Over 700,000 flock to Saudi Arabia’s top music festival | The Express Tribune


Record crowds of over 700,000 revellers flocked to Saudi Arabia’s MDLBeast Soundstorm music festival, authorities said on Monday, at the end of the four-day event in the oil-rich desert kingdom.

The electronic music festival comes as Saudi’s leaders are pushing efforts to change its conservative image and diversify its economy, only a few years after the country lifted a ban on music and dancing.

International entertainers and musicians — including superstar French DJ David Guetta — performed at the event.

The festival, which ended on a Sunday, comes as Saudi Arabia sees a spike in coronavirus cases amid increased fears over the spread of the new Omicron variant.

Saudi Arabia has recorded the highest number of Covid-related deaths among Arab Gulf countries, with more than 8,860 fatalities.

Over the four days, 732,000 people flocked to the event, “one of the largest music festivals in the world,” said Turki al-Sheikh, head of Saudi’s General Entertainment Authority.

The festival has since its launch in 2019 witnessed large crowds, most of them young men and women, who can freely dance to western music.

“We’ve never seen anything like this in Riyadh before — crowds, music, VIP rooms, unconventional clothing for the kingdom,” one Saudi woman, who attended the festival, told AFP.

‘Thirsty for music’

The rise of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in 2017 has ushered in a number of reforms.

A social shift in the conservative Gulf state has included the lifting of a ban on women driving and allowing mixed-gender concerts and other events.

For the young Saudi woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, such events have nonetheless been beneficial in offering younger generations an outlet.

“We are thirsty for music, entertainment, movies, laughter and outings. It’s like we’re rediscovering our country and that makes us very happy,” she said.

Saudi Arabia is seeking to diversify its economy away from oil, investing heavily in recent years in the tourism, entertainment and sports sectors.

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