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The unstoppable rise of the Gulf States

Exactly two years ago, at the very moment IQ was producing its last market report on the live market of the Gulf, not to mention gathering the live music community in London for ILMC, the pandemic closed in, and the world shuddered to a halt.

We all know what happened next: lockdowns, calendars in the bin, plenty of pain and an ever-extending timescale for the return of concerts. Every market suffered, and the Gulf was no exception. In the final analysis, the UAE was only fully locked down for around four months and Saudi Arabia for a little over a year, but the hit was a hard one and some restrictions linger on.

Nonetheless, due to a unique set of circumstances, this may also be one regional market that has emerged from the whole mess looking sharper and shinier than when it went in. In 2022, the Gulf boasts new live venues, new touring connections and, in Saudi Arabia, a booming new territory that has shifted the centre of the region and – albeit not without controversy – greatly boosted the appeal of the region to international acts.

The second edition of MDLBEAST’s Soundstorm festival in Riyadh, a four-day “rave in the desert” last December, where Tiësto, Martin Garrix, and David Guetta played and a reported 180,000 attended the opening night, represents the new face of live music in the Gulf.

That same month, the kingdom also hosted the Formula One Grand Prix, with music from Justin Bieber, Jason Derulo, and A$AP Rocky. Chris Brown, Black Eyed Peas, James Blunt, Wyclef Jean and Craig David are also recent visitors, courtesy of MDLBEAST’s MDLBEAST Presents arm, which has rapidly built a reputation as the market’s leading provider of musical talent.

“I would assume that the kingdom is the biggest buying market in the world right now”

“I don’t play for politicians, I play for people,” Guetta told a Soundstorm press conference, side-stepping the criticisms of the regime that remains the main stumbling block to the international performing community’s guilt-free acceptance of the Saudi riyal.

That stumbling block is seemingly getting smaller these days, partly due to the billions at the disposal of a Saudi regime that is investing in entertainment, not only to conjure tourism, but to keep its free-spending domestic audience from travelling abroad in search of fun.

“I would assume that the kingdom is the biggest buying market in the world right now,” says veteran Middle East promoter Thomas Ovesen, outgoing entertainment director at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in Saudi. “For me, what is happening with live entertainment in Saudi Arabia is what people used to say was going to happen in China. And while it hasn’t materialised there, we are seeing it here now: Western artists coming in for premium fees and a potential touring market in the region. It’s phenomenal.”

For all its wealth, its tourism, and its appetite for growth, the Gulf as a live music region has never been in a position like this before. Efforts to develop Abu Dhabi and Dubai as destination markets have yielded wily, pragmatic local industries and plenty of impressive events – including the recent delayed Expo 2020, which brought Coldplay to Dubai’s Al Wasl Plaza in February, among many other highlights. But the emirates’ modest expat-dominated populations and geo-graphical isolation have impeded their efforts to elevate their status on the broader touring map.

The addition of Saudi Arabia to the mix – the 35m-population kingdom having opened its doors in recent years as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the country’s economy and develop its public sector – effectively changes everything.

“In Saudi, you see the same crowd behaviour you see anywhere else in the world. They are loving it”

In addition to the artist fees, a particular appeal of the Saudi market, thinks Ovesen is the presence of a true local crowd. “People live an expat life in Dubai – they’re probably a bit privileged, sometimes it can be hard to get a reaction out of them,” he says. “But in Saudi, you see the same crowd behaviour you see anywhere else in the world. They are loving it. And they are embracing the opportunity to attend live entertainment. We used to say that the only place in the region where you could get that experience was when we took the show to Beirut or Cairo. But that’s exactly the situation in Saudi.”

The other markets in the region may not be quite as pent-up, but they are certainly ready for the shift. Nine months before the pandemic, Dubai took delivery of its first indoor arena in the Coca-Cola Arena, while Abu Dhabi put the finishing touches to its own Etihad Arena during the lull. Kuwait and Bahrain likewise have impressive new facilities, and talk has inevitably turned to the development of a genuine touring circuit, involving the Gulf States and all manner of roughly proximate markets, from South Africa and India to Turkey and Egypt.

