Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel

This photo posted on X by the Palestine Action movement shows a branch of Barclays in London that had been vandalized apparently by activists protesting the bank's investments in Israel's weapons trade. (X: @Pal_action)
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Updated 15 June 2024
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Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel

  • Mass boycott of acts leads to suspension of relationship between bank, event organizer Live Nation
  • Move comes as protesters target Barclays bank branches across Britain

LONDON: Barclays and Live Nation have suspended a sponsorship agreement for the events group’s festivals for 2024 after a number of artists announced they would be boycotting them over the bank’s involvement.

Download, Latitude, and the Isle of Wight festivals are among those worst affected by the boycotts, with acts and fans critical of Barclays’ business relationships with companies supplying arms to Israel.

Comedians Joanne McNally, Sophie Duker, Grace Campbell and Alexandra Haddow said they would not be attending Latitude, as well as musical acts CMAT, Pillow Queens, Mui Zyu and Georgia Ruth.

The bands Pest Control, Ithaca, Scowl, Speed and Zulu all confirmed they would pull out of Download.

It follows a mass boycotting by more than 100 acts of the Barclaycard-sponsored Great Escape festival in Brighton in May.

“Following discussion with artists, we have agreed with Barclays that they will step back from sponsorship of our festivals,” a Live Nation spokesperson said.

It came after activists targeted Barclays earlier in the week, with the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign demanding a boycott over the bank’s “complicity in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.”

PSC also claimed that Barclays “now holds over £2 billion ($2.536 billion) in shares, and provides £6.1 billion in loans and underwriting” to companies selling weapons to Israel.

The group Palestine Action targeted 20 bank branches with paint and rocks earlier this week, while the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has labeled it a “divestment and exclusion” target.

A spokesperson for the bank said in a statement: “Barclays was asked and has agreed to suspend participation in the remaining Live Nation festivals in 2024. 
“Barclays customers who hold tickets to these festivals are not affected and their tickets remain valid.

“The protesters’ agenda is to have Barclays debank defence companies which is a sector we remain committed to as an essential part of keeping this country and our allies safe.”

The protest group Bands Boycott Barclays said in a statement: “This is a victory for the Palestinian-led global BDS movement. As musicians, we were horrified that our music festivals were partnered with Barclays, who are complicit in the genocide in Gaza through investment, loans and underwriting of arms companies supplying the Israeli military. “Hundreds of artists have taken action this summer to make it clear that this is morally reprehensible, and we are glad we have been heard.

“Our demand to Barclays is simple: divest from the genocide, or face further boycotts. Boycotting Barclays, also Europe’s primary funder of fossil fuels, is the minimum we can do to call for change.”

Leeds-based band Pest Control said in a statement: “We cannot sacrifice the principles held by this band and by the scene we come from and represent, just for personal gain.”

Ithaca said in a statement: “Once we were made aware of Barclays’ involvement in Download we knew we could no longer participate. This moment of solidarity is an opportunity for festival organisers to reflect carefully on who they take money from and see that the younger generation of bands will no longer be silent.”

Comedian McNally wrote in an Instagram post last week: “I’m getting messages today about me performing at Latitude when it’s being sponsored by Barclays.

“I’m no longer doing Latitude. I was due to close the comedy tent on the Sunday night, but I pulled out last week.”

Fellow comedian Duker said in a statement: “I am committed to minimising my complicity in what I consider to be a pattern of abhorrent, unlawful violence.”

On its website, Barclays said: “We have been asked why we invest in nine defence companies supplying Israel, but this mistakes what we do.

“We trade in shares of listed companies in response to client instruction or demand and that may result in us holding shares. 
“Whilst we provide financial services to these companies, we are not making investments for Barclays and Barclays is not a ‘shareholder’ or ‘investor’ in that sense in relation to these companies.”

In relation to its dealings with Israeli defense company Elbit, Barclays said: “We may hold shares in relation to client driven transactions, which is why we appear on the share register, but we are not investors.”

Barclays signed a sponsorship deal with Live Nation for five years in 2023. There has been no suggestion yet that the suspension will affect festival sponsorship under the agreement in future years.
 


Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm

Updated 18 July 2024
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Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm

DUBAI: MDLBEAST’s Soundstorm festival, returning to rock Banban, Riyadh from Dec. 12–14 for its fifth edition, announced superstar rapper Eminem as its headline act.

Joining Eminem in the lineup will be US rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars, British rock legends Muse, Swiss DJ duo Adriatique (Adrian Shala and Adrian Schweizer), German DJ Boris Brejcha, Italian DJ Marco Carola, British-Canadian DJ Richie Hawtin and many more.

As the region’s biggest music festival, Soundstorm delivers a vibrant mix of music styles and genres from around the world.

Ramadan Al-Haratani, CEO of MDLBEAST, said in a statement: “Soundstorm, the region’s biggest music festival, has successfully made a remarkable impact on the regional and global music scene, making it an eagerly anticipated annual festival for music fans worldwide.

