Swifties in Saudi Arabia gather for listening party

Musicians Zamzam and Naif Hashem, who hosted the Taylor Swift listening party, engaged in dialogue with everyone in the room between songs from the new album. (AN photos)
Musicians Zamzam and Naif Hashem, who hosted the Taylor Swift listening party, engaged in dialogue with everyone in the room between songs from the new album. (AN photos)
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Updated 21 April 2024
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Swifties in Saudi Arabia gather for listening party

Swifties in Saudi Arabia gather for listening party
  • Fans of the American pop icon are diving deep into ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ double album

ALKHOBAR: Overlooking the city of Alkhobar, with colorful neon lights shimmering in the night sky, Swifties of the Eastern Province came together to listen to Taylor Swift’s anticipated double album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” on the night of its release.

At the very same time the album started playing in Alkhobar’s Trip Lounge, Riyadh hosted its own listening party at Level Up and Jeddah’s Swifties tuned in from Makan.

It was a full house with almost every seat occupied in Trip Lounge. Musicians Zamzam and Naif Hashem, who hosted the event, engaged in dialogue with everyone in the room between songs. Only two of the attendees admitted to listening to the album before coming, but still expressed surprise with others when lyrics began to spill from the speakers.




Musicians Zamzam and Naif Hashem, who hosted the Taylor Swift listening party, engaged in dialogue with everyone in the room between songs from the new album. (AN photo)

Zamzam and Hashem, each of whom have demanding day jobs, separately release music. Zamzam, who often performs locally at places such as Bohemia, is the lead singer of the indie/folk band also called Zamzam, and Hashem, a dentist, just released a new song, “The Great Divide,” earlier this month.

Both hosts avoided listening to the album, which had been released earlier in the day, before hosting the Taylor Swift Nights experience. They self-identify as Swifties, as fans of the singer are known, and have combed through Swift’s discography with the attentiveness of a fellow musician.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Riyadh hosted its own listening party for Taylor Swift’s new album ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ at Level Up and Jeddah’s Swifties tuned in from Makan.

• The album’s title has been influenced by the cult classic 1989 film ‘Dead Poets Society.’

• Alkhobar Swifties’ unanimous favorite of the night seemed to be ‘Florida!!!’ which featured Florence & The Machine.

They were the ideal guides to fill the gaps between songs.

“We’re here to listen to Taylor’s new double album because there’s a community here that really likes to listen to things together. We’ve done this before and it was successful, and we’ve been planning this since the album was announced; it’s so much nicer of an experience to have people gasp, yell and cry with you,” Zamzam told Arab News.




Since its release on Friday, the album quickly climbed the charts and became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history. (AN photo)

Swift’s latest release is a chaotic but self-aware collection of 31 songs which all sound like signature Swift, while still offering a new sonic collage of stories made of playful, petty and witty narratives. In almost every song there was a lyric, or a few, which made fans groan or applaud in unison.

Since its release on Friday, the album quickly climbed the charts and became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history.

We’ve been planning this since the album was announced; it’s so much nicer of an experience to have people gasp, yell and cry with you.

Zamzam, Musician

Swift said in an Instagram post announcing the release: “This writer is of the firm belief that our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page. Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it … and then all that’s left behind is the tortured poetry.”

A songwriter since her teens, Swift has always offered a romantic notion to her work, bending across genres, starting with country and experimenting with various styles since. No matter what style she sings in, Swift’s fans consider her a modern poet who combines the soul of the tortured artist with a playful, never-want-to-grow-up Peter Pan millennial attitude.




Since its release on Friday, the album quickly climbed the charts and became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history. (AN photo)

Swift has made a habit of finding poetic ways to revive the voices and stories of people from the past, especially women, such as the “It Girl” of the the Roaring Twenties, Clara Bow, who one of the tracks on the album is named after.

