Laila Al Amri

Laila Al Amri

Journalist

Saudi Lulwa sings Sinatra in first-time Jeddah concert

Saudi Arabia’s reformative drive is trickling down to every aspect of the Kingdom’s public and daily life; nowhere more evidently than in the country’s grassroots arts and culture scene, once low key, and now progressively high profile. The latter is undergoing what can only be considered an artistic catharsis that promises to effectively reshape the Arab region’s cultural spectrum, particularly after the Kingdom’s decision to lift enduring restrictions on musical concerts.

Now, the country is playing host to its own homegrown Saudi talents, who already hold forerunner potential in the Arab music circles. Saudi singer Lulwa Al Sharif, who held her concert in Jeddah a few days ago, is one of them. She also makes the first Saudi woman to obtain an official permit from the Saudi General Entertainment Authority to hold a concert before a live audience.

Music to their ears

Saudi Arabia’s arts and culture movement is mobilizing with pace and gusto. On April 25, the Kingdom saw its first concert for the Egyptian National Arab Music Ensemble (AME) of the Egyptian Opera House at the King Fahad Cultural Center in Riyadh.

The concert was held under the patronage of Saudi Arabia’s and Egypt’s ministers of culture. Forty five musicians and artists performed the works of Egypt’s great composers and musicians, covering pieces by Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Umm Kulthum, Abdelhalim Hafez, Farid Al-Atrash, Najat Al Saghira, and Shadia, among others Egyptian musical legends.

On May 4, King Abdullah Sports City will play host to a massive concert, where Saudi artists Mohammed Abdu and Rabeh Sakr will perform their greatest hits. The Kingdom is also currently hosting three concerts by the German Orchestra – one of the greatest out of capital Berlin –  in each of Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah.

From Saudi to Sinatra

A few days ago, and for the first time in years, a Saudi female artist took the public stage at a concert in Jeddah. Lulwa Al-Sharif performed songs by international stars, from Frank Sinatra to Adele, before a welcoming audience that kept calling for encores.

After what she considers to be a milestone moment in her career, the singer lauds the Saudi’s leadership’s critical decision a year back to open doors for musical concerts; a move that Al-Sharif believes was much anticipated, and that will give much-deserved international exposure and recognition to the Kingdom’s multi-faceted arts, acting and singing homegrown talents.

In several statements after her concert, Al-Sharif noted that a number of talented Saudi female music artists have been eagerly waiting for permission – and not to mention, a platform – to showcase themselves and their works to the world. In this context, she adds, the Saudi society’s perception of arts is slowly but surely changing for a more culturally embracive environment. Al-Sharif is personally looking forward to grow her artistic career on the back of this shift.

Now thirty years young, she says she was lucky to have had the backing she needed from her parents in her early music career days a few years ago. A self-taught artist, Al-sharif received unconditional support from her mother, who pushed her to pursue her passion and happiness. Her late father, who loved music, who have been proud to see her on the Jeddah stage, she said.

Al-Sharif is a Blues and Jazz aficionado, a music genre she says touches her very soul. Performing for both contemporary and modern Jazz artists, Al-Sharif puts her own twist on their works and songs. Her passion for singing goes back to her childhood days, when she would listen to Arabic music, and imitate her idols and perform their greatest hits with her mirror for an audience.

Upon finishing high school, she chose a musical academic and career path over college. During that period, she met a number of Saudi musicians across studios who encouraged her to sing in English; after which she began collaborating with several artists on small, underground projects and private concerts. These gigs were so successful that Al-Sharif decided to form her own band, and started to perform at private functions and weddings.

And despite the many challenges usually faced by bands such as Al-Sharif’s in the past, she says that was she lucky to have been spared any real trouble that could have posed a threat on her career. Every now and then, she received criticism for taking up singing for a career, to which she always, unapologetically responded with: “I am not doing anything wrong. I am a singer who inspires souls through love and music. Singing takes me to another world, a bright, beautiful and serene place. When I see people swaying and smiling to my singing, I feel vibrant and alive.”

Numbers speak volumes

In early 2018, the Saudi General Entertainment Authority revealed plans to host an unprecedented number of live functions and events in the Kingdom; 5,000 to be exact, covering everything from live shows, to festivals, to concerts across 56 Saudi cities.

These events would create 224,000 new jobs, the authority officials revealed, among which 114,000 were direct and immediate, and 110,000 were indirect; this, of course, with the prospect of the authority’s budget reaching 267 billion Saudi Riyals invested into building an entertainment infrastructure across the Kingdom.

And proof was in the progress made by the authority since it was first established. In 2016, 52 events held in the Kingdom were attended by over 100,000 visitors. They jumped to over 2,200 events in 2017 that attracted over 8.2 million visitors. The year 2018 holds even more promise with the events that have already been announced, diversifying Saudi entertainment into completely new territory – both within the Kingdom and across entertainment sub-sectors – and bringing to the stage big local and global names.

Women in this article

Saudi singer, and the first female Saudi music artist to obtain an official permit for a public concert
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