Swifties in Saudi Arabia gather for listening party

Musicians Zamzam and Naif Hashem, who hosted the Taylor Swift listening party, engaged in dialogue with everyone in the room between songs from the new album. (AN photos)
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Updated 21 April 2024
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Swifties in Saudi Arabia gather for listening party

  • Fans of the American pop icon are diving deep into ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ double album

ALKHOBAR: Overlooking the city of Alkhobar, with colorful neon lights shimmering in the night sky, Swifties of the Eastern Province came together to listen to Taylor Swift’s anticipated double album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” on the night of its release.

At the very same time the album started playing in Alkhobar’s Trip Lounge, Riyadh hosted its own listening party at Level Up and Jeddah’s Swifties tuned in from Makan.

It was a full house with almost every seat occupied in Trip Lounge. Musicians Zamzam and Naif Hashem, who hosted the event, engaged in dialogue with everyone in the room between songs. Only two of the attendees admitted to listening to the album before coming, but still expressed surprise with others when lyrics began to spill from the speakers.




Musicians Zamzam and Naif Hashem, who hosted the Taylor Swift listening party, engaged in dialogue with everyone in the room between songs from the new album. (AN photo)

Zamzam and Hashem, each of whom have demanding day jobs, separately release music. Zamzam, who often performs locally at places such as Bohemia, is the lead singer of the indie/folk band also called Zamzam, and Hashem, a dentist, just released a new song, “The Great Divide,” earlier this month.

Both hosts avoided listening to the album, which had been released earlier in the day, before hosting the Taylor Swift Nights experience. They self-identify as Swifties, as fans of the singer are known, and have combed through Swift’s discography with the attentiveness of a fellow musician.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Riyadh hosted its own listening party for Taylor Swift’s new album ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ at Level Up and Jeddah’s Swifties tuned in from Makan.

• The album’s title has been influenced by the cult classic 1989 film ‘Dead Poets Society.’

• Alkhobar Swifties’ unanimous favorite of the night seemed to be ‘Florida!!!’ which featured Florence & The Machine.

They were the ideal guides to fill the gaps between songs.

“We’re here to listen to Taylor’s new double album because there’s a community here that really likes to listen to things together. We’ve done this before and it was successful, and we’ve been planning this since the album was announced; it’s so much nicer of an experience to have people gasp, yell and cry with you,” Zamzam told Arab News.




Since its release on Friday, the album quickly climbed the charts and became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history. (AN photo)

Swift’s latest release is a chaotic but self-aware collection of 31 songs which all sound like signature Swift, while still offering a new sonic collage of stories made of playful, petty and witty narratives. In almost every song there was a lyric, or a few, which made fans groan or applaud in unison.

Since its release on Friday, the album quickly climbed the charts and became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history.

We’ve been planning this since the album was announced; it’s so much nicer of an experience to have people gasp, yell and cry with you.

Zamzam, Musician

Swift said in an Instagram post announcing the release: “This writer is of the firm belief that our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page. Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it … and then all that’s left behind is the tortured poetry.”

A songwriter since her teens, Swift has always offered a romantic notion to her work, bending across genres, starting with country and experimenting with various styles since. No matter what style she sings in, Swift’s fans consider her a modern poet who combines the soul of the tortured artist with a playful, never-want-to-grow-up Peter Pan millennial attitude.




Since its release on Friday, the album quickly climbed the charts and became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history. (AN photo)

Swift has made a habit of finding poetic ways to revive the voices and stories of people from the past, especially women, such as the “It Girl” of the the Roaring Twenties, Clara Bow, who one of the tracks on the album is named after.

Speculation on the subject of lyrics is a constant pastime for Swifties, who sift through puns and references in her lyrics in search of cryptic meanings. Swift rarely ever confirms who she writes about or why, so it is all open to interpretation.

The album’s title was rumored to have been influenced by the cult classic 1989 film “Dead Poets Society.” The music video for the song “Fortnight” with Post Malone featured cameos by the film’s beloved stars Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles.

“I think Taylor is finally coming into herself … this is my own interpretation of Taylor, but throughout the years, she really likes to reference classic literature and she’d really like to view herself as an American poet,” Zamzam said. “I read one of her speeches (where) she referenced Emily Dickinson as a huge inspiration for her … I think this was her just finally ripping off a band-aid she’s been wanting to rip off for a while, because she tried with ‘Evermore’ and ‘Folklore’ (previous albums) and was just like, ‘You know what? I'm leaning into it’.”

The listening party featured a calm ambience, dimmed lights and seats lined up as if in an intimate concert. Lyrics scrolled down, karaoke-style, on a big screen. Some in the crowd quickly took to the beat and sang along. Some swayed silently.

The crowd’s unanimous favorite of the night seemed to be “Florida!!!” which featured Florence & The Machine.