Speculation on the subject of lyrics is a constant pastime for Swifties, who sift through puns and references in her lyrics in search of cryptic meanings. Swift rarely ever confirms who she writes about or why, so it is all open to interpretation.

The album’s title was rumored to have been influenced by the cult classic 1989 film “Dead Poets Society.” The music video for the song “Fortnight” with Post Malone featured cameos by the film’s beloved stars Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles.

“I think Taylor is finally coming into herself … this is my own interpretation of Taylor, but throughout the years, she really likes to reference classic literature and she’d really like to view herself as an American poet,” Zamzam said. “I read one of her speeches (where) she referenced Emily Dickinson as a huge inspiration for her … I think this was her just finally ripping off a band-aid she’s been wanting to rip off for a while, because she tried with ‘Evermore’ and ‘Folklore’ (previous albums) and was just like, ‘You know what? I'm leaning into it’.”

The listening party featured a calm ambience, dimmed lights and seats lined up as if in an intimate concert. Lyrics scrolled down, karaoke-style, on a big screen. Some in the crowd quickly took to the beat and sang along. Some swayed silently.

The crowd’s unanimous favorite of the night seemed to be “Florida!!!” which featured Florence & The Machine.

The double album, which Swift has said took her two years to write, appeared to have strong influences from her previous work.

Zamzam said that hosting the listening party in her hometown was important as it offered a dedicated space for Swifties, many of whom are from the millennial and gen Z generations. It offered Swifties a chance to come together to celebrate their favorite singer and openly discuss her lyrics.

“Hosting Taylor Swift Nights started in 2021 … I didn’t have anything on my mind, didn’t have any expectations or anything. It was just me and my best friend,” Hashem said of the first time they hosted the event several years ago in Jeddah.

“We didn’t have any expectation but we were blown away at how many people showed up! It was like 100 something. I was shocked. And then it was like ‘OK, there (are) die-hard Swifties here in Saudi Arabia.’ I thought I was the only one,” he added.

He connected with Zamzam and the collaborative effort to host an in-person event for Swifties in Alkhobar was born.

“We managed to find Trip Lounge and we hosted our first TS Nights back in August (last year). Having this community is very wholesome. Like Zamzam mentioned before, it’s having a community to experience happiness, grief and all of that. We are going to hand out tissues, just in case someone wants to cry,” he said.

“And we printed a bunch of papers; one paper so they can comment and rate each song, and one where they can write down their predictions for each track. If they got the prediction right, they can cross it out. It’s like bingo. We want to entertain them (attendees). We don’t want them to be bored,” he added.

Sixth grader Ghada Bajaber, the youngest Swiftie in the room, certainly was not bored. She sipped on lemonade in between scribbling fiercely into her Bingo sheet.

“I’m here with my mom — we always listen to Taylor Swift songs, me and my mom. It is what we do together and it’s special for us,” she told Arab News. “I have exams in two days but I still came. I didn’t study, I didn’t do my homework … I just came to memorize Taylor Swift lyrics — not the multiplication table,” Bajaber added.

 


Saudi Arabia’s envoy opens ‘Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved’ exhibition in US

Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s US ambassador, opened the exhibition “Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved” in Washington.
Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s US ambassador, opened the exhibition “Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved” in Washington.
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Saudi Arabia’s envoy opens ‘Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved’ exhibition in US

Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s US ambassador, opened the exhibition “Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved” in Washington.
  • The work by Saudi Arabia artist Ahmad Angawi was presented by the Saudi Embassy and the International Finance Corporation
  • Al-Mangour is a traditional Hijazi craft that consists of wooden latticework forming a mesh-like screen

RIYADH: Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s US ambassador, opened the exhibition “Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved” in Washington on Wednesday.

The work by Saudi Arabia artist Ahmad Angawi was presented by the Saudi Embassy and the International Finance Corporation.

The exhibition, held at the IFC’s headquarters, showcases the beauty of Al-Mangour, the traditional Hijazi craft that consists of wooden latticework forming a mesh-like screen.

