Money not primary driver for intl. artists coming to Saudi Arabia: MDLBEAST official
Azimuth music festival bears testimony to the winds of liberalization blowing through Saudi Arabia, allowing entertainers from the global music fraternity to showcase their repertoire to an avid new audience.
Consistently providing good experiences to international artists, entertainers and attendees during events in Saudi Arabia will help put the Kingdom on the global entertainment map, Senior Operations and Artist Booking Manager with MDLBEAST, Rayan al-Rasheed, told Al Arabiya English during an exclusive interaction.
“Maybe the money is a factor for artists coming to the Kingdom because they don’t know the country, they don’t know the industry here, they don’t know the scene, and they don’t know what people here are like. So, they are a bit hesitant. And sometimes, you pay them a little bit more, so that you can convince them,” al-Rasheed said on the sidelines of the Azimuth music festival in AlUla, held on September 21 and 22.
However, al-Rasheed added that global performers do not “come purely for the money.” He said the feedback from the artists who performed at Azimuth was “exceptional.”
“They love everything about what Saudi Arabia has to offer to the entertainment industry, to the music industry, and most of all, they see the energy that Saudi Arabia exudes these days,” explained al-Rasheed, who handles booking performers, negotiating contracts and ensuring a “smooth and safe trip” to the Kingdom that is rapidly liberalizing itself under Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision to diversify an economy that is primarily dependent on its oil income.
“We’ve always loved music. Music has always been part of our culture, but we never had a proper scene, so to speak. So, it was a learning curve that I went through when I first joined MDLBEAST,” al-Rasheed said.
Saudi Arabia’s music scene was predominantly under wraps for years, leading up to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s push for music, arts and entertainment to be made available for the masses as part of the larger Vision 2030 framework.
“Every time we [MDLBEAST] do an event, I pinch myself. Am I actually doing this in my country? I go back ten years and I’m like, ‘I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d be working for a company that’s doing all these awesome events’,” al-Rasheed, who was raised in Jeddah said, pointing towards the Azimuth music festival.
Held in the heritage site of AlUla, the Azimuth event, organized by MDLBEAST, concluded on September 23, after a two-day lineup of regional and international artists who took to the two stages set up in the canyon valleys to mark the Kingdom’s 93rd National Day.
Events such as Azimuth and the flagship SOUNDSTORM festival in Riyadh, which saw more than 600,000 people in attendance over three days in 2022, are crucial to a blooming entertainment landscape embellished with numerous little-known and undiscovered talents. Both festivals are organized by the Saudi-based MDLBEAST music and entertainment company.
These events, while featuring international acts, also provide a platform for local and regional performers who, otherwise, might not have found a space to showcase their skills.
Naming local artists such as Cosmicat, Vinyl Mode and DishDash, who have gone on to perform internationally, al-Rasheed said: “You see how they used to play in the underground scene. Nobody knew about them … but once they’re on the big stage, with the spotlight on them, see how they’re developing into actual artists who are respected not just in Saudi Arabia, but outside as well.”
Cosmicat played a set at the legendary Belgian EDM festival Tomorrowland, after their 2019 debut at SOUNDSTORM. Vinyl Mode has long been recognized internationally through his sets in Lebanon, Jordan, Germany, Bosnia and is known locally for some of the greatest underground events in the Kingdom. DJ duo Dish Dash has performed from Miami to London and across the Arab world.
These artists represent a small number of Saudi acts who are now known globally for their tunes.
Last year, on the sidelines of SOUNDSTORM, Al Arabiya English had spoken to numerous regional artists who called on other Arab nations to follow in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia and promote their local talent.
“I think Saudi Arabia opening up is super cool,” said Adam Husa of Egyptian-Canadian artist duo Husa & Zeyada.
“Instead of looking at where the regular trajectories of touring are, which are mostly in Europe, America and so on, it’s cool to have this [in Saudi Arabia], next door to us. Coming from Egypt, having this opening up at such a high speed makes us now think of so many more opportunities,” Husa said.
“There are opportunities to create a new sound. This mass of people who are all new to this scene has not grown along the regular path that other countries have. So, it really matters to create something new,” the artist with roots in Montreal told Al Arabiya English on the sidelines of Azimuth.
Husa & Zeyada performed at the AlUla festival alongside regional artists.
Zeyada described the desert valley event as a “perfect merger of arts and nature,” which she says will be “exploding” over the next couple of years.
The duo, who have Arabic dance tracks in the pipeline, said they are hopeful of growing their audience in the Arab world, adding to their current listeners, who are mainly from Argentina, Mexico, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
“I think the Saudi population connects with our music because of the newness of it as well as its cultural aspect. We sing half in English, half in Arabic … It’s a combination of indie rock and electronic,” Rola Zeyada, the latter half of the Husa & Zeyada duo, told Al Arabiya English.
“I think that in itself, this is connecting with a lot of people of our generation because this is what we listen to. A lot of us listen to rock or indie growing up, and now a lot of us are also going on the dance floor and to parties, wanting to kind of express that part of ourselves,” Zeyada further said.
“We’re at the center of this scene that’s exploding and I think that’s really exciting – more exciting than playing music in the biggest clubs in Europe or the US because we’ve been doing that for 30 or 40 years now,” Zeyada said.