At the time of writing, the Gulf region is preparing for a milestone in this regard: a bona fide three-date tour by an A-list international act, as Live Nation’s Maroon 5 shape up for the Pyramids in Egypt, the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, and Park HaYarkon in Tel Aviv, Israel. “This is the first time an A-list Western act has been able to do a regional tour, and it sets a great precedent for the future,” says James Craven, president Live Nation Middle East. “Ticket sales have really exceeded even our most bullish forecast, which again really underlines the enduring demand for shows.”

A necessary piece of this particular puzzle has been the recent thawing of relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Israel, which in turn has made it
possible for tours to fly directly between the two markets for the first time.

“Having regionally routed runs ensures that bands are able to play for even more fans, rather than playing a one-off show that takes them out of the market for years,” says Craven. “Previously artists would simply fly in for one show in the UAE. But we are now seeing the potential for as many as ten or more dates on a regional Middle East tour.” In a world still navigating its way out of the pandemic, these are significant and unprecedented moments, and, geopolitics permitting, they suggest the future of live music in the Gulf is likely to assume a very different shape to its past.

“We are now seeing the potential for as many as ten or more dates on a regional Middle East tour”

The promoting landscape in the Gulf is a mixed one, combining heavyweight state-owned promoters (Abu Dhabi’s Flash Entertainment), familiar corporates (notably Live Nation, operating out of Dubai), fast-growing Saudi entities such as MDLBEAST, and a variety of Dubai-based independents, ranging from specialist operators to beach club DJ promoters to wealthy dabblers.

Out of all of them, the meteoric rise of MDLBEAST arguably makes it the promoter to watch, and its ambitions are unlimited by the boundaries of Saudi Arabia, or even those of the Gulf itself.

“We want to be present in the entire region,” says Talal Albahiti, MDLBEAST chief operating officer and head of talent booking and events. “The Middle Eastern music market is expected to grow up to 16.5% by 2027, reaching $670m [€605m]. MDLBEAST will play a significant role in supporting that growth. We also want to go beyond the region, as we are not only looking to host festivals and concerts in the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain but also in Greece, Spain, and the US.”

MDLBEAST has also been invited to take on live events for circling Western promoters, says Albahiti. “We have been approached by a few European companies to produce their festivals, which was a pleasant surprise and much-deserved recognition to all the team. It shows that our commitment and dedication are being recognised by the international market.”

Clearly, the live market in Saudi Arabia is poised at an exciting but delicate moment, and MDLBEAST is acutely aware of the need to nurture the industry in the proper way if it is to thrive sustainably in the long-term. At its inaugural XP Music Conference in December 2021, it gathered 150 delegates from the Middle Eastern music industry in Riyadh with a view to accelerating the market’s growth.

“I believe that the next Drake of this world will come from Saudi Arabia”

“For me personally, XP is our most important work because it aims to help build real infrastructure for the music industry in a region where it is currently missing,” says Albahiti. “We need that if we’re going to support local and regional talent and for our organisation to grow.

“We don’t want to be just another music touring company picking global acts and bringing them to Saudi Arabia – our vision is much grander than that. We want to empower, develop, and educate local and regional talents across different genres. I believe that the next Drake of this world will come from Saudi Arabia. If not, then definitely from the Middle Eastern region.”

In its own way, Live Nation has also spent the pandemic nurturing talent in the region – specifically promoting talent it needs on the ground to broaden the range of playable markets.
“Because of the restrictions in place for a lot of the last two years, we focused on future planning and opening up newer markets like Jordan, Egypt, India, and Kuwait,” says Zaed Maqbool, Live Nation VP talent, Middle East, who has spent years building the foundations for a viable circuit to rival those elsewhere in the world. In this context, the significance of the impending Maroon 5 tour is worth restating.

“Maroon 5 was truly a labour of love,” says Maqbool. “The first-ever regionally routed run, an A-list band, and an undying willingness to create a new regional route for Western artists. It all came together. That one really represents a paradigm shift for touring in the region. We now have offers out for more regional tours – and they’re all big names.”

While it may have taken the roaring engine of Saudi Arabia to jolt the region into a higher gear, the UAE promises to become a significant central strategic point as a Middle Eastern/ Asian/African circuit coalesces – at least according to Live Nation’s thinking.

