Saudis attend country's first jazz festival

A year ago the religious police condemned concerts that feature singing as harmful, now men and women sway together in Riyadh.

February 24, 2018 02:10
2 minute read.
Saudis attend country's first jazz festival

A band performs during the jazz festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 23, 2018. . (photo credit: FAISAL AL NASSER/ REUTERS)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user uxperience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew, Ivrit
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Repor
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

Men and women swayed to music at Saudi Arabia's first-ever jazz festival on Friday, the second of a three-day outdoor event that showcases the Kingdom's recent efforts of shedding its conservative image.

Locals and foreigners flocked to the festival to watch bands from Riyadh, Beirut and New Orleans. The crowd sang along when Lebanon's Chady Nashef performed the Eagles' "Hotel California" - an unusual moment in the Islamic country after the religious police last year condemned concerts that feature singing as harmful and corrupting.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.

On Thursday, the General Entertainment Authority announced it will stage more than 5,000 shows, festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year.

The entertainment plans are largely motivated by economics, part of a reform program to diversify the economy away from oil and create jobs for young Saudis.

They also mark a change in social Saudi life and the gradual relaxing of gender segregation, although restrictions persist. At the festival, the area in front of the stage was divided into two sections - one for men and one for women - but people mixed in family seating areas on the side and in the back.

"I am so so happy I got up from bed this morning and went to a jazz festival and performed in front of a crowd like me, my countrymen," said Saleh Zaid, a Saudi musician from the local band Min Riyadh. "It's a feeling I just cannot explain to you." While some showed up out of a love for jazz, many came to enjoy the chance to hear music at an outdoor event, with food trucks, a vintage car display and a relaxed atmosphere.

While reforms have taken place in the Kingdom, with a 35-year cinema ban lifted and women set to drive later this year, the majority of the country is conservative, which is reflected in government decisions.

Earlier this month, authorities detained a man after a video of him dancing with a woman in the street went viral.

But on Friday, women in abayas, loose-fitting robes, moved with the music, unconcerned with the possible backlash.

"This festival shows that the leadership here wants to let the people open up, to see more things, more cultures," said Salem al-Ahmed, who with his stylish young friends jumped at the opportunity to attend his city's first-of-a-kind festival.

Related Content

Supporters of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir square after presidential election r
July 17, 2018
Egypt to offer citizenship to foreigners for $400,000 deposit