Men and women swayed to music at Saudi Arabia’s first-ever jazz festival on Friday, the second of a three-day outdoor event that showcases the Kingdom’s recent efforts of shedding its conservative image.
Locals and foreigners flocked to the festival to watch bands from Riyadh, Beirut and New Orleans. The crowd sang along when Lebanon’s Chady Nashef performed the Eagles’ “Hotel California” – an unusual moment in the Islamic country after the religious police last year condemned concerts that feature singing as harmful and corrupting, according to a ME website.
On Thursday, the General Entertainment Authority announced it will stage more than 5,000 shows, festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year.
The entertainment plans are largely motivated by economics, part of a reform programme to diversify the economy away from oil and create jobs for young Saudis.
They also mark a change in social Saudi life and the gradual relaxing of gender segregation, although restrictions persist. At the festival, the area in front of the stage was divided into two sections – one for men and one for women – but people mixed in family seating areas on the side and in the back.