“We have been preparing for this moment since back in 2007, 2008″

“India will become a part of the equation,” says Maqbool. “Israel and UAE are already mainstays because of their proximity and the fact that they are mature markets in their own right. South Africa is also a market we connect to, as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have direct flights. So basically, the UAE becomes the connecting transport hub for the region and beyond.”

With not only a new arena but the well-established 40,000-cap Etihad Park stadium at its disposal – which over the years has witnessed Coldplay, Rihanna, The Stones and others – Abu Dhabi’s Flash Entertainment is, like all promoters in the region, highly prepared for an influx of talent.

“We have been preparing for this moment since back in 2007, 2008,” says Flash CEO John Lickrish. “One of the strategies we thought we were going to implement, or was going to happen organically, was a regional touring circuit.

“We thought it would be Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, ourselves, maybe Bahrain. In fact, we are dealing with content pushed through Israel, Sau- di, Qatar, Bahrain… hopefully India – we will see how that develops. Yeah, it’s a great thing. Obviously, having more content available takes us out of the position of feeling like everything that comes is something we have to deliver ourselves.”

Not every Gulf promoter emerged from the pandemic intact. Arab Media Group-owned Done Events, with its roster of Dubai-based festivals including RedFestDXB, Blended, and Dubai Jazz Festival, has ceased trading. Others, meanwhile, have emerged. Former Done Events live events manager Peter Green had already gone out on his own by the time of Done’s demise and now operates as GME Events. He sold 15,000 tickets in his first year of operation, promoting Russell Peters and Michael McIntyre at the Etihad Arena and The Kooks at the Coca-Cola Arena, as well as several more comedy shows at the Dubai Opera and the Dubai World Trade Centre.

“Saudi Arabia is a tricky market. It has the demand, but it is difficult to enter”

“All of those shows were obviously socially distanced,” says Green. “The venues can obviously take more, but we achieved far more than I thought we would, as a new promoter, with Covid restrictions in place. Shows are coming back now and restrictions are less, but it is still challenging with the ever-changing Covid landscape. I think the attitude now, though, is let’s get on with it, and let’s do what we can.”

Other promoters in Dubai include the jazz-focused Chillout Productions, founder of the Dubai Jazz Festival, and The Artist Network, whose events include Desert Groove – formerly Groove on the Grass – at the Dunes Resort in Ras Al Khaimah.

Meanwhile, after three years with the state-backed DGDA project, which is developing the historic town of Ad Diriyah into a national, cultural and tourist centre on the edge of Riyad, Ovesen is poised to return to his promoting roots with new venture T.O.P. Entertainment and will operate as an independent with offices in Saudi and the UAE, but also looking to organise events across Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.

The leading ticketing company in the Gulf remains Platinumlist, which operates right across the region. “We sell 80% of UAE entertainment tickets and have been in KSA for six years,” says managing director Vassiliy Anatoli. “Our turnover in Saudi is larger than in UAE, although it’s hard to say what our market share is exactly.

“Saudi Arabia is a tricky market. It has the demand, but it is difficult to enter. It is hard to get independent event permits for organisers, and the majority of events are funded by the General Event Authority, which imposes the use of state-owned ticketing platforms.”

“We had a very successful Q1 of 2020 that helped us a lot with the rest of the troubled year”

Anatoli’s perspective on the pandemic is a widescreen one that neatly charts the ups and downs of the entire Gulf market. “We had a very successful Q1 of 2020 that helped us a lot with the rest of the troubled year. Despite the pandemic, many attractions kept operating and that is what we focused on whilst there were no events.

“2021 started well but was swiftly cut off by another spike in cases locally, which halted the industry for another four months. However, by March 2021, Saudi started making plans, and we won the tender for the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2021 and many other major projects, such as Rotana Concerts, the Evolution Exhibition, the Museum of Happiness, and the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale.

“Finally, the UAE resumed events in full swing by September 2021, which catapulted our revenues. Another major win was the 2021 Indian Premier League and ICC World Cup, which has sold over 350,000 tickets.”

In the coming years, Anatoli expects the biggest growth to come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, though he also points to Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait as markets seeing comfortable growth. Other ticketing outlets in Dubai include bricks-and-mortar retailer Virgin Megastore, as well as Ticketmaster and Indian giant BookMyShow.

