The inaugural edition of Jeddah Season, a 41-day entertainment program held in Saudi Arabian coastal city of Jeddah, concluded in spectacular fashion with an epic music concert.
Held outdoors in the grounds of the King Abdullah Sports City on July 18, Jeddah World Fest was not so much a music festival, but a coronation of the city as new concert destination for the world’s biggest acts.
The artist line up was a statement of intent, with three generations of acts making their Saudi Arabian debut. They ranged from the indomitable pop queen Janet Jackson and noughties rapper 50 Cent, to today’s crop of stars such as Liam Payne and modern hip-hop leading names Future and Tyga.
All took the stage in front of a 10,000-strong crowd to perform the hits in a fast moving festival, epic in both ambition and length.
And the crowd were more than up for it. Despite the humid conditions, they worked themselves into a glorious and sweaty mess, some pogoed en masse while others were happy to dance with their own crews. That palpable excitement had less to do with the acts on stage, however, it was the release of a long pent up hunger for being part of the world’s cultural conversation.
They may have left the venue just before 3.30am, but judging by the loud and impromptu renditions of 50 Cent's In The Club and Tyga's RAK City on the way to car park, it's safe to assume that live music has arrived and here to stay in Saudi Arabia.
“This is amazing bro. I used to travel to Europe, places like London or Belgium to see people like 50 Cent,” remarked Jeddah resident Khalid Mohammed. “But I think this will stop for me now. They are coming to my home and I can’t wait to go to more shows.”
With The National on the ground to soak up all the music action, here are a few highlights from Jeddah World Fest.
Janet Jackson’s dream set list
No matter how many years and thousands of gigs you do, the first concert in a new location is not the place to get all current or experimental.
With Janet Jackson a late replacement for rapper Nicki Minaj, who pulled out from performing in the festival last week, the singer delivered a set that was fun and safe.
Backed by a band and half a dozen dancers, Jackson – clad all in black – breezed through a 50 minute showed pack with nothing but the hits. From the explosive dance anthems What Have You Done For Me Lately and Control to the rock riffs of Black Cat, Jackson's set was the ultimate introductory playlist into her three decade career. She's still got the moves too, with Jackson leading her troupe with some slick movements in the euphoric Escapade.
Liam Payne needs some new material
With his slick RnB vocals, Liam Payne is perhaps the most underrated member of One Direction. With the band on hiatus, the 25-year-old has been performing his growing array of solo hits over the last year. But without an album out as of yet, his material is not enough to sustain a full hour long show.
His Jeddah gig was virtually identical to his Dubai Media City Amphitheatre performance in March; however, the set-list could have used some tinkering with a worrying lull in the middle.
Beginning strongly with his soulful hit Bedroom Floor and club groover Get Low, the show went downhill in the half way mark with the unwise decision to play two of the slower songs in the One Direction catalogue.
With the sultry weather conditions, the crowd needed to forget the heat through movement. Listening to Payne singing the chest clutching ballads History and Little Things on a stool was sweat inducing in all the wrong ways. He managed to save the set with the breezy pop number Familiar and career best single Strip That Down, but only just.
Jeddah is a hip-hop crowd
The second half of the festival was essentially dedicated to hip-hop music and this is where the crowd made their voice heard. One thing that immediately stood out was how much young Saudis love Tyga. Where the rapper is nothing more than the occasional club performer in Dubai, he commanded a passionate following in Jeddah with the crowd singing along throughout his 30 minute set.
From the opening bounce of Swish and the electro-grooves of Dip to the stalking beats of early hit Rack City, Tyga's performance was full of intensity. That said, that adoration of the crowd was enough for him to break into a genuine grin: "Saudi Arabia put your hands up for yourself!" Indeed.
The same love was also offered to both Future and 50 Cent. The former followed Jackson in never straying away from the hits. Future began with arguably his biggest song, the anthemic Mask Off, before showcasing his zany rap flow in Wicked. He even dropped verses from his hit collaborations with other rappers, such as his acclaimed turn in Jay Rock's King's Dead and the storming Bugatti with Ace Hood.
With so much material at his disposal, 50 Cent stuck to his own chart toppers with Candy Shop and In The Club eliciting some of the biggest roars from the crowd. A notorious social media troll, 50 Cent dropped his online shenanigans after the show to post a couple of heartfelt messages of gratitude to his Saudi fans.
"When I say God is good, you say all the time," he said. "I had a ball at Jeddah Fest, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”