Other international stars to play in the Kingdom include French-Algerian Rai music star Cheb Khaled and American rapper Nelly; country-music star Toby Keith performed in May
JEDDAH, December 1, 2017 – As the music hit a high note, the crowd went wild with excitement. This may be a typical scene at any music concert around the world but not in Saudi Arabia … until now that is.
Regional and international music stars have started flocking to the Kingdom and will continue to do so in coming weeks, as they hold shows in the capital, Riyadh; the Red Sea port city of Jeddah in the west; and the eastern cities of Dhahran and Dammam on the Arabia Gulf. Such musical shows were unimaginable less than two years ago, but are increasingly becoming common thanks to the Vision 2030 that seeks to open up the country, diversify the economy, and make Saudi Arabia a global destination for business and tourism.
Kicking off the ‘winter’ series of shows was legendary Greek composer and pianist Yanni, who on Thursday performed to a mixed audience of around 2,000 people in Jeddah. This was the first of six shows the musician will perform in Saudi Arabia as part of his 2017-2018 world tour.
The Grammy-nominated musician played to a sell-out crowd at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Economic City, to be followed by one more show there on Friday and two shows at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center December 3 – 4. Two performances in Dhahran on December 6-7 were added later on popular demand.
“What an incredible night in Jeddah!” Yanni tweeted after the show. “There can only be one first time and tonight we witnessed and experienced a lot of firsts for KSA! It was beautiful to see! The people stole our hearts with their outpouring of love, enthusiasm, passion and acceptance… Yanni.”
Yanni recently told his fans in a video clip on his official Twitter account that he was very excited about his “historic journey to Saudi Arabia.”
Country music sensation Toby Keith performed in Riyadh in May, the first American music star to play in the Kingdom, which prompted him to say: “I just wanted to make history”..
Among upcoming performances, French-Algerian Rai music star Cheb Khaled and Grammy-winning US hip hop artist Nelly will hold a show on December 14 to an all-male audience at King Abdullah Economic City in Jeddah.
Saudi singer Abady Al Jowhar and Kuwait singer Nabil Shuail performed in Jeddah on November 23 and Saudi singer Rabeh Sager had a show in Dammam on November 30. Popular Saudi singer, Mohammed Abdu, is due to perform in Jeddah on December 8, while local music stars Abdullah Al Rowaished and Majed Al Mohandes have a December 22 concert in Dammam.
Yemeni-Emirati singer Balqees performed a concert in Jeddah on Wednesday to a packed audience of about 3,000 women – the first female-only concert in Saudi Arabia.
“It’s a radical change,” Randa Al-Sheikh, a Radio Jeddah broadcaster, told Arab News, commenting on the Balqees concert. “I feel that we have broken a barrier that existed in Saudi Arabia. The ladies were very happy and we wish for more concerts in the future”.
On November 15, a Jeddah audience enjoyed a two-hour concert by Lebanese composer and pianist Michel Fadel at Juman Park at the King Abdullah Economic City – where he performed a number of songs by music super stars from Italy’s Andrea Bocelli to Arabian divas Umm Kulthum of Egypt and Fairuz of Lebanon.
“Everyone was asking me ‘what are you going to do in Saudi Arabia, is it true that concerts are possible there?’ The audience was awesome and people here were really enjoying it,” Michel Fadel said after the show.
Famous musician Omar Khairat played at the same venue in March and renowned Lebanese musicians Elias Al Rahbani and Ghassan Al Rahbani will lead a classical music concert there on December 15 for a family audience.
These performances are sponsored by the General Entertainment Authority (GEA). The authority — which was set up last year to organise, develop and lead the entertainment sector, provide exciting entertainment options to the Saudi public — has lined up more than 70 events in the coming weeks, including concerts and comedy shows.
Vision 2030, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, mandates the building of a vibrant society. It has identified Saudi youth as a key driver of change.
The reaction among Saudis to the Yanni landmark concerts? Consider two tweets:
“This legendary musician coming to Saudi Arabia is like a dream. Thanks to the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) for hosting the best composer in history,” said one Twitter user.
“What a historical night in my life. It was a night like a dream! Thank you Yanni for this amazing concert .. The day that the dream came true 30/11/2017.”
“I can’t believe my eyes, this is actually happening in Saudi Arabia,” tweeted another, ending the sentence with the emiticon for Cool.