The organisers of the first music festival in the country with international artistes, the 40,000-capacity Jeddah World Fest (JWF), are looking to extend it to a multi-day event next year.
The inaugural JWF took place on 18 July in the grounds of the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in the capital, Jeddah, and featured artistes such as Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, Chris Brown, Liam Payne and Steve Aoki.
Nicki Minaj had been booked to co-headline the event, but pulled-out citing her concern at the kingdom’s human rights record, following social media pressure.
Funded by the City of Jeddah, JWF was promoted, produced and booked by Ireland-based ROQU Media International, which filmed the event as a 60-minute TV package for worldwide broadcast. Ticketing was handled by local government-owned platform Sharek.
ROQU CEO Robert Quirke tells Audience his company is contracted to deliver the event annually for the next three years and, following the success of the first edition, it is looking to expand it to a two or three-day event next year.
“There were no [government] restrictions and the audience was a normal mix of 18-year-old kids coming together to have a great time,” says Quirke. “When my crew came to Jeddah they were petrified, but they soon realised it was like anywhere else in the world.
“We had 600 people working on the project, it was very relaxed, and we all came away proud that we had produced something really special.”
Quirke notes that Jeddah is one of the more liberal Saudi cities and there were no restrictions on women attending the event, and they were not required to wear traditional head scarves.
ROQU hired London-based The Manual to oversee the production, with Production Technology (Protec) delivering audio, lights and rigging.
“The show looked and sounded incredible,” says Protec project manager Luke Doyle. “The stage structure was the largest ever seen in the Middle East. This type of event had never been done to this scale in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
The event followed Vision 2030, a government development programme announced by Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016, that aims to diversify the country’s economy away from oil and open-up the kingdom as an entertainment destination.
As part of Vision 2030, the General Entertainment Authority was created to take responsibly for the nation’s entertainment sector. Its mandate includes providing an international-standard entertainment offering that is “accessible to all segments of society inclusive of citizens and expats, and accessible by different income levels”.
A number of rules have been relaxed in in the country recently. Last year cinemas were opened for the first time in 40 years, and women were permitted to attend sports events, and to drive a car.
Artistes to have performed in Saudi Arabia in recent months include Backstreet Boys, Jason Derulo, Marshmello and David Guetta.