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Anghami to open venues in Middle East, UK, US

Anghami, the largest music streaming service in the Middle East and north Africa (Mena), has announced plans to open music venues in Dubai, Riyadh and several other Middle Eastern cities, as well as in the UK and North America.

Lebanon-based Anghami, which is preparing for a flotation on New York’s Nasdaq market, has partnered with hospitality company Addmind to launch Anghami Lab, an “innovative entertainment venue” concept which will debut in Dubai in early 2022. According to the companies, Anghami Lab will bridge the worlds of live and digital music, its live stage being joined by a studio where performers can create “music inspired by both Arabic and international cultures” which will then be made available to listen back exclusively on Anghami.

In addition, new features will be added to the Anghami app “complementing both experiences”, say the new partners.

“This is a great opportunity to further reinforce the value we provide digitally to be converged offline in a unique user-to-guest experience”

Eddy Maroun, co-founder and CEO of Anghami, says: “We are excited to partner with Addmind to create this unique, transformational experience for our users. Addmind is a leading expert in conceptualising and operating hospitality spaces, and this is a great opportunity to further reinforce the value we provide digitally to be converged offline in a unique user-to-guest experience.”

Following the opening of the Dubai venue, further Anghami Labs are planned for Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, then Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Cairo (Egypt), Beirut (Lebanon), London, New York and Los Angeles.

“Anghami is more than just a streaming platform,” comments Tony Habre, CEO of Addmind. “They have elevated the value of the music industry in the Middle East as a whole. Anghami Lab is an amazing and unique concept that embodies our rich Arab culture with an international twist, which we are thrilled to bring to fruition and scale.”

 


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Rock-it Cargo allies with Saudi Arabia’s Sela

Rock-it Cargo has gained a foothold in the emerging Saudi Arabian market by partnering with Sela Sport Company, of the kingdom’s leading event management outfits.

The global partnership sees LA-headquartered Rock-it become Sela’s freight-forwarding and logistics provider for all countries outside of Saudi Arabia, while Jeddah-based Sela will act as the logistics provider to Rock-it Cargo within Saudi Arabia.

Sela, which has worked with partners including Live Nation Middle East, WWE, PRG and Formula 1 race circuit designer Tilke, offers services including event management, venue operations, ticketing, sponsorship, broadcasting, marketing and athlete representation.

Under the partnership “Rock-it now has a partner that is unrivalled in its live event experience across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Sela now has a global partner with an extended network across five continents,” says Paul Martins, president and CEO of Rock-it.

“Rock-it now has a partner that is unrivalled in its live event experience across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”

“Both companies are already well-established market leaders in delivering time-sensitive logistics solutions for live sporting and entertainment events, industrial projects and much more. This new global partnership provides us with a strong opportunity to further grow our business and broaden our service offering for customers.”

Rock-it will act as Sela’s single provider to handle the global logistics of freight movement to Saudi Arabia for the company’s shows and events.

“Sela is going to raise the bar once more in the event management sector in Saudi with our partnership with Rock-it,” comments Loai Kamakhi, general manager of business solutions for Sela.

Rock-it Cargo in January announced its merger with UK-based Sound Moves, with both companies set to rebrand as Rock-it Global later this year.

 


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MDLBeast’s Ahmad Alammary: “Saudis love to dance”

Ahmad Alammary, chief creative officer of Jeddah-based entertainment company MDLBeast, has said the success of its recent Freqways festival further underlines Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a live music market to watch.

Alammary describes MDLBeast (pronounced “Middle Beast”) as an “entertainment and lifestyle experiences brand with a focus on music, art and culture”. Founded by a group of “ambitious professionals [from] various backgrounds and disciplines”, the company’s first event, the MDLBeast festival, took place in December 2019, with performers including Steve Aoki, Martin Garrix and David Guetta, as well as a number of local DJs.

“It was iconic, historic and a truly groundbreaking moment in Riyadh,” recalls Alammary, who also DJs under the name Baloo. “People really enjoyed what we prepared, and we pulled it off in record time.”

