The KSA’s new Ministry of Culture is big news for Saudi female musicians
Saudi Arabia’s reformative push on women’s state of affairs is broadening their career prospects and competitive edge across sectors. This is partly because the Kingdom’s bid to diversify its economy is creating entirely new industries, and restarting some that had been stunted over the years.
The setup of an independent Ministry of Culture was its latest move in this direction, and it holds a lot of promise for the country’s cultural and artistic revamp – and naturally, for women’s role in it, particularly in the music space.
Once challenged by a rather restrictive environment, the Kingdom’s music and arts space now operates in a far more flex and encouraging setting for Saudi’s female musicians to widen their reach and broaden their ambitions to the global stage.
A matter of perception
Oud player and teacher Ghala Al-Dossari is one of Saudi Arabia’s most passionate female musicians; she not only learned to play and master Oud, but also, opened her home for other Saudi women aged between 15 and 50 years old who wanted to follow in her footsteps. Often perceived as an instrument best handled by her male counterparts – across the region as much as in the Kingdom – Al-Dossari’s mission is to change the Saudi society’s perception around Oud female players.
Al-Dossari regularly performed at Saudi women’s cultural forums and saloons, often playing oriental classics by Umm Kulthum and Fairuz. And she pursued her passion with the full support of her family. It was back in 2012 that Al-Dossari began her Oud theory studies. She would later start performing her own compositions on a number of occasions, and eventually, win over the Saudi Oud and music audience, away from traditional gender biases and perceptions.
Al-Dossari worked equally hard on her vocal cords to perfect her musical performances, training on Arabic Maqam – the range of melodic modes behind traditional Arabic music – by thoroughly studying the crafts of Arab musical legends like Umm Kulthum and Mohammed Abulwahab.
She would later turn her Riyadh home into a music school and part studio that graduated 50 passionate female music students. And despite the Kingdom’s stringent conditions on the local music industry and scene, Al-Dossari says she received no objections from any governmental entities on her project, but rather, operates it under the licensing and blessing of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority.
She’s set out for her art to reach international stardom and, through her own achievements, to see to that “Saudi women are strong and capable of achieving the impossible”.
A family affair
Saudi piano artist Rawan Mohamed is another musical artist to have grown both her artistic influence and fan base through her own platform and particularly, her social media accounts. Also with the support of her family, Mohamed embarked on her musical journey at a tender age. Mohamed’s father, a composer and musician, discovered and polished her talent from a very early age, ensuring that she received the education and expertise to match.
Today, Mohamed teaches music for children, and composes music. With their backing, she also formed a music band with several members of her family, teaching them the piano and other instruments herself. Ultimately, Mohamed’s ambition is to modernize and elevate music education and teaching methodologies.
Currently, Mohamed spends her time in the recording studio, working on musical compositions fusing Eastern with Western Culture. Her dream is to set up a musical arts institute covering all genres, and bringing together all music aficionados both within and outside the Kingdom.
Joining Mohamed, Nadia Dandashi, another Saudi female pianist and passionate musician, earned a number of international accolades in recognition of her art.
Dandashi started learned the piano in her childhood years, growing her talent with the attention and support of her parents. Her musical passion would not disrupt her academic path, as she later pursued – and excelled in – medical studies at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.
Dandashi has also performed a number of musical pieces and compositions both within and outside of the Kingdom; among which were her performance at Jeddah’s TEDxWomen inspirational platform and forum in 2011, and at the city’s Fendi branch opening in 2012.
Twenty four year-old Dandashi had previously won first prize at Princess Mariam’s International Piano Competition in Morocco in 2006 and, that same year, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) Prize. Her hope is that the Kingdom extends to Saudi talents the focus and support they need to polish their skills, and to strongly represent the country at international competitions and events.
She is currently working on the release of her first musical album. Dandashi’s YouTube channel counts a rather large base of 25,000 subscribers, her musical pieces having clocked up over 1.5 million views by March 2018.
Joining the league of rising music stars in the Kingdom, Saudi violinist Jihad bint Abdullah grew her talent and pursued her musical arts studies at Egypt’s Cairo Conservatoire (the Higher Institute for Music Conservatoire) for 18 years. Recently, she performed at Cairo’s International Book Fair.
Jihad bint Abdullah started learning music at the ripe age of eight, with the guidance of an equally artistic and passionate mother, until her graduation from The Higher Institute for Music. She hopes that many Saudi women will build on the momentum of the Kingdom’s women’s rights reforms, and join her in the pursuit of creative ambitions across sectors.
The entertainment momentum
On the heels of the announcement that cinemas would be legally allowed to re-open and operate across Saudi cities after decades of an enduring ban, Saudi Arabia’s arts scene saw a slew of developments across sectors; the first of which was the return of concerts featuring the largest musicians and artists in the Arab world and beyond.
Recently, Saudi Arabia was reported to see the launch of its first Opera house in the near future, eventually opening doors for Saudi female musicians to showcase and share their work before large audiences both in and outside of the Kingdom.
In tandem, the Saudi General Entertainment Authority announced, in the past year, its preparations to host 5,000 entertainment events across categories, from live shows, to carnivals, to concerts, which will be held across 56 cities in the Saudi territory.
The Ministry of Culture
On June 2, King Salman bin Abdulaziz issued a royal decree for the official setup of a separate Ministry of Culture – once clubbed under the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information – and the appointment of Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud as its minister.
The new ministry’s remit covers five fields: literature, fine arts, theater, music and cinema. Its independence from the Ministry of Information is a commitment as it is a statement to empower specialized, and particularly female talents at the forefront of the Kingdom’s sociocultural movement and transformation.