The Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia last month unveiled a plan to train 7,000 kindergarten teachers for music instruction, indicating a notable shift in an educational system that previously didn’t recognize music as a formal subject. This move aligns with an increase in music festivals and concerts across the country. For Reem A., 16 years, Jeddah ‘’these are good news. There are many girls in my school who would love to learn to play instrument, not so much singing but unfortunately our school does not provide music classes,’’ she told SaudiTimes.
Just ten years ago, entertainment in Saudi Arabia was primarily going dining, shopping, and attending private events. Public entertainment events and locations were non-existent. This limited scope of entertainment not only affected people’s morale but also pushed talented individuals to seek their opportunities and entertainment elsewhere. It was not unusual for Saudis to travel to cities like Cairo or Beirut to attend concerts or pursue their careers in music.
Singers would be allowed in private gatherings such as weddings which take place either at home or wedding halls. Female singers at that time were only allowed to perform in such events while male singers would beside private gatherings appear on TV or radio as well.
While the expat community or Saudis who could afford the expenses, rock, rap or pop performances took place at their private gatherings, and performers as well as organizers risked arrest by the religious police. Before the Kingdom began opening up in 2016 and starting to promote creative industries and youth participation, experimenting with musical styles was not commonplace, and there was limited governmental or corporate support for such endeavours.
However, as part of Vision 2030, the Saudi government is acknowledging the need to diversify and expand its entertainment sector. This change aims to improve societal wellbeing and also to tap into a potential source of revenue that had previously been underexploited.
Saudis And Love for Music
Music and singing is significant in Saudi Arabia, acting as channels of communication and a way for people to express their emotions. On Saudi radio, it is common to hear hosts asking listeners who they want to dedicate a particular song to. At social events, DJs or music players are a staple, enhancing the atmosphere and creating joy. In a society where public musical expression was limited, these were opportunities to enjoy music and dance privately.
This love of Saudis for music made it easy for organizers to attract audiences to concerts, festivals, and other musical events when they became available. Arguably, the first sector to open up under Vision 2030 was the music industry. It provided not only entertainment but also a platform for talented young Saudis who previously had to study music abroad.
Unlike classical music and modern music in the West, the differences in these music genres in Saudi Arabia is not that big. Nonetheless, Saudi music is not confined to local genres. Due to the advanced music scenes in neighbouring Egypt and Lebanon, Saudis have been open to their music. Until recently, Saudi music was stuck in a certain stage due to restrictions, making it less appealing to younger generations. However, the diverse music played in Saudi Arabia now mirrors the organizers’ choices at events, a blend of Western, light Arabic, and reformist artists attracting diverse audiences.
The F1 events in Jeddah in the last 2 years have drawn visitors from neighbouring countries to attend the concerts, which contradicts the previous trend of Saudis traveling to Abu Dhabi for similar occasions. This demonstrates the significant strides Saudi Arabia has made in opening up its music and entertainment scene.
Saudi Arabia’s Music Style
The Hijaz region in western Saudi Arabia boasts a vibrant musical culture, featuring intricate melodies played on instruments such as the oud, qanun, nay, and violin. Historically, Makkah and Madinah had a music scene comparable to Arab cities like Baghdad and Cairo. In contrast, the Bedouin communities of the central region, due to their nomadic lifestyle, leaned towards simple rhythms, created by clapping or striking everyday items. Drums were considered an orchestra on their own, vital in Saudi and Gulf folk music. Dance and clapping added another percussive layer to Saudi music.
An iconic part of traditional Saudi Arabian culture is the “ardah,” a dance that evolved from war to peace and celebration, combining poetry with singing, drumming, and slow movements. The sung poems are patriotic, and the dance itself narrates a historical story of resilience and continuity.
In the Eastern Province, the folk arts are influenced by pearl diving, seafaring, and trade. These traditions weren’t isolated but spread and mixed through trade caravans and pilgrimages.
Given Saudi Arabia’s geographical position, surrounded by countries with diverse musical traditions, defining a distinctively Saudi Arabian musical style can be challenging. However, modern music that can be labelled as uniquely Saudi Arabian was developed by Tariq Abdel-Hakim, who composed the Saudi national anthem. Mohammed Abdo popularized this new form of music.
The latter half of the last century saw the emergence of several composers and singers such as Siraj Omar, Maddah, Abdul Majeed Abdullah, Rabeh Saqr, and Rashid Al-Majed. Women, although limited, also contributed, including Ibtisam Lutfi, Etab, Sarah Qazzaz, and toga. Today these singers still exist with more modern Saudi music such as Seera.
Modern Saudi music includes a wide variety of genres from jazz, hip-hop, rap to techno and rock ‘n roll. Often, these genres integrate elements of traditional folklore, as seen in Majed Al-Eisa’s songs “Lifestyle Samry.”However, Saudi youth also show a strong interest in international music styles. For instance, young Saudi first female rapper Jara drew attention with her 2020 rap single “966.” Meanwhile, hip-hop artist Qusai Kheder continues to make significant contributions to the music scene in English mainly and rapper Clash who enjoys big popularity for his ‘’high-style rapping as his words express the thoughts and ideas of young Saudis males and females,’’ Ahmed B, student 22 years explained to SaudiTimes.
While Saudi Arabia’s population is youthful, the country’s music taste spans across all ages. Young Saudis, like their global counterparts, are drawn to modern, fast-paced rhythms. Due to factors such as language and newfound style of expression, Saudi rap has become the most popular among youth as it resonates with their experiences and ideas
Ultimately, while Saudi passion for music is nothing new, the progression within the industry has given many benefits, even at early stages. Music is a beautiful thing, which was previously restrained in Saudi Arabia, but thankfully it has now been given the opportunity to prosper and make this beautiful feeling part of daily life of people in Saudi Arabia.