In keeping with the times, MDLBeast’s second festival was an all-digital affair: a 12-hour, multi-stage online event that took place from 20 to 21 June. MDLBeast Freqways again featured a mix of international and local talent, with Baloo and compatriots Cosmicat, Antabi Brothers and Jade and Tala rubbing shoulders with the likes of Aoki, Afrojack, Claptone, Maceo Plex and Benny Banassi during the free-to-watch live stream.

Freqways – which ran from 7pm to 7am local time – was seen by more than 650,000 people and recorded 1.2 million total views, with attendees in 185 countries across the Middle East, North America and Europe, according to MDLBeast.

“There are so many talented artists in our region”

The DJs performed live from their own cities, allowing those with an MDLBeast Freqways ‘boarding pass’ to visit destinations including Las Vegas (Aoki), Zurich (EDX), Rotterdam (Afrojack), Beirut (Jade and Tala), Paris (Phil Weeks) and Thee Ain, Saudi Arabia (Baloo).

“We wanted to develop something that anyone could relate to, and that we were all longing for,” explains Alammary. “Discovery, travel, culture, dancing, nature, heritage: all these came into play, and we produced 30 videos in locations around the world.”

“We realised that we needed to give people a sense of escapism,” he continues. “We wanted to remind people, virtually, that there is so much to see around the world, even through a screen – to bring people around the world together through a virtual musical experience.”

A “string of future events” are in the pipeline for MDLBeast, including further Freqways ‘flights’ and more “physical events, once we feel it’s safe again”, according to Alammary.

Events like MDLBeast/Freqways, as well as the growing number of shows in Saudi Arabia more generally, illustrate how “accepting and encouraging of cultural events” Saudi music fans are, he says. (Other recent festival successes include Jeddah World Fest and Winter at Tantora, while artists including Mariah Carey, BTS and Marshmello have played headline shows.)

“It was iconic, historic and a truly groundbreaking moment in Riyadh”

“People all over the world love music,” continues Alammary, and Saudis are no different: “Saudis are musical people; we love to dance!”

While many foreign observers focus on the newfound ability of Saudi Arabia to attract major international artists, Alammary says MDLBeast is committed to using its platform to showcase and developing local talent. “There is a big community of music-lovers in Saudi,” he says, and “Saudi DJs have been seeing great popularity on a local and regional level” after years of playing underground.

“There are so many talented artists in our region,” he concludes, “and we wanted to create a platform that celebrates them and our own perspective of nightlife and entertainment.

“There’s so much more coming, and we’re excited about bringing it to the surface.”

 


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Bridging the Gulf: Arab Gulf states come of age

And it was all going so well!

Going into Christmas, you might have said the live entertainment business in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf states was on a decisive path to maturity, at least in certain prominent markets. Dubai finally had its permanent Coca-Cola Arena and was hauling in the crowds and the talent, including Maroon 5, Westlife, the 1975 and John Legend.

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, had nailed down a name for its own 18,000-cap. indoor venue – Etihad Arena, part of the 12 billion AED (€3bn) Yas Bay development project – and an expectation of a 2020 opening.

Even Kuwait, fairly quiet lately on the touring front, was preparing to cut the ribbon on a 5,000-cap mixed-use arena: the Sheikh Jaber Al-Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah International Tennis Complex in Surrah, managed by Live Nation and opened in February.

And, of course, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the pedigree dark horse of the region, was fast emerging as by far the most promising market of them all, with concerts, festivals, Formula E racing, international tennis, equestrian competitions and boxing.  To varying degrees, these events have met with international controversy due to Saudi’s well-known diplomatic issues.

But they have also been powered by large amounts of cash, rabid local demand and the grand ambitions of ‘MbS’ – controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – and his Vision 2030 plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop its public sector.

“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible”

Then came Covid-19, which still rages worldwide at press time, and the region was forced to hit pause on its entertainment aspirations. Like almost everywhere else, concert halls closed, shows were postponed, and the industry went into enforced hibernation. When it will rouse itself again is anyone’s guess.

“As with the rest of the world, all events [in Saudi Arabia] are cancelled until further notice,” said Vassiliy Anatoli, managing director of regional ticketing hub Platinumlist, speaking to IQ in late March. “The public is not allowed to go outside the house from 3pm until 8am and the death toll is rising. People are worried.”

