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Nicki Minaj to headline Saudi Arabia’s first major music fest

After hosting its first-ever gender-integrated concert series at the Formula E ePrix last December, the rapidly liberalising kingdom of Saudi Arabia is preparing for its first major music festival, which debuts this month.

Part of the Jeddah Season festival, Jeddah World Fest, organised by Ireland-based Roqu Media International, will take place at King Abdullah Sports Stadium (63,241-cap.) in Jeddah on Thursday 18 July, and feature international performers including Nicki Minaj, Steve Aoki and former One Direction member Liam Payne.

It is the latest and most significant move by Saudi Arabia’s rulers to open up the conservative Islamic kingdom – which until recently considered secular music haram, or sinful – to touring live entertainment, and comes nearly two years after the General Authority for Entertainment (GEA), the body tasked with driving growth in the entertainment sector, announced a US$2.7 billion fund to attract international partners.

Commenting on the line-up, Roqu’s Robert Quirke says Minaj (pictured) is “an absolute global icon. She has 130 million followers on Instagram, she is considered one of the top 10 female performers of all time, she’s had multiple awards and she’ll have her new album come out this year.

“She is going to get a lot of attention for Jeddah in the most positive way you can imagine. She’s going to be actively on her social media, she’ll be posting right from the stage in Jeddah and at her hotel in Jeddah. Everyone is going to know that Nicki Minaj has landed in Saudi Arabia.”

“Everyone is going to know that Nicki Minaj has landed in Saudi Arabia”

Other performers include Ministry of Sound-signed DJs R3wire and Varski, who “will make sure that the crowd stays absolutely pumped” between artist sets, adds Quirke.

The event will also be streamed live internationally, according to Raed Abuzinadah, the director-general of Jeddah Season, who says Jeddah World Fest is set to be “the largest musical festival of its kind in the region, that will be broadcast to a global audience in more than 100 countries,” reports Gulf News.

“There is a stereotype of the kingdom all over the world, and today it is disappearing,” Abuzinadah told reporters recently. “In its place is a new picture of the kingdom that accepts everyone. “This is the first global music festival of this scale in [Saudi Arabia] and is sure to absolutely wow the lucky audience in Jeddah like never before.”

Tickets are being sold via the website of Sharek, Saudi Arabia’s new e-visa system.

 


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Saudi entertainment plan falters after Khashoggi murder

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious 20-plus-year plan to develop a domestic live entertainment market is on the rocks following the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with a high-profile WWE event on the brink on pulling out and several other Western companies moving to sever their ties with the controversial Arab kingdom.

According to wrestling journalist Robbie Fox, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Crown Jewel event, scheduled for 2 November at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium (25,000-cap.), is in jeopardy, with two major WWE stars, John Cena and Daniel Bryan, refusing to travel to Saudi Arabia following the death of Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident allegedly hacked to death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Four US senators told IJR earlier this month that WWE should rethink its relationship with the kingdom as a result of the murder of Khashoggi, which Saudi Arabia denies. “This is a brazen assault on the freedom of the press and a slap in the face to the United States, if this murder occurred as it seems it did,” said Connecticut senator Chris Murphy.

Tickets for the event are not yet on sale, despite a scheduled onsale of 19 October. New Age Insiders reports Crown Jewel will likely be held in the US instead, probably in Albany, New York.

According to the Post, Khashoggi’s former employer, WWE was expected to make up to US$40 million from two Saudi shows this year, as part of a ten-year deal.

Also extricating itself from a potentially lucrative investment deal with Saudi Arabia is William Morris Agency parent Endeavor (formerly WME-IMG), which stood to make $400m by selling a 5–10% stake in the company to a Saudi investment fund, according to THR.

WWE was expected to make up to US$40 million from two Saudi shows this year

Last Monday Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel said he was “really concerned”, and “monitoring” the situation, but the agency has not yet committed to ending the relationship.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who last week announced a new US music festival, Virgin Fest, has also announced he is cutting ties with the kingdom, declaring on 11 October he is ending his advisory role to two projects connected with Saudi Vision 2030, the project to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil by developing its service sector, including tourism and entertainment.

Major players in business and finance, including Google, Uber, Ford, Viacom, JPMorgan Chase and new NEC group owner Blackstone Group, have also moved to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia by boycotting the Vision 2030-linked Future Investment Initiative (FII), an investment forum (dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert’) that began in Riyadh yesterday.

Vision 2030 – spearheaded by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – hopes to develop a media and entertainment industry in the conservative Islamic kingdom. Last September, the General Authority for Entertainment – the body tasked with driving growth in the entertainment sector – announced a US$2.7 billion fund with which it hopes to attract international partners, and said in February Saudi Arabia will host 5,000 shows in 2018, including “some of the biggest names in global music”.

With the exception of Jean-Michel Jarre, who played Riyadh for Saudi National Day on 23 September, said global names have yet to materialise, although a healthy contingent of local Arab acts have performed, mostly in Jeddah, this year. (Concerts were formerly banned as haram, or sinful, from 1988 to 2017.) A roll-out of specialist tourist visas for foreigners wishing to attend concerts and sporting events is scheduled for December.

 


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Saudi Arabia ‘to host 5,000 live events’ in 2018

Saudi Arabia will play host to more than 5,000 live events this year, including “live music performances, theatre shows, musicals, circus performances, community festivals and much more”, according to its General Authority for Entertainment (GEA), as the reclusive kingdom continues to focus on growing its live entertainment sector.

GEA says Saudi Arabia is ready to become a “global entertainment hub”, with a 2018 events calendar set to feature performances from “some of the world’s most celebrated artists”.

Under the banner Vision 2030, the Sunni theocracy is seeking to reduce its dependence on oil by developing its service sector, including a domestic entertainment market. GEA, created by royal decree in May 2016, is spearheading the entertainment drive, and has so far been responsible for bringing shows including Cirque du Soleil and the Lion King musical to the kingdom, as well as the first Saudi Comic Con.

The authority organised 52 events in 2016, which grew to more than 2,200, attended by 8.2m people, in 2017.

“A world-class entertainment industry will put Saudi Arabia on the global tourism and entertainment map”

In March 2017, Saudi capital Riyadh hosted its first concert since 1988 – music is generally considered sinful (haram) by Saudi religious authorities – marking the start of a “major social shift in the conservative kingdom”, according to The New Arab.

In September, meanwhile, the Saudi government announced a US$2.7bn fund aimed at assisting event promoters with growing the local entertainment industry.

“GEA is proud to be one of the drivers of transformation in the kingdom,” says GEA chairman Ahmed Al Khatib (pictured), “through its clear purpose to build a world-class entertainment industry that will put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the global tourism and entertainment map.”

However, just one music event has been announced for 2018 so far – Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny in Jeddah on 30 March – indicating the kingdom is still some way off catching up to other regional live music hubs such as Israel, the UAE and Qatar.

 


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