Dubai’s 17,000-cap arena Coca-Cola Arena, the first permanent, multi-purpose arena in an emirate that had been staging shows on laboriously converted brownfield sites on the edge of the city for years, opened in June 2019. It managed just nine months in operation before Covid closed its doors.

“On Feb 15, they announced all restrictions were removed. The only requirement now is that masks must be worn indoors”

Coca-Cola Arena general manager Mark Jan Kar describes the moment at ILMC 2020 when it became clear what the immediate impact of the encroaching pandemic would be (“I’ve never seen an insurance panel more engaged,” he says) and with precise recall of dates, fills in the story up to the present day.

“Everything came to a complete halt, but we had Iron Maiden in May, and we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll close for a month…’” he says, recalling the initial optimism of the times. “That obviously didn’t happen, but we undertook some behind-closed-doors activities for some government entities. Then we were an Ikea catalogue venue, and we were a venue for a movie set. We were very close to becoming a vaccine centre.”

Over the next year or so, the UAE flexed its restrictions, “and slowly but surely, we went from 1,500 capacity, heavily socially distanced, to 2,500, to 5,000, then 60%, 70%, 80% of capacity, and thankfully, on Feb 15, they announced all restrictions were removed. The only requirement now is that masks must be worn indoors.”

In the same period, after an inevitable delay, Abu Dhabi finally inaugurated its own arena, the 18,000-cap Etihad, part of the AED12bn (€3bn) Yas Bay development project. “We would have liked to have it earlier; but it’s a really beautiful facility. It’s easy to operate, it’s cost-effective, scalable,” says Lickrish. “We have a host of good commercial partners that have come on board, Etihad being the big one. It’s next to impossible to make the industry work here without corporate partners, and that’s been a fact for quite some time now. So that’s exciting. Our corporate boxes are sold out, and now we are just planning content.”

On the schedule at the Etihad Arena for the coming months are Arab pop stars Amr Diab, Sherine Abdel Wahab, and Kadim Al Sahir; Maroon 5; UFC; and the International Indian Film Academy Awards 2022.

“For us to have a phenomenal venue 130km down the road creates healthy competition”

The almost simultaneous arrival of two world-class arenas in a previously arena-free zone – to add to the Dubai Opera, the Media City amphitheatre and the World Trade Centre, all in Dubai – might be viewed as an embarrassment of riches. But if the competition is unwelcome, no one is saying.

“For us to have a phenomenal venue 130km down the road creates healthy competition,” says Kar. “Both serve a domestic market, and they also allow us to create tours for artists.”
Those tours, of course, don’t necessarily have to come from the Western content machine. A feature of the Middle Eastern market that is occasionally lost on Western eyes is the sheer diversity of its offering.

“For us, Western acts would probably make up 25% to 30% of the content,” says Kar. “The balance is very much Asian content, and that includes Bollywood but also Pakistani and Bangladeshi music. And then you have got Arabic, where you have the Khaliji music that is popular across the Gulf, but also Lebanese, Iraqi, Egyptian, all with completely different dialects and demographics that would attend. Comparing anyone with another is like comparing Bruno Mars with Metallica.”

It is also inevitable that more venues are to come, particularly in the region’s most newly vibrant market. Most of the Saudi events still take place on outdoor sites or in temporary structures such as the 15,000-seat Diriyah Arena near Riyadh, but further building is taking place. ASM Global will manage the 20,000-cap Jeddah Arena at Airport City, promised for late-2025, while the 25,000-cap Victory Arena in Riyadh is currently undergoing a major facelift.

With Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup at the end of this year, there has been a massive construction programme, which could ultimately benefit the local live entertainment scene. And in Bahrain, three million man hours of work has created the spectacular 10,000-seat Al Dana Amphitheatre, which has literally been carved from the rock of the Sahkir desert (more about that project in IQ’s June issue).

“The challenge, believe it or not, is starting to become the seasons”

Another territory ready to take its place in a regional circuit is Kuwait, which welcomed a 5,000-cap multi-purpose all-seater arena in March. The Live Nation-managed Arena Kuwait, in Kuwait City’s 360 Mall, targets live entertainment, sports, corporate projects, exhibitions and conferences, and in its first few weeks of operation hosted six sold-out Arabic music concerts and two regional business-to-consumer expos.

