Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia

Debbi Francisco and Sean Fernandes of Juniper's Club. (Yousif Al-Sahhaf)
Short Url
Updated 13 June 2024

Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia

  • The Bahrain-based indie outfit have built a fanbase in the Kingdom over the past two years and make their Riyadh debut later this month

ALKHOBAR: “It’s just across the border, but it’s a whole different world, right?” Debbi Francisco, the Filipino frontwoman of Bahrain-based band Juniper’s Club, told Arab News ahead of her group’s show at Alkhobar’s Bohemia Cafe & Records in early June.  

“The Saudi energy is different. While playing, I have the habit of always looking down. And then I look up and I’m like, ‘Wow, they’re actually staring at me.’ The Saudi fans really focus on you,” Francisco’s Indian bandmate, guitarist Sean Fernandes, added with a smile. 

Since the pair formed Juniper’s Club two years ago, they have performed many live shows in Saudi, all in Alkhobar. They love their mini tradition of driving across the King Fahd Causeway to perform. For their gigs, they are joined by John Goodwin on drums and Ryan James on bass.  

Francisco and Fernandes, both in their 20s, met in 2019, when they were both music instructors. “We realized we had a lot of things in common, musically,” Francisco said. “And we actually started a bunch of projects together, but, eventually, we were, like, ‘Yo. Why don’t we just do something with just the two of us?’” 


A post shared by Morbid (@morbidclicks)

Their music seamlessly transitions from cutesy indie-pop to full-on rage-rock — but remains danceable, relatable, and sonically cohesive. Fernandes cites Coldplay as a major influence on his guitar playing and mentions Blink 182 and The Beatles as early favorites.  

“I actually started playing music very late. I didn’t play anything until I was 18,” he said. “My brother left his guitars behind when he went to college to pursue sound engineering. I had no siblings around, so I had a lot of free time. I picked up the guitar, and here I am.” 

Francisco, meanwhile, was brought up on gospel music. “That was my main reason for going to church as a kid, I would just watch musicians play,” she said. “I learned by watching people play live. I was also big on the Jonas Brothers — then I grew out of that and into Paramore. I started playing drums because of Paramore. I wanted to learn all their songs.” 

Growing up in Bahrain, neither of them ever ventured into Saudi Arabia. 

“Saudi was like a neighbor you’ve been wanting to say hi to for a long time, but you were a bit shy and they were a bit shy. And then one day they invite you to dinner,” Francisco said. “Now, we’re breaking bread and rocking out! Honestly, it’s such an honor to play in Saudi. Less than 10 years ago that wasn’t in the picture at all. It was almost impossible.” 

They’re now building a solid following in the Kingdom with their mix of indie-pop and alternative rock, featuring haunting, sometimes angsty, lyrics with melodic hooks. Live, their music is considerably heavier than on recordings.  

“We always try to make our shows as energetic and fun as possible,” Francisco said. “We want the crowd to have as much fun as we are. At its core, Juniper’s Club is just me and Sean, but it’s evolved into something else live; it becomes a Juniper’s Club club.” 

On June 28, Juniper’s Club will make their Riyadh debut at The Warehouse in the JAX District. 

“We also have an EP coming out, hopefully by the end of June,” Francisco said. “We’re going to introduce some of those new songs live. We’ve really revamped our setlist, so it might get a bit crazier than usual. It’s going to get loud.” 

The vanishing roadside book stalls of Rawalpindi

Updated 24 July 2024

The vanishing roadside book stalls of Rawalpindi

  • Roadside book bazaar along Rawalpindi’s main Saddar market came up in the eighties, thrived until at least 2010
  • Rise of e-books has changed reading habits, economic factors and urban development have also impacted bazaars

