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.

 


Speedy and secure, Haramain High Speed Railway enhances Hajj experience

Umrah pilgrims wearing ihram walk at a Haramain High Speed Railway station. (SPA)
Updated 5 sec ago
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Speedy and secure, Haramain High Speed Railway enhances Hajj experience

  • The Haramain High Speed Railway plays a crucial role in the Hajj season’s transportation system
  • Its operational plan incorporates more than 3,800 trips, offering more than 1.6 million seats to serve pilgrims and visitors in Madinah

RIYADH: The Haramain High Speed Railway offers pilgrims and travelers a safe and efficient way to navigate between holy sites.

The Saudi Press Agency recently witnessed the smooth operations at the Madinah station, the punctual arrivals and departures of trains carrying hundreds of pilgrims, Umrah performers, citizens and residents.

The train travels with regularity and is easy to use. At the station, SPA witnessed a streamlined process — travelers verify their reservations, head to the departure hall and board the train. The 13 rail cars offer ample seating. One car is dedicated to food and beverages.

Yahya Al-Sharqawi, from Egypt, expressed satisfaction with the ease and safety of the journey, highlighting the convenience of traveling directly from Jeddah airport to Madinah. He commended the Kingdom’s commitment to facilitating pilgrims’ movement.

Anwar Badr, another Egyptian visitor, was pleased with the many transportation options available, and the ease with which the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque can be reached, and expressed gratitude for the exceptional services provided to pilgrims.

Ali Rajabi, from Iran, echoed these sentiments, praising the comfort and convenience offered by the Haramain High Speed Railway. He said that the project serves pilgrims from all corners of the globe.

The Madinah station caters to travelers’ needs with a variety of amenities. Parking is available below the station, and self-service kiosks handle reservations and ticketing.

Information and assistance offices help to navigate the facilities. Multiple arrival and departure halls ensure smooth passenger flow, with seasonal halls specifically dedicated to serving pilgrims during peak periods.

For added convenience, the station boasts retail outlets selling food and beverages, as well as companies offering housing and car rental services. A permanent health center provides on-site medical care.

The Haramain High Speed Railway plays a crucial role in the Hajj season’s transportation system. Its operational plan incorporates more than 3,800 trips, offering more than 1.6 million seats to serve pilgrims and visitors in Madinah.

This efficient and modern railway system is a testament to Saudi Arabia’s dedication to ensuring a smooth and fulfilling Hajj experience for all, SPA reported.


Saudi Arabia showcases geospatial innovation at Ghana forum

Updated 18 min 38 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia showcases geospatial innovation at Ghana forum

  • The conference highlights the significance of investing in technologies, artificial intelligence, and innovation in surveying and geospatial activities

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information is participating in the annual Conference of the International Federation of Surveyors in Accra, Ghana, from May 19-24.

The conference highlights the significance of investing in technologies, artificial intelligence, and innovation in surveying and geospatial activities, aiming for a flexible environment and sustainable management of natural resources.

Attendees will exchange expertise and learn best practices in the field.

The Saudi authority delivered a technical presentation, “Surveying and Geospatial Information in Saudi Arabia: Past, Present, and Future Aspirations,” during the event, attended by FIG President Diane Dumashie, vice presidents and experts.

Saudi ambassador to Ghana and Togo, Sultan Al-Dakhil, visited the authority’s booth, appreciating its efforts to strengthen partnerships with international organizations.

With more than 1,500 participants from 80 countries, the conference facilitates international collaborations among government bodies, the private sector, academia, and global expertise centers through 70 scientific sessions.


Saudi fund boosts film financing at Cannes festival

Updated 56 min 37 sec ago
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Saudi fund boosts film financing at Cannes festival

RIYADH: The Cultural Development Fund, a vital financial engine for Saudi Arabia’s culture sector, along with partners from the Kingdom’s film industry, are presenting film financing and investment opportunities at the 77th annual Cannes International Film Festival, held from May 14 to 25.

The fund is present at the festival for the third year, in line with its mission of nurturing the domestic film scene and strengthening its role as a key enabler of cultural growth.

The fund highlights its Film Sector Financing Program at the Saudi pavilion, led by the Film Commission. The program offers comprehensive financial packages that support the entire filmmaking process, from creation and production to distribution, for both local and foreign companies working on film and TV series in Saudi Arabia.

It also provides an opportunity for companies and investment funds to participate in the Kingdom’s film industry and contribute to its development.

Its participation in the Cannes event aligns with its continuous efforts to attract filmmakers and investment.

The fund aims to be a leader in the Saudi film industry and collaborates with other stakeholders to build a sustainable film sector that contributes to the national gross domestic product.