“This has contributed to enhancing the Kingdom’s position in the music entertainment sector.”
 


Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 

Updated 18 July 2024
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Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 

  • The Saudi alt-rock veterans are enjoying the rewards of more than two decades of work 

DAMMAM: Dammam-based alternative rock band Sound of Ruby have been telling stories through music for decades.  

“We can say that we were the first band to play rock in Dammam, or Saudi Arabia,” frontman Muhammad “The Camel” Al-Hajjaj, who founded the group in 1996, tells Arab News.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

Al-Hajjaj describes the band’s sound as “punk rock, alternative rock, emphasizing Saudi and Arab music,” and cites Henry Rollins — founder of US hardcore band Black Flag — and grunge legends Nirvana as influences, along with two of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s major inspirations, Pixies and Melvins.  

But back in Nineties Dammam, there were few who shared Al-Hajjaj’s love of loud Western-style rock music. “If we saw someone wearing a rock band T-shirt, we’d immediately try to talk to him,” Al-Hajjaj says. “It was hard. The popular music (in the community) at the time was rap, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Arabic (mainstream) music. I like Michael Jackson, by the way. But it was hard. We’d hear ‘What is this?’ from people.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

Al-Hajjaj, like many rock musicians, taught himself to play guitar. He was inspired to do so, he says, by a scene in 1985’s “Back to the Future” when Michael J. Fox’s character plays the famous riff from Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” (also covered by several other guitar greats, including Jimi Hendrix). “It made me love the instrument,” he explains. “My father said, ‘Be good and I’ll buy you a guitar, don’t worry.’ It was the era of MTV and Channel V, there was a love for the guitar.” 

At that time, he stresses, there was no internet on which to view tutorial videos. So Al-Hajjaj bought a 20-page book (“I still have it today”) which showed the finger patterns for chords and began to learn a few songs. “Everything was do-it-yourself,” he says. “We’d get together at weekends and play small underground gigs.” More than 12,000 kilometers away from where Rollins and the Melvins were based, Al-Hajjaj was mirroring their punk DIY ethic.   

“They had vicious names for those of us who listened to that music,” he says. “But, with time, there was acceptance.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

Sound of Ruby played a major part in gaining that acceptance. And they did so at a time when there was no infrastructure in place to support anyone interested in creating music in the Kingdom that was not Khaleeji pop. That, in itself, is remarkable enough. The fact that, almost 30 years on, they’re still going (albeit with some lineup changes over the years — the current roster is Al-Hajjaj along with bassist Kamal Khalil, lead guitarist Nader Al-Fassam, who’ve both been part of the group for a couple of decades, and drummer Faris Alshawaf, who only recently took over from his brother, Talal) and still retaining their alt-rock roots as they move through middle age is even more astonishing. 

It helps significantly that Khalil also owns a recording studio. “We’re lucky to have a sound engineer who’s been a member of the band for 24 years,” Al-Hajjaj says. That enabled Sound of Ruby to put out professional-level recordings (10 albums so far, plus singles) even when there were few studios geared up to capture rock music in the Kingdom.  

It’s been a long road, Al-Fassam acknowledges.  

“When I joined the band, my son was 10 days old; today, he’s 20,” he says, adding that his son is now a musician himself, performing in several bands around Dhahran.  

“We’re proud that we’ve influenced the younger generation throughout our artistic career, providing them with support and encouragement,” Al-Hajjaj says.  

Sound of Ruby members Kamal Khalil, Muhammad Al-Hajjaj and Nader Al-Fassam. (Supplied)

Many in the younger generation got a taste of Sound of Ruby in one of Saudi Arabia’s most successful movies, 2022’s wrestling-themed action-comedy “Sattar” — which is now also available on Netflix — thanks to Al-Hajjaj’s younger brother Ibrahim, an actor and comedian.  

“An opportunity came when a rock song was requested for ‘Sattar.’ Our song ‘Fannan’ was very suitable for the scene,” he said.  

In ‘Sattar,’ Ibrahim plays Saad, a soft-spoken daydreamer who longs to be a wrestler—an ambition that seems far out of reach. In the scene, he is driving in the car with his loving fiancée by his side and his demanding future mother-in-law in the backseat. When they ask him to play some music during the already awkward ride, “Fannan” blasts from the speakers. 

At first, Saad, the character, nervously fiddles with the radio dials, clearly worried they might misunderstand his musical tastes. But quickly, his voice clears and he cheerfully proclaims: “This is a Saudi band, Sound of Ruby — I like to listen to different sounds and be cultured.”  

The women look baffled and reply, “You have strange taste.” 

Throughout the movie, Saad has to constantly overcome potentially crushing obstacles — both personally and professionally. The audience never stops rooting for him. This is a relatable Saudi struggle to balance childhood dreams with adult pressures, aiming to make society and family proud; Saad’s journey begins in the underground, outside of the mainstream, fueled by passion and perseverance. It’s easy to see why Sound of Ruby were chosen to help soundtrack his anger and frustration. 