The UAE states had imposed similar measures and were already daring to dream of a light at the end of the tunnel. “Large organisers are hopeful to restart their operation in July, but again, that depends on how the situation pans out in the coming [months],” said Anatoli.

“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so I’m sure they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible,” he added. “[Dubai’s] Expo 2020 has already been moved to ’21. As for the rest of the organisers, they have moved all events to November and December. Rugby Sevens is confirmed for December, but again, it depends on government regulation.”

Each of the various Gulf markets has its own economic logic: generous state funding combined with remarkably strong ticket sales in Saudi; a similar balance in Abu Dhabi, albeit on a far less turbo-charged scale; and a grittier commercial market in Dubai, closely controlled, but not underwritten, by the state. Clearly, all will suffer damage, even if some can absorb it better than others.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 89, or subscribe to the magazine here


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Saudi fund adds Disney, Facebook to entertainment stocks

Saudi Arabia’s acquisitive sovereign-wealth fund added investments in leisure and media giants including the Walt Disney Company, Facebook and Marriott International in the first financial quarter of 2020, according to newly revealed US regulatory filings.

According to the Financial Times, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) – which made headlines last month after buying half a billion dollars’ worth of Live Nation shares – spent nearly US$8bn on US and European blue-chip stocks in the first three months of the year, as the Gulf kingdom seeks to benefit from low prices on stock markets spooked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Live Nation share purchase, along with an earlier buy of Carnival Cruise Line stocks, were picked up by industry and financial press at the time, as the value of the deals (relative to the size of the companies) required that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) be notified.

However, the earlier purchases were also sizeable: Among the PIF’s pre-Live Nation investments are a $827.8m stake in BP, a $713.6m stake in Boeing and smaller investments in Bank of America, Citigroup, Starbucks and drugmaker Pfizer, reports the FT.

IF says it is “identifying opportunities to invest in solid companies with strong, long-term outlooks”

The stakes in Disney and Facebook are valued at $496m and $523m, respectively, SEC filings reveal.

The fund has also been linked with Warner Music Group in recent weeks.

A senior Saudi official told the FT in April that the kingdom had set up a dedicated team to look at the “midterm and long-term, downside and upside” of the global economic crisis caused by governments’ response to the spread of Covid-19.

The PIF says it is “identifying opportunities to invest in solid companies with strong, long-term outlooks who we expect will be sector leaders when global economic activity begins to approach pre-pandemic levels”.

Other sovereign funds in the oil-rich Middle East, including Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, and the Qatar Investment Authority, are also seeking investment opportunities, the paper reports.

 


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Saudi government takes $500m Live Nation stake

The Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has taken a 5.7% stake in Live Nation.

According to a document filed today (27 April) with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the PIF has bought 12,337,569 shares – valued at just shy of US$500 million at the time of writing – in the world’s largest live entertainment company.

The fund is now reportedly Live Nation’s third-largest shareholder, with Liberty Media still No1 and investment company Vanguard Group second.

Live Nation’s share price rose above $40 for only the third time this month following the SEC disclosure, continuing a rally that began in late March following a sharp fall after its shows were postponed or cancelled globally.

The investment in Live Nation is the latest in the live sector for rapidly liberalising Saudi Arabia, which is pushing hard to grow its domestic events market in order to reduce its reliance on oil revenues.

PIF bought 12,337,569 shares, valued at just shy of US$500 million

Speaking after a BTS show last October, Live Nation Middle East’s president, James Craven, celebrated the growth of live entertainment in Saudi Arabia, saying: “Two years ago, no one would have ever expected us to bring in international touring artists into Saudi.

“I want the people in the industry to come and see the changes, come and see what’s happening and meet the people.”

Following the debut of Jeddah World Fest, the country’s first-ever popular music festival, two months earlier, organiser Robert Quirke was similarly full of praise for the transformation, telling IQ: “There is absolutely no doubt that this is a turning point in Saudi youth culture and live entertainment. The future is incredibly bright and full of hope for the new generation.”

