Musicians’ freedom expanded
There has been a quiet, yet marked increase in cultural activities in Saudi Arabia during the past couple of months. New music bands emerge, and the internet has become an important meeting place for underground musicians.
“There is a revolution taking place,” stated the American tv news reporter Nic Robertson on CNN in February 2008 when he reported from the practising room of the Saudi Arabian heavy metal band Wasted Land in Jeddah. Even though music is considered a sin by the country’s religious leaders, there has been what many call ‘an explosion’ of Saudi pop, rock and rap bands within the past two-three years.
Two years ago there were only two bands in Jeddah. Now there are said to be around 60 underground bands in Saudi Arabia playing Western style rock music, according to the daily newspaper Arab News. Many of these are heavy metal, grunge and death metal bands with names such as Final Serenade, Rivers Running Red, Breeze of The Dying, Forgotten, Grieving Age, Octum, The Empty Quarter, Immortal Pain, and Outl!ve.
They all dream of a time when they will be able to perform in public instead of being forced underground by the religious authorities. At the moment they have no venues in Saudi Arabia where they can perform. Public music is banned.
“The internet is the engine of change,” 25-year-old Ayman Al Ghamdi, lead guitarist and founder of Wasted Land told CNN. The members of Wasted Land are all in their 20s, and they practise their music in the privacy of a friends studio. It was mainly because of their MySpace-profile that the musicians found out that they had an audience out there which liked the kind of music they compose, and it was also through this page that CNN spotted the group.
Bands and musicians from all major Saudi Arabian towns and cities link to one another on social networking websites such as MySpace, and Facebook as well as Sametal.org which is a portal for Saudi metal bands. They use their home pages as a way to say “We are here!” to the society around them that often seeks to silence or even deny their existence.
On YouTube and Facebook one can see videos from underground concerts and private gigs where up to 500 young people – mostly teenagers – gather, even though it is technically illegal in Saudi Arabia for so many people to congregate.
The Facebook group ‘Concert’s & Gig’s in KSA’ distributes information concerning concerts and gigs in Saudi Arabia to it 335 members, and on ‘the Wall’ 328 Facebook members who signed up for the group ‘Metal freaks in Saudi Arabia’ openly discuss issues of the field in both Arabic and English.
“The younger generation have a lot of anger and repressed feelings, because basically here in this country we have a huge cultural gap between the older and the younger generation,” Hussein Mohammed, a heavy metal fan, told CNN’s reporter. “Music is the only way to release that steam,” Hasan Hatrash, the band’s manager, added.
“Young boys here are not satisfied with how their lives are going,” guitarist Ayman Al Ghamdi told a journalist from Arab News: “The restrictions, the lack of entertainment, bachelors-for-life. All these things make us angry.”
All-girrl metal band
Chicks Behind Walls started rehearsing at the end of 2006. They write on their MySpace profile:
Website turned into real life event
In early 2005, Sametal organised their first public rock show under the name S.A. Metal gig. It took place in Dammam in a somewhat isolated place called Estiraha – a small place where people go for gatherings such as weddings or lunches. The show was free of charge and it featured three bands from the Eastern Province: Creative Waste, Sound of Ruby, and Deathless Anguish, as well as one band from Riyadh: Crimson.
This event paved the way for a follow-up, entitled ‘SAmetal Gig II’, which again had no entrance fee. In the meanwhile, the organising team learned from their online activities that elsewhere in Saudi Arabia there actually were other bands existing. They invited two bands from Jeddah, Wasted Land and Panjiah, to give a public performance for the first time in the Kingdom.
After this, the idea started to pick up. The metal boys from Damman had proved that such shows weren’t entirely impossible to pull off. A first public show in Jeddah took place under the name ‘Jeddah Metal Resurrection’, held in an “estiraha” similar to the one in Damman, and also free of charge and with no women allowed. The poster for the event spawned a plethora of bands, and it encouraged the Jeddah scene to expand. Soon after followed the first full-blown public show which was open for everyone, men and women, entitled ‘S.A. metal Gig III’. This time, for the first time, the organisers charged a ticket fee, around 20 riyals (five US dollars).
Mixed gender audience
Many reporters and bloggers saw this event as an indication that Saudi Arabian authorities now seeks to expand freedom in the conservative society.
“The concert is a sign that things are changing rapidly here,” said the German ambassador Jurgen Krieghoff, whose embassy financed the classical performance, to Associated Press’ reporter Donna Abu-Nasr.
“Evidently, the government has decided that a minimum of openness in our new world economy and in our information-based world is necessary for us and also for good understanding among cultures, ” he was quoted as saying.
Concept of dialogue
“We want to expand the scope of freedom so that it will serve the concept of dialogue.”
A few weeks ago, in May 2008, the country‘s leader, King Abdullah, made an unprecedented call for an interfaith dialogue – the first such proposal from a nation that forbids non-Muslim religious services and symbols.
A couple of segregated folk music performances were recently reported to have been held on the sidelines of Riyadh’s book fair, and Jeddah’s annual Economic Forum opened with a surprise this year – a performance of Arab and Western music.
Music bands emerging
The melodic death metal band Wasted Land along with the grunge-punk band Sound of Ruby, the death metal band Deathless Anguish, and the metal band Santasmagoria are considered to be among the leading bands in the Saudi music scene of 2008 – with a growing number of new groups following in their tale.
Wasted Land: Heavy metal from Jeddah
Click on photo to read an interview with the band’s founder
|Sources – articles
The Associated Press – 3 May 2008:
‘A first for Saudis: Mozart performed publicly and women come’
Arab News – 22 Februare 2008:
‘Metal and Rock Music an Outlet for Saudi Youth to Speak’
CNN – 29 February 2008:
(Nic Robertson’s report from Jeddah and interview with Wasted Land starts at 2:38)
This CNN-report can also be found on YouTube
Video clips on YouTube
CNN’s Nic Robertson profiles the Saudi heavy metal band Wasted Land.
CNN’s Nic Robertson finds Saudi Arabia is changing, but getting the pace
Saudi Arabia Metal Society organised this concert in Riyadh
|Saudi Arabian bands on MySpace
These are more than 30 examples. You will find even more out there, and new ones keep coming.
Saudi Arabia Metal’s profile on MySpace:
Chicks Behind Walls
|Portal for Saudi metal music
Saudi Rock and Metal Society:
List of bands
Concert’s & Gig’s in KSA
Saudi Metal And Rock Music
Metal freaks in Saudi Arabia
The Networking Lounge Of Artists in Saudi Arabia
The Networking Lounge Of Artists in the Arab World
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