“Kuwait is a new market for international and regional promoters and event organisers, as un- til the opening of The Arena Kuwait, venues and event spaces were limited,” says general manager Ken Jamieson. “Kuwait has an event-hungry population and the response to our first plethora of events has been very satisfying for all concerned. We have a packed calendar for the rest of the year as the demand has been outstanding..”

As the infrastructure expands, of course, so do the challenges of a region with a range of extreme weather conditions and great disparities in both its seasonal habits and venue provision.
“The challenge, believe it or not, is starting to become the seasons,” says Maqbool, wrestling with a circuit that potentially spans thousands of miles across Africa and Asia. “If an artist wants to do a tour in what is called the winter here in the Middle East, we need to take into consideration the different ‘winter’ conditions at each stop of the tour and the implications that has on venue type and timings.

“In the UAE, we have not one but two arenas to play around with, so we’re good the year round. But it’s not the same in Egypt, it’s not the same in India and some of the other markets as well. When it’s our winter, it’s their summer, and vice versa, and that’s a little nuance that sometimes plays into the equation. There’s a fair amount of playing Tetris with the routing, figuring out what works for everybody.”

And, give or take some teething troubles, a bit of geopolitical discord, and some Western liberal reservations, there’s the new regional circuit for you. It may well very come to offer dazzling new horizons for live music – but don’t expect it to be an easy ride.

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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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UAE will require proof of vaccination for live events

Venues in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will only be permitted to admit fans who are vaccinated against Covid-19 when full-capacity shows return, the country’s ministry of health has said.

The policy, which comes into force this Sunday (6 June), will apply to all live events, including cultural, sports and arts activities, in the Gulf state, Reuters reports. As an extra safeguard, all attendees will be required to produce a negative PCR test taken at least 48 hours before the event.

The UAE is home to two key touring markets, the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as a thriving tourism industry. As of 17 May, Dubai has allowed full-capacity concerts and sports events where all attendees have been vaccinated.

As IQ reported last week, the issue of requiring vaccination status in order to attend a show has split the live music industry, with less strict approach that would also allow a negative Covid-19 test (or proof of immunity) suggested as a non-discriminatory alternative.

Along with Israel, the UAE has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, with nearly 13 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine (out of a population of 9.8m) having been given as of 29 May.


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Mark Jan Kar appointed new GM of Coca-Cola Arena

Mark Jan Kar has been promoted to general manager of Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena following the recent resignation of arena CEO Guy Ngata.

Kar, who is currently the arena’s director of commercial and live, will assume the role on 20 June following the departure of Ngata, who is returning to his home country of New Zealand.

Harvey Lister, chairman and chief executive of arena operator ASM Global Apac, says: “Guy’s leadership and management of the arena is demonstrated by Coca-Cola Arena Dubai being named venue of the year at the Middle East Event Awards last month. Guy will be returning to Auckland to join his family for an extended period and we wish him well in his future endeavours.”

“Mark’s understanding and knowledge of the many wonderful and unique characteristics of the destination will be invaluable”

Welcoming Kar, Lister continues: “We are committed to and optimistic about the future. As a long-time resident of Dubai, Mark’s understanding and knowledge of the many wonderful and unique characteristics of the destination will be invaluable, and he will be fully supported by the whole ASM Global team as we grow content for the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf region generally.”

With a capacity of 17,000, Coca-Cola Arena is the biggest indoor arena in Dubai. The venue opened in 2019 but has, in common with other entertainment venues globally, spent much of the past year with its doors shut, though it managed to reopen for socially distanced shows at the tail end of last year.

“I am looking forward to the opportunity afforded to me by ASM Global APAC and [venue owner] Dubai Holding,” says Kar. “As an executive team we are committed along with our stakeholders to the return of live in the city of Dubai and truly excited for what the future holds.”


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Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena to reopen

Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai will reopen this Friday (20 November), welcoming fans for the first time since February in a Covid-secure format.

The 17,000-capacity arena, which opened last summer, has partnered with promoter OJ Lifestyle to bring an urban music event, Dark Knights Edition 1.0, to the venue. Hosted by UK comedian Paul Chowdhry, the show will see MoStack, Not3s and Yungen perform to a socially distanced crowd.

