First Riyadh International Jazz Festival kicks off in Saudi capital

Featuring a mix of acclaimed global artists and emerging musical talents, the event aims to be a permanent annual fixture

Riyadh International Jazz Festival under way in Saudi capital

Riyadh International Jazz Festival under way in Saudi capital
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The Saudi capital came alive on Wednesday for the inaugural edition of Riyadh International Jazz Festival, with an eclectic line up of acclaimed global artists, including “Queen of Funk” Chaka Khan, and emerging Arab musicians.

Hosted by the Mayadeen Theatre in Diriyah and produced by the Ministry of Culture’s Music Commission, the festival, which runs until Friday, is an exciting addition to the country's ever-growing cultural scene.

While there have been smaller jazz-dedicated performances and line-ups in the past few years, RIJF is the kingdom’s first jazz festival of this scale and intends to be a permanent annual fixture.

“To my knowledge, the RIJF is the first large-scale jazz event in the kingdom. There are individual performers who have come here, but this is the first time we have curated a festival line-up of this calibre and variety,” Paul Pacifico, the chief executive of Saudi Music Commission tells The National.

“RIJF is a unique opportunity to host some of the world’s most renowned music artists alongside amazing Saudi talents. It is an important step in supporting the further development of the music sector locally.

“This festival aspires to be a credible, robust platform for local talent to be able to connect with the best in the world and also to enable Saudi audiences to experience the best in the world,” he adds.

Besides Khan, the line-up features headline international performers who have defined and redefined the nature of jazz music with their work, such as jazz-funk band The Cat Empire, “TrapHouseJazz” pioneer Masego, Australian neo soul quartet Hiatus Kaiyote, saxophonist and composer YolanDa Brown – known for her fusion of jazz with reggae and soul – and British jazz ensemble Kokoroko.

As well as showcasing international performers, fostering a platform that promotes local talent is equally important for RIJF.

Up-and-coming artists from the Arab music scene are performing at the festival, including Saudi synth-pop artist fulana, Saudi jazz-fusion band Garwasha and Bahraini Afro-Khaleeji band Majaz.

Jazz Cafe, hosted parallel to the main stage, features renowned clarinettist Peter Long and his orchestra each night, with a rotating line-up of vocalists, including Saudi artists Nourah Sings, Mazen Lawand, Sarah Alshafie, Loulwa and Abdullah Filfilan.

“By showcasing the best of Saudi and regional talent at the RIJF, we are shining a spotlight we hope other festivals will take note of,” Pacifico says. “We want to create a platform for the likes of Montreux and Montreal Jazz Festival to discover our artists.

“If they start to take note of a significant, culturally relevant jazz festival happening here in Riyadh, we hope that will provide a catalyst for them to get to know the artists here and understand what they have to say.”

RIJF runs until Friday. More information is available at

Updated: February 09, 2024, 6:03 PM