Saudi EDM festival Freaks of Nature debuts in Amsterdam

Saudi EDM festival Freaks of Nature debuts in Amsterdam
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Updated 25 October 2023

Saudi EDM festival Freaks of Nature debuts in Amsterdam

Saudi EDM festival Freaks of Nature debuts in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM: Freaks of Nature, Saudi Arabia’s homegrown boutique electronic music festival series, made its first appearance at the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) this week. Originating in Riyadh, the creators of Freaks of Nature organized this event, named “querencia,” with the vision of creating a dreamlike place for free expression and unity among “fabulous freaks.”

The Amsterdam showcase featured a lineup of Saudi talents including Sound of Yaz, Rash, DJ Igniter, Bigg3, Yazeed and DJ Hannah, who presented back-to-back sets with international artists such as Toby Romeo and Lucaz, as well as Dutch artists like DJ Basicz, Brooks, WeDamnz, Seth Hills.

Every October, Amsterdam becomes the epicenter of the world’s electronical music industry during the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE). It features a mix of music festivals, warehouse raves, boat parties, hundreds of panels, conferences, business sessions, and many other adjacent events. The city comes alive with non-stop energy throughout the five-day event, spanning over 200 clubs and cultural institutions hosting over 1,000 activities.

Freaks of Nature’s organizers said that their mission is to connect international DJs, industry professionals and booking agencies with Saudi artists. They want to provide them with a platform and boost their presence beyond the Kingdom.

Dutch DJ Basicz, who has performed in Riyadh twice, said, “Saudi Arabia is not really on the map right now in the event scene, so it’s great that they (they organizers) are bringing it to ADE, it will gain more recognition now.” He unexpectedly discovered the Saudi music scene when he met Yazeed Al-Hashim, the festival’s CEO, in Amsterdam. DJ Basicz explained, “he liked my vibe and invited me to be part of the new music scene in Saudi.” In an earlier interview with Arab News, Al-Hashim talked about ADE, mentioning, “for us, it was really essential to show the international music community the Saudi entertainment scene as well as Saudi local artists.”  

Saudi talent Bigg3 said that ADE is also an opportunity to learn about new music technologies and industry trends. He emphasized ADE’s importance, saying “it’s almost necessary for all the event makers, DJ’s and producers to be at ADE; everyone is here.”

Bigg3 and DJ Basicz, paired up for one of the night’s sets, discussed the contrasts between performing in the two countries. They noticed that the Dutch crowd is more familiar with techno music, while in Saudi Arabia, Bigg3 said, “we are just starting to get used to it, we are building the industry.”

A little over two weeks ago, Freaks of Nature organized a two-day festival in Riyadh, also themed “querencia.” “Every event of our series is unique, but we want people to recognize it under the same title, just like the well-known Awakenings techno festival,” the organizers said. During the festival, partygoers enjoyed performances by both international DJs like Lost Frequencies, Agents of Time, Nic Fanciulli, DJ Morten, as well as local and regional artists.

The Real Housewives of Dubai season 2 teaser drops

The Real Housewives of Dubai season 2 teaser drops
Updated 02 March 2024

The Real Housewives of Dubai season 2 teaser drops

The Real Housewives of Dubai season 2 teaser drops

DUBAI: Bravo dropped a brief teaser on Instagram this week for the second season of “The Real Housewives of Dubai,” announcing that the season premiere will air on June 2.

“The drama in this desert is just getting started,” bravo tweeted with the video. “Here’s your first look at Season 2 of #RHODubai.”

The show will once again star season one’s Chanel Ayan, Caroline Brooks, Sara Al-Madani, Lesa Milan and Caroline Stanbury, who will be joined by new housewife Taleen Marie.

Marie announced in November that she will be part of season two, saying: “I feel so blessed and excited to be a part of the @nbcuniversal and Bravo franchise.”

The 30-second teaser showcased snippets from the series, featuring the housewives raising their glasses in a toast to “new beginnings.” However, the celebratory atmosphere quickly gives way to conflict as tensions escalate within the group.

The full trailer is yet to be released.