The double album, which Swift has said took her two years to write, appeared to have strong influences from her previous work.

Zamzam said that hosting the listening party in her hometown was important as it offered a dedicated space for Swifties, many of whom are from the millennial and gen Z generations. It offered Swifties a chance to come together to celebrate their favorite singer and openly discuss her lyrics.

“Hosting Taylor Swift Nights started in 2021 … I didn’t have anything on my mind, didn’t have any expectations or anything. It was just me and my best friend,” Hashem said of the first time they hosted the event several years ago in Jeddah.

“We didn’t have any expectation but we were blown away at how many people showed up! It was like 100 something. I was shocked. And then it was like ‘OK, there (are) die-hard Swifties here in Saudi Arabia.’ I thought I was the only one,” he added.

He connected with Zamzam and the collaborative effort to host an in-person event for Swifties in Alkhobar was born.

“We managed to find Trip Lounge and we hosted our first TS Nights back in August (last year). Having this community is very wholesome. Like Zamzam mentioned before, it’s having a community to experience happiness, grief and all of that. We are going to hand out tissues, just in case someone wants to cry,” he said.

“And we printed a bunch of papers; one paper so they can comment and rate each song, and one where they can write down their predictions for each track. If they got the prediction right, they can cross it out. It’s like bingo. We want to entertain them (attendees). We don’t want them to be bored,” he added.

Sixth grader Ghada Bajaber, the youngest Swiftie in the room, certainly was not bored. She sipped on lemonade in between scribbling fiercely into her Bingo sheet.

“I’m here with my mom — we always listen to Taylor Swift songs, me and my mom. It is what we do together and it’s special for us,” she told Arab News. “I have exams in two days but I still came. I didn’t study, I didn’t do my homework … I just came to memorize Taylor Swift lyrics — not the multiplication table,” Bajaber added.

 


Basking in blessings: Celebrities share their joy ahead of Hajj

Updated 13 June 2024
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Basking in blessings: Celebrities share their joy ahead of Hajj

  • High-profile pilgrims join the millions embarking on the spiritual journey

RIYADH: Every year Muslims from across the world gather in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage, a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual journey for many.

With Hajj beginning on Friday, June 14, pilgrims will congregate in the tent city of Mina, near Makkah.

Among the worshippers will be celebrities taking time out of their busy schedules to connect with their faith.

High-profile figures performing Hajj this year include former Indian professional tennis player and doubles world No. 1 Sania Mirza; UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev; New Zealand heavyweight boxer and former professional rugby player Sonny Bill Williams; Malaysia-based Indian Islamic public orator Zakir Abdul Karim Naik; Pakistani television host and former actress Nida Yasir; and Pakistani actress, film director and producer Reema Khan.

Mirza took to social media to express her hopes and preparations for this “transformative experience,” one of the five pillars of Islam.

In a message on X, she sought “forgiveness for any wrongdoings and shortcomings,” saying that her heart is “filled with gratitude for this chance to seek redemption and spiritual renewal.”

She added: “I pray that Allah accepts my prayers and guides me on this blessed path. I am deeply fortunate and feel immensely grateful. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I embark on this journey of a lifetime. I hope to come back as a better human being with a humble heart and stronger Imaan.”

Mirza will be accompanied by her sister Anam, a fashion curator, entrepreneur and vlogger, and Anam’s Indian cricketer husband Mohammad Asaduddin, son of cricketing legend Mohammad Azharuddin.

Taking to Instagram, Anam wrote: “As I embark on the most significant journey of my life, the pilgrimage to Hajj, I wanted to share a few words with you. This journey is not just a physical one, but a deeply spiritual experience that I’ve been preparing for, both in heart and mind. It’s a time for reflection, repentance, and renewal of faith.”

Makhachev, just days after defeating Dustin Poirier in their UFC title clash, said that he and his family are heading to Makkah to perform Hajj.

Hasib Noor, a scholar with Islamic Relief UK, posted a photo with the fighter on X, writing: “In Madinah — The City of True Humanly Brotherly Love. Allah uses him for the benefit of Islam & Muslims, guides others through him.”

Sonny Bill Williams posted a video message on X with the caption: “I’ve been invited to perform Hajj, Alhamdullilah.”

Williams is only the second person to represent New Zealand in rugby union after first playing for the country in rugby league, and is one of only 43 players to have won the Rugby World Cup twice.

Naik, the founder and president of the Islamic Research Foundation and Peace TV, praised the Hajj arrangements.

In a message posted on X on Tuesday, he said that his family were invited by Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, Saudi Arabia’s Hajj minister.

It added: “Dr. Zakir Naik landed in Jeddah this morning. Alhamdulillaah 3 officials were there to receive him. On entering the VIP lounge he completed immigration & came out of the airport in less than a minute. Never did Dr. Zakir Naik experience such a fast and prompt service in his life & that too during Hajj.”