Earlier this month, PIF governor Yassir al-Rumayyan revealed the fund is looking into investment opportunities in “areas such as aviation, oil and gas, and entertainment”, according to Reuters. Saudi Arabia took a stake in Carnival cruise lines shortly before.

 


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The recovery starts here: IQ 89 out now

IQ 89, the latest edition of IQ Magazine, comes packed full of expert commentary, insight and analysis on the pressure the Covid-19 pandemic is exerting on the live business, as the industry braces for the uncertainty of the coming weeks and months.

In the midst of unprecedented times, IQ 89 includes a bumper coronavirus special report, delving into the lessons learned from the crisis, different governments’ responses to the pandemic and the plan for the live business going forward.

Leading industry figures have contributed to the report, which includes comments and predictions from Live Nation’s Phil Bowdery, CAA’s Emma Banks, DEAG’s Peter Schwenkow, Rock Werchter’s Herman Schueremans, Paradigm’s Alex Hardee, Yourope’s Christof Huber, Move Concerts’ Phil Rodriguez, the Royal Albert Hall’s Lucy Noble and more.

Long-form versions of these interviews, as well as the full coronavirus report, will appear online over the coming days.

As well as analysing what the recovery of the industry may look like, the latest edition of IQ Magazine also looks at some of the ‘good news’ stories that have emerged from the global shutdown, as many in the live events sector pivot to assist the medical sector, dedicate talent to boosting morale or use their platform to raise funds and awareness.

Continuing the coronavirus theme, the rise of livestreaming is also explored, as writer Derek Robertson turns to those enabling live performance to endure the shutdown across a variety of digital platforms.

As well as analysing what the recovery of the industry may look like, IQ 89 looks at the ‘good news’ stories that have emerged from the global shutdown

Casting the mind back to what now seem like distant times, highlights from the 32nd edition of the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) and Arthur Awards also appear in the magazine. Taking place just as the global impact of the virus was beginning to be events, this year’s conference was characterised by a heightened sense of industry camaraderie and solidarity.

Elsewhere, IQ 89 celebrates the life and career of veteran promoter Ossy Hoppe, who turns 70 later this month, recalling his early days as part of his family’s touring circus troupe, to his founding and running of Wizard Promotions, now in the hands of Hoppe’s son, Oliver.

The emergence of the Gulf States as a major touring market – put on hold temporarily by the global pandemic – is also examined, with promoters in the region optimistic for what the future may hold.

The coronavirus special also comes filled with some regular features, such as the newly established Readers’ Lives page featuring the favourite hobbies of top industry figures, and the Your Shout page, with live event professionals sharing their most unusual lockdown pastimes.

As always, most content from the magazine will appear online in some form over the next few months. However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe now.


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MDL Beast festival to debut in Saudi Arabia

David Guetta, Martin Garrix and Steve Aoki are among acts confirmed for electronic dance music (EDM) festival MDL Beast, the latest addition to Saudi Arabia’s flourishing festival scene.

The inaugural MDL Beast festival is taking place from 19 to 21 December 2019 in Riyadh, home to the 70,000-capacity King Fahd Stadium which recently hosted k-pop stars BTS.

The multi-stage festival will feature 18 international headliners and 28 global dance acts including Afrojack, Camelphat, J Balvin and Tiësto, as well as 24 local and regional performers, such as EDM DJ Cosmicat and local DJ duo Dish Dash.

Steve Aoki, who this summer performed at Roqu Media’s Jeddah World Fest – the first, major, ticketed music festival in the country – comments: “When I got the offer to play at the three-day MDL Beast festival, I was thrilled to become part of it and be back in the region again. It’s go[ing to] be an incredible event with tons of acts and lots of new names.”

“We’re confident MDL Beast will be like nothing seen before and we cannot wait to experience this transformative musical milestone”

Ahmad Alammary, DJ and member of the festival team, adds: “More than just a music festival, MDL Beast is also a platform with multiple [projects] including ongoing seasonal local and global events, online and radio channels, recording studios, and a non-profit foundation promoting music education and therapy.

“We’re confident MDL Beast will be like nothing seen before and we cannot wait to experience this transformative musical milestone.”

