copy short urlprintemail
+ A
A -

Concerts have long been an underground affair in Saudi Arabia, where official adherence to the severe Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam puts music in murky legal territory.
But for six hours on Monday night, stretching into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, some 8,000 men sang along to epic love songs in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah as the kingdom held its first large-scale concert in nearly seven years.
It was a grand homecoming for Saudi superstar Mohammed Abdo, popularly known as the"Artist of the Arabs," who has performed to packed houses abroad for over a decade - often mostly Saudis - but could not appear on stage at home.
Abdo was backed by a 60-man Egyptian orchestra and appeared with two other popular singers: Rabeh Sager, a Saudi, and Majid Al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who also holds Saudi citizenship.
Still, not all barriers had fallen. Security checkpoints around the venue blocked entry to the area for anyone without a ticket and women were barred from attending entirely.
The concert came only two days after a jazz performance sold out the 3,300-seat King Fahd Cultural Centre in the more puritanical capital Riyadh, which has not held public concerts in some 25 years.
The two events were bold steps forward for government plans to promote the entertainment and leisure sector, part of an economic and social reform drive aimed at creating jobs and weaning the country off its dependence on oil.
"It's an indescribable feeling," Muhandis, one of two other singers to perform, said after the show."We were longing for such concerts in our beloved kingdom. The audience was longing for us and we were longing for them."
The Jeddah concert was staged by Rotana, a company owned mostly by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
The kingdom's new General Entertainment Authority (GEA) has staged some 70 events since it was created last year, but mostly in smaller and protected semi-public spaces while officials are on the lookout for disapproval from religious conservatives.
Abdo was slated to perform in Riyadh in September, but the concert was cancelled at the last minute without explanation.
Amr al-Madani, the newly appointed GEA chief executive, declined to say whether a Riyadh concert was still in the works, but said the authority aims to double household spending on entertainment to 6 percent by 2020 and is committed to"experiences that Saudi families can enjoy together."
Abdo first performed in the kingdom after a decade-long hiatus at the Souq Okaz festival in Taiz, near Makkah, in August.
copy short url   Copy