But the band’s perseverance has paid off. The music industry is starting to catch up with their ambitions. The Kingdom’s cultural scene has been forever altered by the sweeping changes of the last six years. And Sound of Ruby’s live performances are no longer secret, underground affairs. You can often catch them live at the café-cum-record store Bohemia in Alkhobar.  

“The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing — whether it be music, acting, or any artistic work,” says Al-Hajjaj. “It’s a beautiful thing that we now play in our beautiful city. I used to dream of a place like Bohemia before — previously, concerts and audience participation were all outside the kingdom. Now, with the support of the Entertainment Authority, we are breathing life into the music.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

And Sound of Ruby are making full use of this new freedom.  

“We released three new songs from our new album, that will be released this year,” Al-Hajjaj says. “Stay tuned for the album and concerts. In 2026, the band will celebrate its 30th anniversary.” 

Like the precious gemstone they’re named after, known for its resiliency, Sound of Ruby are standing the test of time. 


Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein

Updated 18 July 2024
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Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein

  • Royal couple visit firm creating content on social issues
  • Prince lauds company’s focus on mental health concerns

DUBAI: Princess Rajwa of Jordan once again showcased her impeccable maternity style this week alongside Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah during their visit to Digitales Media, a local company that creates content on social issues.

The princess, who is from Saudi Arabia, wore Max Mara’s Drina silk-and-linen dress in a warm, brown color. It featured a high waistline that accommodated her maternity figure, with a softly pleated skirt of mid-calf length.

The dress had long sleeves with subtle cuff detailing and a gently gathered neckline.

The princess paired her outfit with a pink Fendi leather purse and matching pink satin ballet flats from Miu Miu.  

“Rajwa and I were delighted to visit Digitales today ... A Jordanian company creating impactful content on social issues and mental health,” the prince wrote on his Instagram, with pictures from the visit.

The royal couple, who announced the pregnancy in April, are expecting their first child this summer.

Since then, Princess Rajwa has been turning heads with her maternity style.

In May, she was spotted shopping in Amman wearing a blue denim jumpsuit from the Tencel Denim Maternity range by British label Seraphine.

She completed her look with white sneakers and accessorized with a Bottega Veneta Mini Cabat leather tote bag.

In her first maternity pictures, which were released on June 1, she donned a Vernia red blouson sleeve pleated maxi dress by Alice + Olivia, a contemporary clothing brand based in New York City.

The flowy, summery dress was cinched at the waist, accentuating her growing bump, and featured a V-shaped neckline.

On June 10, she attended King Abdullah’s silver jubilee celebrations in Amman, in a bespoke gown by Saudi Arabia designer Honayda Serafi.

This was just over a year after she wore an all-white look by the same designer for her pre-wedding henna celebrations.


Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode

Updated 18 July 2024
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Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode

DUBAI: US Egyptian comedian, writer and actor Ramy Youusef has nabbed himself a Primetime Emmy Awards nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series.

Youssef earned the nomination for directing “The Bear” episode titled “Honeydew” from its second season.

The fan-loved episode focused on the character Marcus, the lovable pastry chef portrayed by actor Lionel Boyce.

This is the third Emmy nomination for Youssef and his second for directing, after earning a 2020 nomination for directing an episode of his eponymous series “Ramy.” 

For this year’s Emmys, Youssef competes against “The Bear” series creator Christopher Storer for the episode “Fishes,” Guy Ritchie for “The Gentlemen,” Lucia Aniello for “Hacks,” Randall Einhorn for “Abbott Elementary,” and Mary Lou Belli for “The Ms Pat Show.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Bear (@thebearfx)

Overall, “Shogun” led the nominations with 25 nods, including limited series, and earned first-time acting nods for Hiroyuki Sanada and Anna Sawai.

Additionally, the FX network garnered a total of 93 nominations, bolstered by a record-breaking 23 nods for “The Bear.”


Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

Updated 18 July 2024
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Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

DUBAI: Global hip-hop star Eminem will be part of a stellar lineup for the 16th edition of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the 2024 Yasalam after-race concerts.

The American rapper will perform on Dec. 7, joining US pop rock band Maroon 5, who appear on Dec. 6, and British rock group Muse, who will hit the stage on Dec. 8.

Eminem has won 15 Grammy awards and an Academy award. His 2010 album “Recovery” was the first in the US to be certified platinum digitally. In March 2021, his greatest hits album, “Curtain Call: The Hits,” became the first hip-hop album to spend a full decade on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart.

His latest album, “The Death of Slim Shady (Coup de Grace),” was released on July 12, 2024, and currently sits in the top 10 on the Rhythmic radio charts.

The after-race concerts will take place from Dec. 5-8, with access exclusive to Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix ticket holders.