‘Asayel’ equestrian theater show wins hearts in Diriyah

‘Asayel’ follows Fahad, a man from Diriyah, and his strong bond with his horse. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
‘Asayel’ follows Fahad, a man from Diriyah, and his strong bond with his horse. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 01 March 2024

‘Asayel’ equestrian theater show wins hearts in Diriyah

‘Asayel’ follows Fahad, a man from Diriyah, and his strong bond with his horse. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
  • “Asayel” is part of the collective events of Diriyah Season, which aims to promote the cultural and historical heritage of the city

RIYADH: The story of Fahad and his beloved horse Asayel are at the heart of a new theatrical equestrian show in Diriyah that is captivating visitors.

The show follows Fahad, a man from Diriyah, and his strong bond with Asayel. The horse is later passed to Fahad’s son, Faris, who experiences hardship before navigating the modern city of Diriyah with his animal companion, eventually leading the community to unity and determination.

“Asayel,” which runs from Feb. 28 to March 8 at Mayadeen Theater, is presented by Z7 Show Horses, a company of 40 performers and 40 horses bringing sophistication and passion to Diriyah.

‘Asayel’ follows Fahad, a man from Diriyah, and his strong bond with his horse. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

The team’s director, Laura Arkle, said: “Z7 Show Horses and the team are extremely excited to be performing in Saudi Arabia. Being able to tell the Diriyah story whilst incorporating the rich culture through the art of equestrian entertainment is a dream come true for all of us.”

“Asayel” has been met with high praise from audience members, including Saudi model and content creator Reyouf Madkhali, who said: “This is my first time attending a show with this high-quality performance.”


‘Asayel’ runs until March 8 at Mayadeen Theater in Diriyah.

She added: “It was very professional, clean cut … honestly, it was very well organized.”

Events like “Asayel” in Diriyah, which celebrate the ancient city’s heritage, have reached a new level of professionalism and showmanship, Madkhali said.

Nada Abdul Hakim, a young Saudi singer and actress who plays the role of Nourah in the show, told Arab News: “It is a beautiful experience … my role is Nourah in the story, Faris’ friend. Nourah taught Faris how to ride a horse because he loved horses.”

“Asayel” is part of the collective events of Diriyah Season, which aims to promote the cultural and historical heritage of the city.


Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 
Updated 01 March 2024

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 
  • How two childhood friends made their newfound love for camels the heart of a Netflix hit 

LONDON: It takes a certain level of trust to go into business with your best friend. It takes an even greater degree of faith to do so in an industry that is new to both of you. And it takes a crazy amount of love and commitment to document that journey together and showcase it to audiences around the world.  

But ‘a crazy amount of love and commitment’ is a pretty good way to sum up the relationship between childhood friends Safwan Modir and Omar Almaeena, the stars of comedy docuseries “Camel Quest,” which premiered on Netflix at the start of February and went straight into the streaming service’s regional top 10. The show sees the duo travel across Saudi Arabia in a bid to reach the Crown Prince Camel Festival, learning more about the revered animal — and themselves — along the way.  

Key to the show’s success is the fact that Modir and Almaeena, now 40, have known each other for more than half their lives. 

Safwan Modir (L) and Omar Almaeena (center) shooting “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

“We met when we were 16,” says Modir. “We met at a mutual friend’s house, and we clicked immediately. We’ve been good friends since then. Omar was studying in the United States, so we used to talk through Messenger or phone calls, and then every time he came back to Saudi, we would do crazy things. And we were always dreaming of doing something together as we grew up.” 

And while no obvious opportunity to work together presented itself — “Saf went into being a hotelier,” Almaeena recalls, “and I was bouncing around trying to figure out what I was good at” — that desire to create a project together never went away. The pair’s separate careers continued to develop. Modir became the youngest Saudi general manager of a five-star hotel, and Almaeena became a seasoned entrepreneur with a series of successful startups. 

“Omar came back after COVID,” Modir recalls, “and he had been bitten by the bug of entrepreneurship. He came to the hotel to visit, and he saw the setup, and he said to me: ‘Safwan, I think we should do something together.’ That’s when everything started to cook.” 