“We are very pleased to be able to provide live entertainment to the community of Dubai again, and we are excited to welcome the OJ Lifestyle team to Coca-Cola Arena on November 20th,” says Guy Ngata, CEO of Coca-Cola Arena.

“There has been a tremendous amount of work implemented across many sectors in Dubai to get to this point, and we are pleased to now open our doors again, with the safety of our guests of the utmost importance.”

Coca-Cola Arena’s new hygiene protocols and procedures have been developed in collaboration with Dubai Municipality, the UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention, the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and international safety guidelines, as well as the arena’s operator, ASM Global.

“It’s critical that we assure people they are attending a safe environment”

To reopen, the venue will draw on VenueShield, ASM Global’s environmental hygiene programme, which has been implemented at ASM venues globally.

Coca-Cola Arena’s VenueShield protocol includes enhanced cleaning procedures; temperature checks on arrival and thermal cameras at all entrances; social distancing in place across queuing, seating and concourse areas; disinfectant fogging machines; and hand sanitiser dispensers installed around the arena.

“It’s critical that we assure people they are attending a safe environment, allowing fans and artists to enjoy an amazing live experience, which we are confident will be the case,” continues Ngata. “Our VenueShield protocol is there to instil confidence in our guests as we all become accustomed to a new way of experiencing live events for the time being.”

“It is important that fans are vigilant of their own surroundings and responsible in relation to their own well-being and that of others, in line with the consistent messaging communicated by the government of Dubai over the past months,” he adds.

Fans are advised to visit the arena’s website and read the Covid-19 information before attending the show. Tickets are on sale now, starting at 249 dirhams (€57).


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2,000 perform in record-setting virtual show

Rockin’ 1000, the ‘biggest rock band on Earth’, set a new world record on Friday night after bringing together 2,500 performers for a single virtual concert.

The Italian-born music collective – which achieved viral fame in summer 2015 with their 1,000-person rendition of Foo Fighters’ ‘Learn to Fly’ – broke the Guinness World Record for ‘most videos in a music medley video’ with a virtual concert streamed live from Global Village, the Dubai entertainment and shopping complex, on 30 October.

Nearly 2,000 people from more than 80 countries participated in the event, performing a medley of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, Joey Ramone’s ‘What a Wonderful World’, Status Quo’s ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’ and New Radicals’ ‘You Get What You Give’ for the so-called ‘Global Gig’, co-produced by Global Village, Arabian Radio Network and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Fabio Zaffagnini, founder and general manager of Rockin’ 1000, comments: It was our pleasure to perform together with our members from around the world and we are grateful for this opportunity to be part of the Global Village silver jubilee celebrations. The experience is one that we will never forget, and Global Village will always hold a special place in our hearts, as we look forward to visiting in person as soon as we can.”

At press time, Rockin’ 1000’s ‘Global Gig’, which can be watched back above, had been seen by 355,000 people.


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First large-scale shows return to UAE

Dubai-based promoter Done Events is hosting the UAE’s first major post-Covid shows next month, as part of the Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) event series.

Done Events, part of Arab Media Group (AMG) and owner of Dubai Jazz Festival, is promoting two shows by Jimmy Carr – the comedian’s first in the UAE – on 13 and 14 August at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

The show will form part of the DSS Festival, a seven-week long series of live entertainment, family-friendly experiences and shopping deals, as well as Done Events’ DXBLaughs comedy series, the largest in the region.

Both shows will follow the UAE government’s latest Covid-19 health and safety guidelines, with full information available when tickets go on sale next week.

“Our vision is to respond genuinely to the customers’ needs and make an impact during these difficult times”

“Challenging moments in history have always driven ingenuity and innovation” says Done Events MD, Girish Bhat. “Our vision is to respond genuinely to the customers’ needs and make an impact during these difficult times. Done Events promises to deliver a safe experience following all the necessary health and safety protocols as well as social distancing arrangements.”

Ahmed Al Khaja, CEO of Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), ads that he is “delighted” to have Jimmy Carr perform as part of DSS.

“DSS is as much about entertainment as it is about shopping, and it is the combination of world-class leisure events, retail experiences and citywide attractions at incredible prices that sets DSS apart as one of the great summer shopping festivals in the world.”