“I’m so proud of the fact that we’re hosting this festival in Saudi; it’s a great reflection of the Saudi audience being able to experience the music they love,” comments Cosmicat. “As one of the first female EDM DJs here, I’m excited to be flying the flag and representing women on the scene.”

As Saudi Arabia continues to boost its live entertainment offering and cement its place on the international touring map, criticism is still levelled at artists who opt to play in the kingdom. Nicki Minaj pulled out of Jeddah World Fest following pressure from human rights organisations and BTS’ appearance in the country sparked a mixed reaction from fans.

Fans can register for tickets to the MDL Beast here.

 


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Saudi’s live success divides international opinion

K-pop stars BTS became the first international band to play a solo stadium concert in Saudi Arabia on Friday (11 October), in what has been lauded as the start of a “new story” for live entertainment in the kingdom by some, and accused of “whitewashing” an authoritarian regime by others.

The BTS show, which drew an audience of around 40,000 at Riyadh’s 70,000-capacity King Fahd stadium, marked the first day of Saudi Arabia’s eight-week Riyadh Season, the biggest of eleven region-specific seasons aiming to boost live entertainment offerings and touristic activities across the country.

“Getting BTS is a huge win, because they are the most in demand,” James Craven, president of Live Nation Middle East, told Arab News.

“Two years ago, no one would have ever expected us to bring in international touring artists into Saudi,” says Craven. “I want the people in the industry to come and see the changes, come and see what’s happening and meet the people.”

More shows by international artists are yet to be announced for Riyadh. Craven explains that demand for concerts is high, resulting in a sales cycle of only a few days. “In Saudi, you can actually put [tickets] out on sale three days before a show and have it sold out,” says Craven.

“I want the people in the industry to come and see the changes, come and see what’s happening and meet the people”

Other successful live events to have taken place in the kingdom this year include Roqu Media-promoted Jeddah World Fest and performances from Mariah Carey, Jason Derulo and Marshmello.

Criticisms have been levelled at international artists who play in Saudi Arabia. Non-profit organisation Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has been especially vocal on the subject.

“Rather than using their platform to denounce the Saudi regime’s abuses, BTS chose to whitewash the regime’s human rights violations by performing in Riyadh today,” reads a HRF twitter post.

“HRF calls on celebrities to think twice before endorsing authoritarian regimes.”

Rapper Nicki Minaj pulled out of Jeddah World Fest following pressure from the human rights organisation in July.

Fans took to social media with the hashtag BTSDontGo to show their discontent with the Saudi concert. The band had previously defended their decision to play in the country, admitting it was not an “easy” one to make, but explaining that “if there’s a place where people want to see us, we’ll go there.”

 


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Lionel Richie, Rod Stewart to play Saudi concert series

Lionel Richie, Rod Stewart and Enrique Iglesias are among acts to perform at Winter at Tantora Festival, an eleven-week celebration of culture in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia.

The concerts are taking place as part of Ula season, one of eleven region-specific cultural event series forming part of Saudi Arabia’s new Saudi Seasons initiative. Ula season will run from December 19 to March 7, with performances from Egyptian musician Omar Khairat and Greek pianist Yanni also scheduled.

The live music events will take place every weekend throughout the season at the new 500-capacity, 5,000-square metre Maraya concert hall. Arabic for ‘mirror’, Maraya was completed in January 2019 in the old town of Al Ula. The festival is expected to attract around 40,000 visitors.

Lionel Richie, Rod Stewart and Enrique Iglesias are among acts to perform at Winter at Tantora Festival

Luanched last year, Winter at Tantora 2018/2019 ran from 20 December to 9 February, with performances from Italian singer Andrea Bocelli and French violinist Renaud Capuçon.

The festival is one in a series of major live entertainment events cropping up in Saudi Arabia, including Roqu Media-promoted Jeddah World Fest and an upcoming show by K-pop sensations BTS, which will open Riyadh season on 11 October at the 70,000-capacity King Fahd stadium.

Tickets for the 2019/2020 Winter at Tantora shows will become available early October. The full line-up of artists is yet to be confirmed. More information on tickets and concert dates can be found here.

 


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