Is This Really Saudi Arabia? Kingdom's Latest Music Festival Include Saudi Female Artists

Published December 20th, 2019 - 05:58 GMT

“Can Saudi Arabia Become the Middle East's Live Music Superpower?”: This was a recent headline of one of the biggest Music organizations in the world. Yet we still can’t help but ask: is Saudi Arabia finally becoming more open-minded? Or is this just an attempt to redeem itself after its violations of human rights became known to the world? 

Since the beginning of this year, Saudi Arabia has been putting a massive effort into changing its ultra-conservative image by creating an international festival called Riyadh season.

The events in the festival include concerts, color runs, fashion shows and many more.

Tens of thousands of Saudis have flocked to the biggest electronic music festival in the ultra-conservative kingdom since it began easing decades-old restrictions on entertainment. International artists including DJ Tiesto, Black Coffee, David Guetta Martin Garric and Steve Aoki were among the top acts at the festival.

Translation: “ Everybody is excited.. We are going to have a fantastic weekend.” 

However, in July, American rapper Nicki Minaj pulled out of a concert in Saudi Arabia in what she described as a show of support for women's and gay rights in the kingdom.

DJ Cosmicat, one of the female Saudi artists performing at the event said, "This is the biggest music festival in the region." 

"The whole country is going through a huge change," the DJ said in a statement released by the organizers of the event.

Along with DJ Cosmicat, another Saudi female DJ, Hatoon Idrees, performed at the music festival. 

Females in Saudi Arabia have been under patriarchal oppression for decades, including inability to drive, travel or even leave the house without wearing the compulsory headscarf and abaya until recent reforms that vowed to change that this year. At the music festival, which attracted 130,000 attendees on its first day, women went without the hijab headscarf, which is a compulsory dress in the conservative Muslim country. 

Translation: “These are the vibes we’ve providing at Riyadh’s musical festival. Everyone is ecstatic.” 

In spite of all the recent reforms, the Riyadh season events sparked massive controversy due to “misbehaviors” in the deeply conservative society. And alongside sweeping social developments, the kingdom has carried out a crackdown on dissent. Nearly a dozen women activists were arrested for demanding the right to drive, just weeks before the kingdom lifted the ban on female motorists last year. The kingdom has also faced intense international scrutiny over its human rights record since last year's killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country's consulate in Istanbul. 

But it's not easy to know whether Saudi's latest reforms, seemingly relaxed approach is a sign that the Kingdom is finally implementing social change, or if it's all part of a massive propaganda campaign to serve more sinister purposes.

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