motley crew of mercenaries/heroes, clearly underqualified for the job of defeating these powerful beings, must now go on a continent-hopping jaunt to retrieve magical artifacts that will help them in this mission.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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It is helpful here to remember that “TLOVM,” unlike any fantasy series or movie that you may have watched so far, is not based on a book or video game: It is based on a story created by a group of friends as they played a game over several years, albeit with an audience watching on Twitch and YouTube.   

And, hence, what makes the animated show such an engrossing watch, despite having a story that may seem familiar to most fans of fantasy media, is that “TLOVM” manages to accurately capture the bond between the players and translate it into endearing television.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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And while the personal stakes are dialed up to 11 this time around, the larger plot is not ignored either. As big as the emotional punches are, they are matched in intensity with the beautifully realized action scenes and set pieces, which will again feel familiar to anyone who has ever played a role-playing game with their friends.   

With Critical Role announcing that they will also be animating their second campaign, Mighty Nein, for Amazon, and if you are a fan of all things magic, camaraderie and epic battles, there has never been a better time to tune in and let “Vox Machina” enthrall you. 


‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  
Updated 29 January 2023

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

DUBAI: The force is strong with “Star Wars” fans in the Middle East.   

British actor and mime artist Anthony Daniels, best known for playing the lovable golden droid C3PO in the “Star Wars” franchise, is headed to the Middle East Film and Comic Con, set to take place in Abu Dhabi from March 3-5.   

He is the only actor to have either appeared in or been involved with all theatrical films in the series, having starred in 10 “Star Wars” films, apart from being involved in several TV shows, video games and radio serials.   

It has also been heavily hinted at that British actor, writer and filmmaker Andy Serkis will be in attendance in Abu Dhabi at the three-day event. Serkis is best known for his performance capture roles comprising motion capture acting, animation and voice work for computer-generated characters such as Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise, Caesar in the “Planet of the Apes” reboot trilogy, and Supreme Leader Snoke in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy   

He most recently portrayed Kino Loy in the “Star Wars” Disney+ series “Andor.”  

However, Serkis’s attendance has not been confirmed by the organizers as of yet.