A recent YouGov survey of UAE residents indicated a wariness around returning to live events in the wake of Covid-19, with 56% of respondents saying they were “somewhat likely or not at all likely” to attend shows.

Respondents said the mandatory use of face masks and gloves, increased cleaning and disinfecting of venues and increased social distancing were the measures most likely to encourage them to visit entertainment venues.

Photo: Creativesaravana/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (cropped)


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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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Dubai live pioneer Richard Coram passes

Richard Coram, one of the Middle East’s live music pioneers and a household name in the UAE, has passed away from Covid-19.

Known locally as the ‘voice of Dubai’, Coram, who arrived in the emirate in 1978, was a TV and radio fixture for much of the 1980s, hosting his own show on Dubai FM 92 and working as a newsreader on Channel 33 Dubai.

Coram (pictured) is best known to the live music community as founder of events firm The Talent Brokers, which he established in 1979. Later joined by Coram’s wife, Padma, the company staged shows by the likes of Lionel Richie, Bryan Adams, Luciano Pavarotti and Sirs Elton John and Rod Stewart, at a time when large-scale live events in Dubai were thin on the ground.

The Talent Brokers is remembered fondly in the Middle East for its high-quality live events, in contrast to many of the “cowboys” that followed, media veteran Keith Fernandez tells Gulf News. “I have countless memories of the shows they mounted. […] These were almost always superbly organised shows, with excellent security, F&B and logistics.”

“A giant has left us”

“You only needed to see their name attached to an event to know it would be a quality show,” adds Dubai resident Anthony Permal. “This was Richard’s legacy. [There is] no part of [the live] events [industry] that hasn’t been touched by Richard.”

In a tweet, Dubai-based marketing specialist Anthony Permal pays tribute to Coram as a “giant” of the live entertainment industry. “Richard Coram is the OG events guru of Dubai,” he says. “He started the true wave and paved the way for so many of us.

“A giant has left us.”

The Corams, along with their son, Aryan, later moved to the UK, where Richard spent his final years. Recent projects in the UK included AR Rahman at the O2 Arena, in August 2015, and Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball 2019, with Stormzy and Rita Ora, last December.


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Etihad agrees naming deal for Flash’s Yas Bay Arena

Abu Dhabi’s new Yas Bay Arena will be known as Etihad Arena when it opens later this year, following the signing of a naming-rights agreement between Etihad Airways and venue owner Miral.

The US$3.2 billion, 18,000-capacity indoor arena is the first of its kind in Abu Dhabi, capital and the largest of the seven United Arab Emirates.  Operated by promoter Flash Entertainment, Etihad Arena will “host an eclectic variety of events, including sporting competitions, corporate events, cultural performances, concerts and many other appealing activities throughout the year”, according to Miral, the publicly owned property company responsible for developing and managing Yas Island.

In addition to the arena, the 25km² Yas Island is home to Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts the the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix; theme parks including Warner Bros World, Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld; and numerous hotels and retail stores.

Tony Douglas, group CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, says: “It’s an honour to partner with an Abu Dhabi institution such as Miral on this joint venture, which will further promote Abu Dhabi and Yas Island as a hub for entertainment, tourism and culture. Etihad Arena complements our global presence at a number of sporting and entertainment venues, most notably Etihad Stadium in Manchester, home of Manchester City Football Club.

“This new arena will bring an abundance of talent to our capital”

“This new arena will bring an abundance of talent to our capital, providing a diverse range of entertainment options for guests visiting our beautiful city, or for those who call the UAE home.”

“As our national airline with international reach, Etihad Airways is the ideal partner to help position the newly named Etihad Arena competitively on the local and regional map of live entertainment destinations,” adds Mohamed Abdalla Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral. “The new venue will be a significant addition to the unique offerings on Yas Island and in Abu Dhabi, creating unforgettable experiences and helping us deliver on our vision to position Yas Island as a top global destination for entertainment, leisure and business.

“This is a testament to our commitment to grow the tourism industry and achieve our leadership’s vision of economic diversification.”

Etihad Arena will be the second major indoor arena in the UAE, following the recently opened Coca-Cola Arena in neighbouring Dubai. The outdoor 117 Live Arena (formerly Autism Rocks Arena) opened in Dubai in 2016.


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