RIYADH: To mark Nowruz, we relive the moment Iran’s most beloved musicians brought to AlUla a rich burst of Persian culture and spirit.
The two-night event, “Persian Night – Music Without Borders,” occurred in March 2020 at the Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s ancient archaeological jewel.
The seven legendary Iranian singers who performed included the king of Persian pop Shahram Shabpareh, classical pop singer Leila Forouhar, Ebrahim Hamedi (known by the stage name Ebi), Sasy, Shadmehr Aghili, Andy and Arash Labaf — all who flew from their homes in the US and Europe to be part of the historic moment.
Shadmehr Aghili opened the night with “Royaye Ma,” one of his famed songs featuring Ebi, where the pair sing of their dream for a better world.
A few songs later, Leila Forouhar, looking dazzling in a beautifully embellished maroon gown, entertained the crowd with elegant Persian moves while performing classics such as the popular bandari song “Jooni Joonom.”
Shahram Shabpareh included his famous hit “Pariya” in his performance and even showed off some Arabic skills on stage by calling to his fans “ahlan wa sahlan” (an Arabic expression of welcome).
The Iranian stars sang many upbeat romantic tunes, radiating love, joy, and gratitude to an international crowd.
Saudis in the audience were seen in traditional Arab gowns dancing to the beat of Persian songs, embodying the event’s slogan that music truly goes beyond borders.
Whilst on stage, the prince of Persian pop, Andy, told the audience that they would be welcomed in his home in Los Angeles with the same hospitality he received in the Kingdom.
In his own words, the event was “like the Olympics,” and he was not wrong in many ways.
The event was one of honor, and had the same power to set aside politics to celebrate global talents.
Ebi told event-goers how “happy and proud” he felt that there were two women in his band before proceeding to sing his 1989 hit “Khanom Gol,” a song he dedicated on the night to women in Iran, whom he wishes one day can likewise perform on a stage.
The two magical nights provided a beacon of hope to the artists and a window to the endless possibilities the future holds for the region.
Backstage, Leila spoke to the Independent about how witnessing the Kingdom’s social reforms — specifically in the realm of Saudi women’s empowerment — has been a source of fascination and happiness for her.
It was not only Leila who felt compelled by the social changes; Ebi also expressed similar feelings to Arab News.
“Many beautiful things are happening in Saudi Arabia. A lot of great shifts are occurring,” he said, using the event as one example of this transformation.
The iconic Persian night was a part of the annual Winter at Tantora, Saudi Arabia’s first music and cultural festival.
Since launching in 2018, it has become synonymous with cultural exchange, from hosting world-renowned Greek composer Yanni, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, and the Kingdom’s legendary singer Mohammed Abdu.
The host city of AlUla — which this year joined Conde Nast Traveler’s “Seven Wonders of the World” and is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site — plays a symbolic role.
The city sits on the ancient incense trade route that connected Africa, Asia and Europe. For this reason, AlUla is known to the world as an embodiment of cultural interaction.
It is, therefore, no surprise that this would be the place where two of the world’s richest cultures — Arab and Persian — crossed paths.
For Arash, AlUla had awed him as a “crazy, beautiful” place, making him feel like he was on set on “an old Western movie” when galloping on the horses nearby.
He told Arab News that he made it to the event to represent Persian culture to the world and ultimately “to spread love, Persian love.”
And that was precisely what happened on March 5 and 6, 2020. Persian love made its mark in the history books of modern Saudi Arabia, bringing together different cultures that share a profound passion for music, dance and romance.