Mohammed Assaf says Saudi Arabian live market is a boon for singers

The Palestinian singer says the Kingdom has some of his most fervent and media savvy fans

Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf performs in Sharjah’s Al Majaz Amphitheatre on February 8. Courtesy Al Majaz Amphitheatre
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Saudi Arabia is fast becoming the biggest game in town, according to Palestinian pop star Mohammed Assaf.

The singer made the comments on Friday before a sold out show, alongside veteran Lebanese crooner Ragheb Alama, at Sharjah’s Al Majaz Amphitheatre.

Talking to The National a few minutes before stepping on stage, Assaf said the opening up of the Saudi Arabian entertainment industry resulted in plenty of touring opportunities for Arab musicians across the board.

Such was the enthusiasm that his recent concert in the capital Riyadh on January 29 was abandoned midway due to crowd over capacity – Assaf took to social media to promise the fans that he will return next month with an even bigger show.

“That was really a safety issue in terms of the fans. I wasn’t concerned at all for my safety from stage but we were worried about the size of the crowd,” he says.

“To be honest with you, that is an issue more to do with the organisers of that concert. They underestimated the number of people who coming to the show and that caused these challenges. But I want to tell my Saudi fans that I will return to Jeddah next month and this time I will play two shows. I am very excited about that.”

Saudi fans are the most engaged

Indeed, with the increasing expansion of the kingdom's live music industry – which included the region's first hologram concert by the late Umm Kulthum in January in the desert city of Al Ula, diva Mariah Carey performing in King Abdullah Economic City on January 3, and with reports of upcoming shows featuring hip-hop stars Jay Z and DJ Khaled – more Arab popstars are making their way for fully fledged tours that includes stops in the major cities Riyadh, Jeddah and Khobar.

This month will see the Egyptian star Tamer Hosny performing in Jeddah’s KAEC Hall on February 22, while Syrian diva Assala Nasri teased a February performance in Riyadh on her Instagram yesterday.

While some music promoters are still coming to grips with bringing big concerts to Saudi Arabia, Assaf believes there is nothing pensive about the crowds.

“Are you kidding me? The crowds and fans in Saudi Arabia are among the best,” he said.

“First of all, when it comes to my fans, they are the ones that are the most engaged in social media. They know all about my career and what I am doing. You really can’t ask for better fans than that really.”

Assaf is not surprised that Saudi Arabian music lovers have been flocking to all major music performances over the last 18 months. However, he dismisses the suggestion that it is purely down to a hunger for live entertainment.

“It is more than that. I partly agree there is a sense of people finally being more loose now, but a lot of it is down to the Saudi people having a deep appreciation for arts and culture from poetry, books and music. That love for the arts has always been there and that also needs to be acknowledged.”

A big year for Assaf

More Saudi shows is part of what promises to be a busy year for Assaf on and off the stage. Already two months into year, he has already completed a tour of Canada in addition to working on some new music.

In his wider address to the press, Assaf won’t confirm any titles or whether a third album is on the way. However, he states that a single will be released as early as next month.

This would be the first new song since Assaf scored a major hit with the Iraqi pop stylings of Makanak Khaly. Interestingly, with the track amassing over 60 million views on YouTube, Assaf did not release an official accompanying video for the song as of yet and, instead, relied on a lyric video featuring a series of images of Assaf.

The singer admits this feature could be the way forward for now.

“I have a different opinion when it comes to shooting videos,” he said. “It is a nice concept of course and people enjoy them. But as an artist I can’t really say that this could really elevate the song. What does that is the music and the lyrics.

"If they are good enough, then the song will reach the people wherever they are. I knew that Makanak Khaly was special because as I soon as I read the lyrics and heard some of the music it moved me."

Talking about movement, Assaf says he is presently on a health kick which he hopes will be a way of life. Conscious of his young fan base, he recently posted a sweaty photo of himself after a work-out session.

“I wanted to send that message about the importance of health,” he said.

“I view it as responsibility for both myself and the fans. It’s about doing things, no matter, how small, consistently.”