The power of jazz on full display at the Dhahran Arab Jazz Music Festival

DAMMAM: On a humid Friday night, the Dhahran Expo — the place where people have received COVID-19 shots for the past year — had a different cure to offer: music.

The auditorium, with rows of plush white seats facing the large stage where oud, saxophones and chants inaugurated the first Shargiyya Arabic Jazz Music Festival, organized by the Music Commission and the Saudi Ministry of Culture .

The lineup consisted of the most well-known jazz musicians and composers from the Middle East region and beyond, including German Jazz Music Prize winner and German-Lebanese oud master Rabih Abu Khalil. The Bands Across Borders ensemble, a supergroup made up of leading musicians and the best singers, instrumentalists, jazz, pop and rock musicians from the Arab world, joined by legendary European musicians, led by the famous Jordanian artist Aziz Maraqa in a jazz orchestra of the best known Arab tunes of the region.

The two-day event featured award-winning Egyptian oud master Hazem Shaheen in his new jazz formation. Muhammad Abu Zekry also performed, best known for being the youngest officially recognized Arabic oud master at just 14, and has now become the founder of one of France’s most invigorating jazz ensembles. This lineup has been supported by the rising stars of the Saudi music scene, including the Bahraini-Saudi fusion band Majaz, the Saudi band Al-Farabi, the Saudi National Music Group, with the Kingdom’s best traditional music, and the Kingdom’s own band of jazz fusion from Dammam. , Mosaic.

The collective sounds of applause and finger tapping in time with audience members were unseen but audible.

The local jazz fusion band from Dammam strummed softly, without words or words, allowing listeners to fill in the gaps with their own feelings or words. With clear Khaleeji-Latin American influences, their set almost felt like a sound collage or soundtrack for the day; sometimes optimistic and dancing, but also melancholy, reflective and slow too.

The Bahraini group Majaz, known for what is called “earth music”, came across the bridge from Bahrain. With their explosive, muffled sounds of rock-inspired melodies, the sound was also typically Khaleeji, with plenty of applause. The stage lights also played a vital role in pulsing with the beats of the music, illuminating the space as audience members instinctively used their hands to clap or drum on their knees.

The event started very early, almost an hour before the scheduled date.

Local band member Fawaz Ba’assam, the leader of Mosaic who also plays keyboards, was bewildered and elated after the show. Playing bigger venues was something the band hoped for when they formed years ago, but it seemed so far-fetched to be on stage in their hometown when they started – or even ago. just a few weeks.

“The festival is amazing. I’m really glad that happened. And I’m really glad it happened here in Dhahran and Dammam where we grew up and where we live because it’s still in the big cities; it’s still in Riyadh and Jeddah,” he told Arab News.

Band member and bassist Saud Al-Ashikh also reiterated how fast the band had to be and jump on opportunities that came their way without notice. The onstage collaboration between Majaz and Mosaic happened on location – they joked that the organizers simply needed to fill 20 minutes to cue the next performer – so they just took the stage and moved their instruments around. stolen. They mentioned that the city only received approval to hold this festival a fortnight ago and, in true jazz spirit, they just went with the flow and enthusiastically improvised.

“It happened quickly. I didn’t expect five years ago that the Arabic Jazz Music Festival would take place anytime soon. Or even two weeks! Literally, before two weeks, I did not expect this. I am really happy,” Al-Ashikh told Arab News.

Self-proclaimed “music lover,” Ahmed Hindash, moved to Khobar during the pandemic and has been trying to connect with Shargiyya’s creative community ever since. As a Jordanian, he jumped at the chance to hear live music performed by local bands in an effort to better experience Saudi culture. He stumbled upon a post about the festival while scrolling through Instagram and immediately booked a ticket for both days – for himself and his friend. During the opening night performance, he couldn’t help but continuously pat his hands on his legs.

“I’m a big drummer and I appreciate every time I see a drummer in front of me. I just go into the flow of the music, I go into the tempo of the music. Majaz, they play this fusion of reggae, Moroccan style, Khaleeji, Bahraini music and this fusion of everything really captures the whole vibe. It’s definitely a unique band that I would enjoy seeing again,” Hindash told Arab News.

Audience members using their hands to show their appreciation was definitely the recurring theme of the night.

Speaking to Arab News, Majaz was in full agreement.

“There’s something about applause, I don’t know – anyone can do it. And it’s like you don’t need any rhythmic knowledge. It’s kind of something that comes naturally with every human being; you know how to clap. And I think that’s a very powerful aspect of our genre of music now that I really think about it,” Majaz guitarist and vocalist Hameed Al-Saeed told Arab News.

“We want the audience to feel like they’re a part of this as well. We want them to immerse themselves in all of this. And that’s the beauty of a live show. It’s like, yeah , come be part of the band with us. Let’s all play together and clap,” Al-Saeed said.

Ada J. Kenney