The craft reflects the spiritual relationship between humans through a story of two halves that form one unit — the “loved and beloved.”

The exhibition included musical performances and traditional cuisine.

In her speech, Princess Reema stressed the importance of traditional arts in strengthening cultural identity and solidifying national heritage, and building bridges with other nations.

She lauded Angawi for preserving and developing the traditions of the Hijaz region.

Among those in attendance were the IFC’s Director Makhtar Diop, officials, diplomats and artists.


Saudi ambassador presents credentials to emperor of Japan

Saudi ambassador presents credentials to emperor of Japan
Updated 3 min 15 sec ago
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Saudi ambassador presents credentials to emperor of Japan

Saudi ambassador presents credentials to emperor of Japan

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Japan, Ghazi Faisal Binzagr, on Thursday presented his diplomatic credentials to Emperor Naruhito during a reception at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

The envoy, who took up his post in January, conveyed to the emperor the greetings and appreciation of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and their best wishes to the government of Japan and its people for their continued progress and prosperity, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said.


MDLBEAST building a creative tribe through music, says chief creative officer

 MDLBEAST building a creative tribe through music, says chief creative officer
Updated 11 min 54 sec ago
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MDLBEAST building a creative tribe through music, says chief creative officer

 MDLBEAST building a creative tribe through music, says chief creative officer
  • Ahmad AlAmmary talks about MDLBEAST vision, his own musical background for 6th season of ‘The Mayman Show’

Riyadh: MDLBEAST is building a tribe for the region’s music lovers through its initiatives such as the Soundstorm festival, the platform’s Chief Creative Officer Ahmad AlAmmary, also known as DJ Baloo, said. The Saudi veteran DJ and producer with over 20 years of experience under his belt sat down with Arab News’ “The Mayman Show” for the launch of its sixth season, talking about MDLBEAST’s ambitions and his own background.

His role taps into his ability to find solutions on many levels, he shared.

 

 

“It’s been my role since the onset of this whole project. My background sits between design thinking, brand development, and brand strategy, and music,” the COO said, adding that the role feels like a perfect fit for him.

“Creatively, you know, every day is its own day. There’s no system for creativity. Its context is whatever comes your way, whatever problem you’re solving — that’s where your creativity sits,” he said.

AlAmmary said it was MDLBEAST’s goal to become involved in all facets of the creative music industry since its launch in 2019.

 

 

“From the onset, the big splash was Soundstorm, but we had every intention of launching our record labels, our music conferences, and XP Music Future,” he said.

The platform launched around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which provided an opportunity for it to focus on entertaining.

“So, whether or not you (could) go to an event, we were still around there to … provide the music and to provide the entertainment,” AlAmmary said.

After pandemic restrictions eased, it allowed him and the team to stay on the path they paved. MDLBEAST started with flagship live events and some record labels.

 

 

“We had … launched MDLBEAST Records, Qabo, Wattar, Maestro-Lab and, most recently, Mahoul Records. Each of these labels, for example, serves … a niche. Above and beyond, our conference is a really unique experience that gathers people from around the region. We have a day and night experience. During the day, it’s all about learning and networking, connecting, and collaborating. And at night, that turns into a regional music showcase,” AlAmmary said.

MDLBEAST highlights up-and-coming brands that are leading the underground scene of Saudi music across a variety of genres, the COO said.

“It’s just been, you know, a lot of fun … but also a lot of … work. We’re turning around projects left and right,” he said, adding that the platform is now “diving into venues” with the launch of Beast House, for example, “Riyadh’s first music and creative members club,” according to the MDLBEAST website.

 

 

“We developed these smaller pop-up events, with more intimate settings,” AlAmmary said, explaining that the events take place in spaces that have been abandoned, giving MDLBEAST space to flex its creative muscles.