Pakistani television host Nida Yasir wrote on Instagram as she departed for Saudi Arabia: “Duaon me yaad rakheaga (remember me in prayers). Leaving for Hajj. Kaha suna mauf (Apologies for any wrongdoings).”

Pakistani actress Reema Khan was in Madinah ahead of Hajj.

Sharing a picture of herself on Instagram, she wrote: “Allhumdullilah arrived in Madinah on Friday morning.”


Riyadh doctors working remotely save Jordan pilgrim from stroke in Madinah

Updated 13 June 2024
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Riyadh doctors working remotely save Jordan pilgrim from stroke in Madinah

  • The pilgrim, who has a history of chronic illness, was treated at the Madinah General Hospital

RIYADH: Doctors working remotely from Riyadh helped a 72-year-old Jordanian pilgrim in Madinah survive a stroke this week, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

The medical team specializing in telestroke medicine is affiliated with the Seha Virtual Hospital in Riyadh, the SPA reported.

The pilgrim, who has a history of chronic illness, was treated at the Madinah General Hospital.

In a joint effort, doctors from the Ministry of Health, the Seha Virtual Hospital, and the Madinah General Hospital located a brain clot and performed a cerebral catheterization procedure.

The pilgrim is recovering, the SPA said.

A total of 5,466 volunteers, in over 16 locations in Madinah and Makkah, are helping with first aid and emergency care for Hajj pilgrims this year.


Elderly Malaysian pilgrim fulfils decades-long Hajj dream

For years, Safwan applied for Hajj believing the opportunity would coincide with his retirement plans. (SPA)
Updated 13 June 2024
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Elderly Malaysian pilgrim fulfils decades-long Hajj dream

JEDDAH: Malaysian pilgrim Mohammed Safwan, 66, is finally achieving a decades-long dream of performing Hajj.

Hailing from Johor in the south of the country, Safwan worked as an aviation safety technician for Malaysia Airlines, but after retirement had little savings because he had continued to support his family.

When Malaysia’s government approved Safwan’s Hajj request, his children collected $26,000 so that he could fulfil his dream. 

“Nothing compares to the unity and strength of a family, and no joy can match the elation of realizing a dream cherished by the closest of people,” Safwan told the Saudi Press Agency on Wednesday.


Awareness campaign on animal sacrifice launched in Madinah ahead of Eid Al-Adha

Updated 13 June 2024
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Awareness campaign on animal sacrifice launched in Madinah ahead of Eid Al-Adha

  • The campaign is a project of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture's Department of Animal Wealth

RIYADH: A campaign on how to choose the proper animals for sacrifice and ensure that it is free of diseases has been launched in Madinah province ahead of Eid Al-Adha. 

Dubbed "My Sacrifice,” the awareness campaign is a project of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture's Department of Animal Wealth, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

"The campaign, which is supervised by a number of specialists and veterinarians, shows the most important and sound methods for preserving meat and keeping it safe from poisoning," SPA said.

MEWA's awareness campaign on animal sacrifice include field visits and tours to livestock markets and an exhibition in one of the commercial complexes in the region. (SPA)

The activities include field visits and tours to livestock markets "to guide beneficiaries on the most important health requirements that must be met by the sacrifice," it added.

Experts will explain how to choose good sacrificial animals, particularly the age.

An awareness-raising exhibition will also be held in one of the commercial complexes in the region, and a children’s studio, the report said.

Eid Al-Adha this year falls on June 16. 

 

 


Saudi minister inspects National Guard Hajj preparedness

Updated 13 June 2024
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Saudi minister inspects National Guard Hajj preparedness

MAKKAH: Prince Abdullah bin Bandar, the minister of the National Guard, inspected the readiness of ministry forces for the Hajj season, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

This inspection is part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to ensure the security of the Hajj, following the directions of the country’s leadership.

During his visit to Makkah’s Al-Shara’i district, Prince Abdullah watched a detailed military parade under the theme of “Ease and Reassurance.”

The parade demonstrated the preparedness and abilities of the ministry’s forces responsible for keeping pilgrims safe during their journey.

Lieutenant General Mohammad bin Abdullah Al-Bassami listens to a briefing. (SPA)

Separately, Lieutenant General Mohammad bin Abdullah Al-Bassami, the director of Public Security and Chairman of the Hajj Security Committee, inspected the security forces, and the military support authorities participating in serving the pilgrims at the holy sites.

Al-Bassami confirmed that his organization has prepared the required security and organizational plans, which aim to ensure the security, safety and comfort of the pilgrims.

He stressed that the security forces will respond firmly and forcefully to thwart any action that might affect the safety of the pilgrims or whatever hampers facilitating their rituals.