RAWALPINDI: For Kishwar Naheed, one of Pakistan’s greatest living Urdu poets and writers, visiting the hundreds of book stalls stretched along Rawalpindi’s main Saddar market was once a usual Sunday morning activity. 
But as the stalls have dwindled and book hawkers have disappeared, Naheed and others like her have been left only with the memories and a deep sense of loss over a disappearing literary culture and what was once the center of Rawalpindi’s intellectual life.
“Every Sunday morning, Zahid Dar [Urdu poet], Intizar [Hussain] Saab [novelist], myself, all my writer friends, we used to go there [Rawalpindi book bazaar] and try to pick up books,” Naheed told Arab News in an interview this week. “It was a craze for books.”
Rawalpindi’s open-air book stalls came up in the eighties and thrived until at least 2010 when the downfall slowly began, said Fareed-ul-Haq, a 69-year-old book stall owner. 
“I’ve been selling books in this market for 25 years and this roadside book bazaar has been around for 50 years,” he told Arab News, saying people used to travel from other cities to visit the stalls, browsing for hours and often arriving with handwritten notes of titles they wanted. 
“I have seen the high point of this market when the condition was such that it was so crowded it was difficult to walk here. Now people bring their books and it turns out they are their grandparents’ books and the grandson wants to sell them because he doesn’t value books.”
The roadside stalls offer a wide variety of new and old books: antique volumes, school books, historical works, fiction in different languages and all kinds of magazines. 
But the rise of digital media and online bookstores has impacted the viability of book bazaars, sellers and customers said, with smartphones and social media causing a shift worldwide in how people consume information and read.
“We live in an era of social media, online and virtual books and many people don’t prefer reading physical books anymore,” Noaman Sami, a media sciences student at Rawalpindi’s Riphah International University, told Arab News.
Economic factors are also behind the decline in book bazaars, according to Muhammad Hameed Shahid, a Pakistani short story writer, novelist and literary critic.
Rising rents, inflation and the increasing cost of living had made it difficult for many booksellers to sustain their businesses, while customers had less money to spend on luxuries like books. Urban development projects have also displacd book bazaars as the literary corners are repurposed for commercial or residential development.
“Ordinary people often can’t afford expensive books, but at these roadside book stalls, you would find treasures,” Shahid said. “There’s a wide variety of books available, and these vendors sitting on our footpaths deserve support so that through them the flame of knowledge stays alive and books continue to reach our children.”
The bazaar, the writer said, had been a major player in his own literary journey:
“These vendors who used to be sitting on the footpaths with books spread around them, those books, covering all sorts of topics, they played a vital role in my career, they inspired me to become a writer.”
Future generations in Rawalpindi won’t get to experience this, Haq, the bookseller, lamented. 
“I’ve seen this market crowded with people,” he said as he sat alone at his stall on a Sunday morning this month, waiting for customers. “But now, it’s nearly empty.”

Azimuth music festival returning to AlUla

Updated 23 July 2024

Azimuth music festival returning to AlUla

  • Popular musical extravaganza will return for its fourth edition from Sept. 19-21 ahead of Saudi National Day on Sept. 23
  • Features a diverse lineup of local, regional and international artists, set against AlUla’s stunning landscapes, blending music, art and culture

JEDDAH: The Azimuth music festival is returning to AlUla as the city’s Moments calendar goes into full swing.

The popular musical extravaganza will return for its fourth edition from Sept. 19-21 ahead of Saudi National Day on Sept. 23. The 2024 theme is “Until the Sun Comes Up.”

Azimuth has become a key event in the regional music scene, attracting loyal fans.

It features a diverse lineup of local, regional and international artists, set against AlUla’s stunning landscapes, blending music, art and culture.

This year’s performances will take place under the grand Qa’a Al-Haj.

Renowned artists like Ben Bohmer, James Blake, The Blaze, Cosmicat and Ghostly Kisses have been announced, with more to come. Past headliners include Jason Derulo, The Chainsmokers, Tinie Tempah, The Kooks, Jorja Smith, Peggy Gou and Thievery Corporation.

Azimuth launched in 2020, followed by editions in 2022 and 2023.

The AlUla Moments calendar also features five festivals covering art, culture, music, nature, wellness, equestrianism, dining and astronomy.

Early Bird tickets are available until Aug. 14, starting from SR760 ($202). For details and purchases, visit

Movies backed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Foundation to feature at Venice Film Festival

Updated 23 July 2024

Movies backed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Foundation to feature at Venice Film Festival

  • International jury led by acclaimed French actor Isabelle Huppert

DUBAI: Two films backed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Foundation are to be screened at the upcoming 81st edition of the Venice Film Festival.

Tunisian director Mehdi M. Barsaoui’s “Aicha,” which was supported by the Red Sea Fund and the Red Sea Souk, will feature in the competitive Orizzonti section, which highlights international films that represent the latest aesthetic and expressive trends.

“Aicha” is Barsaoui’s second feature following his award-winning drama “A Son.” The film’s plot revolves around a young woman living in a backwater in southern Tunisia who attempts to build a new life in Tunis after she is reported as having died in a tragic bus crash.

Egyptian filmmaker Khaled Mansour’s “Seeking Haven For Mr. Rambo,” which was part of the Red Sea Lodge development program in 2021 and supported by the Red Sea Fund, will have its world premiere in the Orizzonti Extra section of the festival, which highlights young talent in international cinema.

The film follows a young man as he confronts the fears of his past and embarks on a journey to save his dog and best friend from an unknown fate.

Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice” — starring Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Justin Theroux, Monica Bellucci, Jenna Ortega, and Willem Dafoe — is the out-of-competition opener at the event.

This year’s international jury will be led by acclaimed French actor Isabelle Huppert, and includes James Gray (“Ad Astra”), Andrew Haigh (“All of Us Strangers”), Agnieszka Holland (“Green Border”), Kleber Mendonca Filho (“Bacurau”), Abderrahmane Sissako (“Bamako”), Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”), Julia von Heinz (“Treasure”), and Zhang Ziyi (“Memoirs of a Geisha”).

Gigi Hadid stuns at ‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ NYC premiere

Updated 23 July 2024

Gigi Hadid stuns at ‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ NYC premiere

  • Ensemble from Miu Miu’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection
  • Hadid posed on the red carpet alongside friend Blake Lively

DUBAI: US-Dutch-Palestinian model Gigi Hadid turned heads at the “Deadpool & Wolverine” premiere in New York City this week wearing an ensemble from Miu Miu’s Spring/Summer 2024 Ready-to-Wear collection.

The outfit featured a yellow bandeau top that was paired with a matching mustard yellow skirt in a knee-length cut and flowing silhouette. Hadid’s look was accessorized with a brown belt, black strappy heels and a yellow handbag.

Her jewelry included large gold hoop earrings and a statement gold chain necklace. She wore several chunky bangles in brown and gold, and a glitzy diamond anklet on her left ankle.

Hadid posed on the red carpet alongside her friend Blake Lively. (AFP)

Her blonde bob was styled sleek and smooth, with her bangs shaped into a bouncy, old Hollywood-inspired swoop.

Hadid posed on the red carpet alongside her friend Blake Lively, who was there to support her husband, Ryan Reynolds, who stars as Deadpool in the film.

Lively donned a striking off-the-shoulder jumpsuit from Atelier Versace. The outfit was crafted from a deep red, satin-like material and featured intricate black lace detailing throughout.

Lively accessorized the look with statement earrings and several rings. Her hair was styled in a sleek high ponytail, completing the ensemble.

Both Hadid and Lively continued their fashionable night with new outfits for the film’s after-party.

Both Hadid and Lively continued their fashionable night with new outfits for the film’s after-party. (Getty Images)

Hadid opted for a vibrant yellow trench coat made from a glossy, vinyl-like material from LaQuan Smith. The coat featured a classic trench silhouette with a wide lapel, belted waist and flared hem that fell just below the knees.

Meanwhile, Lively wore a head-turning Balmain minidress with a red and blue color scheme. The off-the-shoulder ensemble was adorned with large, three-dimensional red roses along the neckline and hemline.

The upcoming superhero film “Deadpool & Wolverine” is based on Marvel Comics characters. In addition to Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, the film features Hugh Jackman reprising his role as Wolverine.

The plot centers on Deadpool teaming up with a recovering Wolverine to face a common enemy. The film delves into the dynamic between the two characters, exploring their regrets and quarreling relationship.

The film is directed by Shawn Levy and is set to release in Saudi Arabia on July 25.

REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

Updated 23 July 2024

REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

NEW DELHI: Getting lost in a good story is an occupational hazard and a crime in “The Book Censor’s Library,” a dystopian political satire with elements of magic realism. The story follows an unnamed narrator whose life unravels after he reluctantly begins working for an all-powerful government.

With a spellbinding and smooth translation from Arabic by Ranya Abdelrahman and Sawad Hussain, Kuwaiti literary icon Bouthayna Al-Essa’s novel warns against the loss of originality and personal freedoms in its depiction of the transformation of a man into a reader and his inevitable fall down the rabbit hole of books and imagination.

Set in the near future “in a place that would be pointless to name, since it resembles every other place,” the novel follows the book censor in the New World as he combs through manuscripts, looking for any offending word or idea that would render a book unfit to publish.He is a “guardian of surfaces,” and his task is to ensure that books that carry depth and ideas should be identified and removed from the shelves because “one curious person who picked up a volume and read a few lines could poison the entire society.”

In a swift turn of events, the protagonist himself is swept away by classics like “Zorba the Greek,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “1984,” his dreams and waking hours engulfed in the siren song of good storytelling.

As the world around him slowly regains color, he falls into the throes of an existential crisis, torn between doing his duty as a simple cog in the machine and the secret society of “Cancers” attempting to restore books to their former glory and preserve the collective memory of humanity.

Drawing from the power of timeless stories, El-Essa’s Orwellian tale delves into the terrifying heart of darkness to remind us that “cancer cells are the only ones that thrive in a dying body.”