Omar Almaeena (center) and Safwan Modir. (Supplied)

That ‘something’ turned out to be the camel business — an industry that, Almaeena admits, he “wasn’t very keen on” at first. “But we found it to be a very lovely world that can be passionate and loving towards the camels, yet also financially viable if done properly.” 

“There was a lot of movement in the camel world,” Modir adds. “It’s going in a similar direction to the horse industry — it’s becoming super-fancy; you have beauty competitions, you have races, you have competitions all over the world, with royalty attending. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed love camels, and one of the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 is to take the camel industry to the next level — to the level of the horse industry and maybe even beyond. 

“And,” he adds with a laugh, “it’s something that we had absolutely no clue about. We had never seen camels (up close) in our lives. So that was a challenge. It took me time to convince Omar that there was an opportunity here.” 

Omar Almaeena (L) and Safwan Modir in their Netflix show “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

And therein lies the second reason the pair have had such success. Modir and Almaeena share the kind of comedic chemistry that can’t be workshopped or choregraphed — and the kind of trust that convinces two successful men to leave their existing careers and start something new together. 

“The fear was there, but the support from my family, especially my wife, was there too,” says Modir. “And having my best friend beside me made it easier.” 

The two started the Redsea Camel Company — a camel breeding farm (and soon to be racing stable) in Al Qassim — powered by their collective experience and ceaseless enthusiasm. And it’s been such a rewarding experience that Almaeena suggested making a TV show about it. So, looking back now, was he scared too? 

“No, no, no…” he says with a chuckle. “I’ve done this so many times, and I’ve failed so many times, what’s one more…?”  

Omar Almaeena (L) and Safwan Modir in “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

The chuckle is swiftly upgraded to a full-blown laugh from both men — something that happens a lot during their conversation with us. “There’s trust there, that was so important. I can’t lie, and I don’t know how to sugarcoat things.” 

Despite the fact that they had as much experience with TV production as they had previously had with camels — i.e. none — the pair made smart decisions, surrounding themselves with professionals who could help them tell their story. Director Tarek Bou Chebel, creative directors Rana Sabbagha and Amin Dora (who also served as showrunner) bought in, convinced as much by the relationship between the two friends as by the concept for the show — which wound up being perfectly timed with the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s declaration of 2024 as the Year of the Camel. 

They started filming in November 2021, and finished in the first weeks of 2022. The pair recall being scared on the morning of the first day, but that getting the first shot in the can did a lot to calm their nerves — not to mention those of the director.  

“We thought we would be repeating that first scene 20 times,” says Modir. “But we did it, and the director said we were amazing. And that he had been worried, but that we had surprised him.” 

“He came clean afterwards,” Almaeena says with a laugh. “He said we were naturals. That gave us a lot of confidence.” 

Safwan Modir (top) and Omar Almaeena in a promo shoot for “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

Although the pair’s comedic chemistry is key to “Camel Quest,” it was important that the real stars of the show were given the respect they deserved. 

“The joke is always on us, as it should be,” says Almaeena. “There have been instances in the past where the joke was on the camel, and it wasn’t very well received.” 

“The joke is about Omar pranking me,” adds Modir. “Just like when we were kids. But it’s never about the camels; we were very careful to take that into consideration.” 

“The (idea) is to build this business, and to understand how it takes us across Saudi Arabia to see the camels in different cities,” Almaeena continues. “To see the beauty contests, to see camels raised for milk, or for meat. You see all the different variations. But the point is, whoever has them, you see the ultimate love for this animal.” 

The pair insist they didn’t fall out during the trip — Modir, when pressed, slightly amends this and says it did happen once, but only because Almaeena cancelled his food order — and they would love to do a second series. But that’s only the start of their plans for their camel empire. 

“The breeding program has shot up now, and Saf’s come up with some brilliant ideas for the program and getting people involved,” Almaeena explains. “People are signing up to buy camels from us, and we’re close to finalizing the racing team, which will have its first race in May. And we have one movie hopefully close to preproduction, and another in the pipeline.” 

