New opportunities are opening for young Saudi musical talents

Since the beginning of 2019, advertisements for arts and music lessons open to both sexes have mushroomed in Saudi Arabia.
Saturday 12/10/2019
Cultural rebirth. Saudi female musician Lojain Sami (R) plays piano with Zaki Elnonoi, on violin, at a local musical themed cafe Lojain Alkhursani in Khobar, July 2.(Reuters)
Cultural rebirth. Saudi female musician Lojain Sami (R) plays piano with Zaki Elnonoi, on violin, at a local musical themed cafe Lojain Alkhursani in Khobar, July 2.(Reuters)

JEDDAH - Following the lifting of various bans, obstacles and veils between Saudi young men and women and the world of arts and music, the gates have been flung open for talented young Saudis to hone their musical gifts in clubs, schools and universities.

These changes are bound to affect the music industry in Saudi Arabia and budding female artists will be rivalling their male counterparts in musical and artistic performances.

Since the beginning of 2019, advertisements for arts and music lessons open to both sexes have mushroomed in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps Egyptian violinist Mahmoud Sorour, whose fame in Saudi Arabia has grown through his many concert appearances, could be credited for starting the trend of private music lessons in Saudi Arabia.

Sorour was the first to establish an institute to teach violin in Saudi Arabia. From time to time, he would advertise sessions to select the best talents to form the core of the Saudi opera house orchestra.

At the end of January, Taif University in Saudi Arabia said it would teach music and offer training courses for its students. The university introduced a curriculum in instrument playing and singing that includes sessions conducted by Saudi trainers. The programme was met with great interest immediately after it was announced.

The Thaqaf Institute, an official training initiative under the Saudi Society for Culture and Arts, started programmes in singing and playing skills in various parts of the country. This was in addition to efforts by cultural civil society organisations building on the encouraging new climate of openness in Saudi Arabia.

In Jeddah, the Craftsmen Union is collaborating with Ziryab House for Arab Music in training workshops and music lessons in playing the Arabic zither conducted by Amal Triki. She is a Tunisian zither player who graduated from the Higher Institute of Music in Tunis. The sessions have seen a record turnout of people seeking to refine their talent.

Saudi composer and singer Nasser Al-Saleh announced plans for the first institute to teach music in Saudi Arabia. He said he has secured the proper authorisation to begin classes. Saleh said he plans to take advantage of the tremendous talent for music possessed by young Saudis.

Music teacher Shaimaa Mohamed said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz’s moves to give Saudi women social visibility and strengthen their position with participation and equality reflected on cultural, scientific and artistic fields, which allows the discovery of young Saudi talents who aspire for a future in the arts.

Shaimaa Mohamed is preparing a series of courses. “This is going to be done through formal academic training based on science and not just as a passing hobby and we will do it at Dammam Institute of Culture and Arts using a team that will be working hard to discover new talent,” she said.

Mohamed Salama, a music aficionado, expressed optimism about accelerated steps that Saudi women have taken in musical education and production. He said this serves the image of Saudi Arabia as a civilised and influential country in various areas of life.

Sawsan al-Bahiti, the first Saudi opera artist, said previous conservative cultural norms favoured men more than women in music. Today, and after launching Vision 2030, there is support for Saudi women from the state to have a greater role in society, sharing their skills and abilities.

“I felt supported to give free expression to my operatic gifts on the Saudi artistic scene, while also feeling the responsibility to encourage and support gifted girls to unlock their talents,” Bahiti said. “I chose to develop my talent with all my knowledge, from vocal training to opera singing, to reach an excellent artistic level befitting of Saudi talents.

“Today, and after the many positive changes in the kingdom, especially for women, I have no doubt that the art scene will get a very significant boost by introducing multiple musical genres and new forms of artistic expressions, hence the importance of nurturing new talent because passion and talent alone are not enough to produce works of art at a level of the global artistic scene.”

Saudi Arabia is building institutes and schools specialising in the musical arts. The Saudi opera house project has been implemented along with plans for a Music Education Academy. More training centres will specialise in teaching specific musical genres or instruments.

“The remarkable thing that I noticed in the Saudi art scene is the ability to innovate in the musical arts, to give them a unique Saudi character that distinguishes them from similar genres in the West,” said Bahiti.

The talent exhibited by young Saudis is a reassuring sign about the future of the music industry in Saudi Arabia. With the rapid pattern of positive changes in the kingdom, “I expect to see and hear the productions of these talents over the next few years on a global level,” Bahiti added.

Fadil Moataz, a follower of the modern-day Saudi music scene since its early steps, said a new era has begun in which Saudi Arabia is breathing artistic freedom. The Saudi Ministry of Culture is keen on having a variety of art festivals.

“I was very pleased to see doors opened to Saudi women to participate in music training and I am sure that there are thousands of gifted Saudi girls who want to learn to play music,” said Moataz.

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