“We can take over and create an experience that is very unique,” he said. “We saw that with Tahlia in Jeddah and Irqah in Riyadh, the abandoned hospital … We’re looking at all of these different spaces and projects as … fun experiences that we can create for our people and platforms for musicians to shine.”

Speaking about his own background, AlAmmary says he owes his creative attributes to his very musical family.

 

 

“My eldest brother, Khalid, actually, he was kind of like the cultural center of our family. Everything from film to music, design, art, you know, we always had a deep interest in the arts because of his influence. Especially with me and house music — that’s where I learned it. I learned it from Khalid,” he said.

The DJ and producer developed an interest in music at an early age.

“By the time I was 17, I already had a collection of music,” he said. “Years later, you know, I started to get things like a residency in Bahrain … I would just travel to Beirut and the gigs would appear.”

 


3rd European Film Festival set to launch in Saudi

3rd European Film Festival set to launch in Saudi
Updated 18 min 45 sec ago
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3rd European Film Festival set to launch in Saudi

3rd European Film Festival set to launch in Saudi
  • VOX Cinemas will host 21 European films over the one-week event
  • The line-up features movies that have won awards including Oscars and the Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival

RIYADH: The third European Film Festival begins next week, taking place in both Riyadh and Jeddah for the first time.
The event, which will run from May 29 to June 6, is being launched by the European Union Delegation to the Kingdom in conjunction with the embassies of EU member states and Arabia Pictures.
It will be hosted at VOX Cinemas Century Corner in Riyadh and the newly opened VOX Cinemas Jeddah Park in Jeddah.
This year the festival is bigger than ever, with 21 European films from countries including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
The line-up features movies that have won awards including Oscars and the Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival.
EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Christophe Farnaud said: “I am glad that the European Film Festival has become a landmark event on the Kingdom’s cultural calendar. The festival has been expanding year by year and this time around we are not only showcasing more movies, but also bringing the festival to Jeddah. I hope that this will allow even more Saudi film enthusiasts to attend the festival’s many film screenings and side events.”
Ahmed Teama, CEO of Arabia Pictures, expressed his pleasure at extending the collaboration with the EU Delegation to Saudi Arabia for a third consecutive year.
He lauded the festival as one of the most significant cinematic events in the Kingdom, highlighting its unique appeal to a devoted audience of international cinema enthusiasts.
Aimed at facilitating cultural exchange and promoting European cinema, the festival will also foster contacts between European and Saudi filmmakers.
Among the guests will be Oscar-winning Austrian film director Stefan Ruzowitzky, who will give a special masterclass.
Also attending will be director Kyriakos Tofaridis and screenwriter/director Mijke de Jong as well as Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney, from Cyprus, the Netherlands and Ireland respectively, who will meet the audiences and run an open conversation with filmmakers and film enthusiasts.
All side-events are free of charge and will take place at VOX Cinemas Century Corner in Riyadh.
Cinema enthusiast Meshal Al-Mutairi told Arab News: “I have seen movies during previous EU film fests and like their movie selection.”
For more information about the festival program or to buy tickets, visit https://arabiapictures.sa/EuroFest or https://ksa.voxcinemas.com


Saudi foreign minister holds talks with Austrian, Ethiopian counterparts

Saudi foreign minister holds talks with Austrian, Ethiopian counterparts
Updated 18 min 26 sec ago
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Saudi foreign minister holds talks with Austrian, Ethiopian counterparts

Saudi foreign minister holds talks with Austrian, Ethiopian counterparts

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Thursday received his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg in Riyadh, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said.

At the beginning of the meeting, Prince Faisal welcomed Schallenberg and his accompanying delegation, wishing them a pleasant stay.

The two sides reviewed ties between the Kingdom and Austria, and ways to support and enhance relations, in addition to exchanging views on regional and international issues.

Prince Faisal also received the Ethiopian Foreign Minister Taye Atske Selassie for talks on developing bilateral ties and joint cooperation, the foreign ministry said.