Established under the National Development Fund in 2021, the fund aims to invigorate Saudi Arabia’s cultural scene. By supporting a range of cultural endeavors and facilitating investment, the fund fosters a thriving domestic cultural sector, aligning with the National Culture Strategy and Saudi Vision 2030.


Madinah hosts Hajj permit awareness exhibition

Updated 22 May 2024
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Madinah hosts Hajj permit awareness exhibition

  • The event will explain how artificial intelligence is used to manage the Hajj crowds

RIYADH: “No Hajj Without a Permit” is the title of a mobile exhibition being held in Madinah until May 25 to raise awareness about safe and secure Hajj practices.

Organized by the Ministry of Interior, the event will explain how artificial intelligence is used to manage the Hajj crowds. Visitors will also learn about the Makkah Route Initiative, part of the broader Pilgrim Experience Program under Saudi Vision 2030.

As well as highlighting the ministry’s efforts to ensure the security and safety of visitors to the Two Holy Mosques, it explains emergency reporting procedures through the unified security operations centers (911) and the services offered on the Absher electronic platform.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority continues to collaborate with government agencies on the Makkah Route Initiative, implementing the scheme at 11 airports in seven countries.

At Jakarta International Airport in Indonesia, for example, SDAIA uses advanced technical systems and infrastructure in the pilgrim hall to simplify the Hajj experience.

The setup includes 12 interconnected workstations equipped with state-of-the-art technologies that integrate with SDAIA’s National Information Center systems, expediting pilgrims’ procedures. Technical support is provided 24/7 by a team of engineers, reflecting SDAIA’s commitment to leveraging AI, innovation and digital transformation to deliver exceptional service.


From Paris to Riyadh: ‘Perfumes of the East’ showcases Arab heritage

Updated 22 May 2024
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From Paris to Riyadh: ‘Perfumes of the East’ showcases Arab heritage

  • Exhibition highlights cultural significance and art of perfume-making

RIYADH: The “Perfumes of the East” exhibition has made its first international stop in Riyadh. 

It is a collaboration between the Saudi National Museum and the Ministry of Culture in partnership with the Arab World Institute in Paris.

The exhibition, which will continue until Sept. 14 at the museum, provides its guests with a journey through the richness of the Arab world’s perfumes, showcasing the fragrances and scents of the East, the cultural traditions that have influenced perfumes and their significant social role in Saudi culture.

The French ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ludovic Pouille, and Christophe Farnaud, the EU ambassador, were among the attendees at the opening ceremony, along with other delegates from the Arab World Institute, leaders from the Ministry of Culture and the Museums Commission, and artists from the Kingdom, the Arab world and France.

The French ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ludovic Pouille, during the exhibition. (AN/Loai Elkelawy)

“Perfumes of the East is an amazing exhibition, which was brought from Paris to Riyadh,” Pouille said. “It was presented first at the Arab World Institute in Paris, and it was a great success ... so many people visited it.

“It is amazing because you mix history and also artworks. You have artists who have been part of this exhibition, and this is the beauty of it. It is not just the history of perfumes in the Middle East, it is more than that.

“I am amazed by the jasmine dress by a young Saudi artist, who was also there in Paris, and of course, you can smell jasmine, but it is more than that. It is about heritage, the Saudi traditions, and I am fond of it,” the French envoy said.

The exhibition highlighted the cultural and historical importance of perfume in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, providing insight into its origins in the Arabian peninsula, an important trading hub through which aromatic plants and spices were distributed among ancient societies.

“A distinguished exhibition that revives an authentic national heritage in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Dalia Seoudy, one of the guests at the museum. “It presents fragrant knowledge and surrounds one of the most important elements of intangible Saudi heritage, a journey between the roses of Taif and the jasmine of the southern region. This museum reminded me of perfumes in Paris, but it is very authentic, creative and beautiful.”

Christophe Farnaud, the European Union Ambassador at Perfumes of the East exhibition in Riyadh. (AN/Loai Elkelawy)

The exhibition has been designed to create a balance of olfactory and visual experiences for visitors, with scent-releasing devices carefully placed and handpicked for the exhibition by internationally acclaimed perfume designer Christopher Sheldrake.

More than 200 artifacts and artworks, both ancient and contemporary, are on display, weaving a narrative of the enduring relationship between the Arab world and perfume.

The exhibition unfolds through distinct spaces — from the raw beauty of nature to bustling town streets and the setting of a private home. This trajectory enables visitors to experience the evolution of perfume-making through a blend of historical treasures and modern artistic expressions.

This exhibition aligns with the National Museum’s commitment to celebrating Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage and the enduring legacy of Arab and Islamic civilization.

It offers a multi-faceted educational and cultural experience, enriched by accompanying workshops and seminars that delve into the composition of perfumes, the intricate process of their creation, and the artistic design of perfume packaging.