The Jeddah Season marks another milestone in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing expansion of its entertainment sector.
The 41-day entertainment series of events, held in the coastal city of Jeddah, ended with a star-studded concert – titled Jeddah World Fest - on July 18 at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.
With an expansive line up featuring Janet Jackson, 50 Cent and Liam Payne, the concert was one of many musical events held in Jeddah over the last month with shows by the likes of DJs Martin Garrix and Marshmellow and K-poppers Super Junior.
When The National spoke to Saudis at Jeddah World Fest, their joy was infectious. They hailed this new era of openness and insisted this only the beginning.
It’s an amazing time to be young: Moheb Ashi and Mohamed Ali
While big name acts already performed in both Jeddah and the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, that didn’t stop some of the friendly rivalry between both cities.
“This is world class,” says 18-year-old Ashi from Jeddah. “It is good to have some world artists coming here and visiting us to perform.”
Ali, 30, says the Jeddah World Fest line up was worth him shelling out the riyals and flying in from Riyadh.
“We have some of the big artists coming there as well,” he says. “But it is not like here in Jeddah. They get the top singers and musicians.”
Both are united in the belief that such music events were destined to come to the kingdom.
“We knew this will happen one day,” Ali says. “Since the crown prince came, he did a lot of stuff for the youth movement here.”
Ashi adds: “It is an amazing time to be young here. The development, from entertainment and culture to learning has been better.”
This is what it should be: Abdul Rahman Rizk and Abdullah Hamza
Both music lovers describe the growing number of high profile concerts in the kingdom over the last year as surreal.
“It feels strange but great at the same time. Living here in Saudi Arabia, these concerts are the best things to happen to me,” Hamza, who is 23-years- old, says. “This is because we always thought that to see big music stars, we have to go to places like the UAE or London or something. Now they are coming to us and this is great. Actually, this is what it should be, like anywhere else in the world.”
Looking at the large crowd entering the venue for Jeddah World Fest, Rizk, 20, says Saudi youth are passionate music fans.
“I used to go to Italy to attend music festivals. I don’t think I will be doing that for a while now,” he says. “People have accepted things like concerts here very easily because we were always ready for this opening of the scene here in Saudi. Things are easier now. People are not so closed minded.”
There is a good vibe here: Waleed Al Angaly
The 24-year-old entrepreneur saved best until last. The Jeddawi expressed this was his first concert on Saudi Arabian soil and says he is thrilled to be part of history.
“There is a lot of talk of how Saudi Arabia is changing. But what is important to really state here is that it is changing, not just for the sake of it, but it is done in the right way,” he says.
“It is not just about the music. It is everything; there is a good vibe here. There are activities and the people are happy. I feel that these events are part of something greater and better. Like we are only one per cent of something that is big. What is coming up will be awesome and huge,” he adds.
Joining Al Angaly for the concert is friend Ghaneem. The 23-year-old Jeddah resident sees the economic potential that such entertainment events can offer the city.
“We don’t have to leave the city any more to experience such big events,” she says. “Not only can we stay here, the tourist can come also.”
Events need to be disability friendly: Mohamed Shaheen
Finding a spacious corner on the right side of the stage is 18-year-old Shaheen. Wheelchair bound and aided by his mate Mishary, the Jeddawi said that while pleased at the developments, more work needs to be done to make such concerts disability friendly.
“This is the second event I attended as part of Jeddah Season. I attended the boxing match last week as well. Everything is really good and I am very happy to be living here, but my only message is that organisers should think about us in their planning,” he says.
“The boxing match and even here have no disability ramps so we can’t get a decent view of the action. But I understand that organisers here are also learning about how to do these big events. I am sure this will change in the future.”
The place is becoming more modern: Sultan Al Hussain and Abdul Malik Al Imran
Coming as part of crew that flew in from Riyadh, both Al Hussain and Al Imran says events like Jeddah Season reverberates across the kingdom.
“Everyone knows what’s happening where and is excited about it,” says Al Hussain, who is 18-years-old.
“So I have been coming here to see a few shows. I saw [Jamaican dancehall music star] Sean Paul not long ago and that was lots of fun.”
Al Imran, 17, says the changes happening across the country are being welcomed by Saudi youth. “There are a lot of cool events to do here,” he says. “The place is becoming more modern, it’s almost like Dubai now.”
Al Hussain sees the effects of these developments in more personal ways.
“People are becoming less hard and less strict, you know what I am saying?” he states. “Before you would get in trouble if you cut your hair the wrong way, now these are going away. If you told me two years ago I would be seeing a concert in Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t have believed you.”