But in all of these projects, one thing remains constant — and no wonder, given how well it’s served them thus far. 

“I’m handling the camels, and Omar is handling everything to do with the movies and production,” says Modir. “But, with all of these things, we’ll be doing it together.” 

‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi

‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi
Updated 28 February 2024

‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi

‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” sci-fi epic will return for round two when it hits cinemas in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East on Feb. 29.

Ahead of the worldwide release of “Dune: Part Two,” the film’s director and cast members Josh Brolin and Dave Bautista visited Abu Dhabi – where they shot extensively in the Empty Quarter – for a regional premiere.

Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve poses for photographers in the Abu Dhabi desert. (Photo by Mohammed Fawzy/Arab News)

Villeneuve told Arab News: “The surprise we had every morning when we were waking up and seeing the way the sunlight was hitting the sand dunes a different way with the mists surrounding us, it was always magical.”

The UAE capital’s desert landscape was used to mimic the planet Arrakis, where most of the movie’s story unfolds.

“I was also really impressed by the logistics of the crew from Abu Dhabi. They created roads and paths in the desert to allow us in the areas that I wanted to go,” he said.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

US actor Brolin said: “Because we were so far away, we were two-and-a-half hours outside of Abu Dhabi in the middle of nowhere. You feel insignificant when you show up, you know, you feel it’s very consuming.

“And there’s something about the humility that creates, whereby the time you leave, you’re like crying and you don’t want to leave. I feel the same way now, just showing up here. Again, it just all comes back. It was a really powerful place.”

Dave Bautista as Rabban Harkonnen in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

Bautista, who previously worked with Villeneuve on “Blade Runner 2049” as well as “Dune: Part One” — which won six Academy Awards in 2022 — noted that living in the world of “Dune” had given him the opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s top filmmakers.

He said: “As a performer, my favorite thing about ‘Dune’ is working with Denis and working with my amazing co-stars. I think Denis has a knack for bringing out the best in me as a performer.

“And so, I always look forward to that because I still have that chip on my shoulder where I want to prove that I can be a great actor. I can’t prove that to myself if I don’t have someone like Denis that’s bringing out the performance in me.

“This is why I like to work constantly because I want to become better and better. And I’m an on-the-job learning actor. I’d love to learn from my peers or learn from great directors.

“So, I feel like I’ve become a stronger performer every time I complete a job, especially when I get to work with people, at such a high level, this stuff brings out the best in me,” Bautista added.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Fremen warrior Chani in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

Brolin, who plays Gurney Halleck – a mentor and friend to lead star Timothee Chalamet’s Paul Atreides in the film – was more taken by the sci-fi elements of the flick, having grown up devoring similar stories.

He said: “I think that early on, when I grew up on a ranch, I read (US author and screenwriter) Ray Bradbury and (American writer) Isaac Asimov and it just exploded my brain, and I was so happy that I didn’t have to live always in the reality of what was happening around me.

“So, it’s great to be able to go back into it because I read ‘Dune’ when I was probably 16. And it was just along those same lines. It was like a graduation return of the ultimate kind of experience and to be able to be given the opportunity to kind of lose yourself.

“But I don’t feel like it’s a losing yourself. I feel like you are finding parts of yourself that you wouldn’t know you know, through a story like this,” Brolin added.

“Dune: Part Two” is the conclusion to Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel. The film follows Atreides as he seeks to unite the native Fremen people of Arrakis against the tyranny of House Harkonnen, who murdered his entire Great House.

The film also stars Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Javier Bardem, Florence Pugh, Austin Butler, Christopher Walken, and Lea Seydoux in key roles.

Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama

Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama
Updated 28 February 2024

Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama

Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama
  • The historical drama is now available to stream in the Middle East on Disney+

DUBAI: “Shogun,” FX’s latest adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 bestselling novel set in 1600s feudal Japan, is a far cry from the popular 1980s mini-series, told predominantly from the point of view of its Western protagonist John Blackthorne (played then by Richard Chamberlain, and now by Cosmo Jarvis).

While Jarvis’ Blackthorne gets ample screen time in the new iteration of “Shogun,” now streaming on Disney+ in the Middle East, co-creators and husband-wife duo Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo were keen to center the story around its Japanese characters.

Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne ‘Shogun.’ (Courtesy of Disney+)

“Shogun” follows the story of Lord Yoshii Toranaga, played by producer Hiroyuki Sanada, as he fights for his life against enemies on the Council of Regents who unite against him. When a mysterious European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, its English pilot, John Blackthorne, comes bearing secrets that could help Toranaga tip the scales of power and devastate the formidable influence of Blackthorne’s own enemies.

In the meantime, Toranaga’s and Blackthorne’s fates become inextricably tied to their translator, Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), a mysterious noblewoman and the last of a disgraced line.

Talking about the relevance of the book and why they wanted to revisit the story now, Marks told Arab News: “This book has such a great legacy that so many movies, television shows and other stories have taken from it over the decades since it came out. So, how do we tell something new? And, fortunately, when you open up the book, you realize Clavell is already playing with some of these very modern ideas of how we encounter other cultures, how we encounter ourselves within those cultures, and he’s doing so with really great sensitivity. As we began to talk about that, we realized this is a story that has to be told again, already 50 years later, because it seems like we’ve forgotten a lot of its lessons.”

Kondo said: “It almost feels like it was meant to be told again, in that it felt weirdly and unexpectedly modern — it felt timeless. And so, here we are a few generations later.”

Hiroyuki Sanada plays Toranaga, a Japanese lord loosely modeled on Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military ruler who helped to unite Japan in the early 17th century after a long period of civil war.
(Courtesy of Disney+)

Playing the central Japanese character in the show is Sanada, who plays Toranaga, a Japanese lord loosely modeled on Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military ruler who helped to unite Japan in the early 17th century after a long period of civil war, introducing a period of peace that lasted for more than 200 years.

Sanada, who broke into Hollywood with the 2003 film “The Last Samurai,” is also a producer on the show and was keen to bring his years of experience working in Japanese films to Hollywood.

And to make sure he could play the part when he was in front of the camera, it was important to Sanada that all matters of production were taken care of in advance.

“I made sure to prepare everything beforehand before I sit in front of the camera,” Sanada told Arab News.

“So, first of all, we tried to get the Japanese crew who are specialists for Samurai movie-making, then we got specialists for the wigs, costumes, props, master of gesture, master of tea ceremony, everyone. So, we had a good team for each department to make the show authentic as much as possible. And we also had a rehearsal training for the young actors and extras. So, before starting shooting, I prepare everything. So, when I was on set as an actor, I felt freedom, relaxed. It was fun. It felt like a reward,” he added.

Anna Sawai as Lady Mariko in ‘Shogun.’ (Courtesy of Disney+)

And this authenticity is exactly why co-creators Marks and Kondo were ecstatic to have Sanada join the team.

“The thrill of getting to have Hiro onboard, not just as our star, but, really, as a resource, as a producer on the show, was what made the difference between a show you’ve seen before and a show you’ve never seen before,” said Marks.

“In our early conversations with him, we asked him: ‘You’ve been working in Hollywood for 20 to 25 years, what have we gotten wrong? And how can we change the way that we work in order to improve upon that?’ And, from the very beginning, he would just sort of say, here’s who you need to hire on this show, you need a cultural adviser, you need a language adviser, a historian, a Japanese playwright, period pros who can add a little bit of modernity, but also make something feel like it’s a touch classical as well. And these are all things for us as Americans coming into this, you know, that are far over our heads. And so, without having Hiro, we wouldn’t have been able to reach for the level of authenticity that we were after.”

For Sanada, who began acting at the age of five and trained in martial arts soon after, “Shogun” is a chance to introduce the rest of the world to Japanese culture, but sans the Western gaze.

“I think this is a great novel — a great story to introduce our culture to the world. Earlier, our audience can see feudal Japan through Blackthorne’s blue eyes. But this time, it is more like a novel. We tried to create the script, like not only blue eyes, but put more Japanese lens on the script and then go deeper for each character or details,” said Sanada.