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Okay, so here are three videos that have been making the rounds on the local interwebs lately:

This is a commercial for the Saudi teleco giant Mobily. As with most of their ads, it is of high production quality. But that’s not what make it interesting. What makes it interesting is the fact that it stars Prince Abdullah bin Meteb, the grandson of King Abdullah. This is the first time a prince appears in a commercial, and some people think such thing signifies a change in the way members of the Saudi royal family conduct themselves. I don’t know. I mean, can’t this be just a sports sponsorship deal? Prince Abdullah is a professional rider who could use a sponsor for such an expensive career, and Mobily is a for-profit company who wants to improve their image and make more money. I, for one, did not raise an eyebrow when I saw the tv ad.

In this video, a man who allegedly belongs to the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, is seen ambushing a jalsa which is basically a small gathering where people entertain themselves with music and dancing. The bearded man snatches the oud from the singer’s lap with a swift move, and then smashed it to the ground in a scene more commonly associated with rock concerts. So much for calling to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.

The Cube is a popular British game show. For some reason, the Saudi state TV thought it was a good idea to bring it to their screen. The Saudi version is the same as the British one, except that our version has a nutty host who keeps on screaming. This video was put together by fellow blogger Raed al-Saeed, who previously produced Schism and Why Gaza children don’t deserve to be killed. I wonder if what he did is legal under the new e-media law proposed by MOCI :P

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Untouchable

This YouTube video has been making the rounds online lately. The video allegedly shows a group of SABB employees dancing to a song in what looks like a party held by the bank. The short clip has caused an uproar on some blogs and forums, between those decrying the deterioration of morals and those who deemed it insensitive to thousands of people who lost their money in the stock market crash.

Reasonable people may ask: so the bank was having a party, what’s the big deal? Frankly, it is not a big deal, except for one problem that my friend Abdul-Majeed eloquently put here: a party like this shows that we have two different sets of rules in this country, one for the poor and commoners, and one for the rich and powerful. “It is only the poor and commoners who get watched, monitored and prosecuted by the Hay’a, while the others have their own places that the Hay’a don’t dare to even get near them,” he said.

Let me be clear, I have nothing against such parties. I am not social by any stretch of the imagination, but I enjoy a good party, and as we can see in the video apparently the guys were having loads of fun. Good for them, but the question is: why they can shake their bums freely in a fancy hotel like it’s 1999, but those who want to enjoy a concert of acoustic rock get raided by the Hay’a?

It is this kind of hypocrisy and double standards that I can’t stand.

Jazz Night in Riyadh

Like many Saudis, I have never been to a music concert in my life. We do not have concerts in this country because the religious establishment believe that music is haram i.e. not permissible. Some Saudis go to concerts in Dubai, Bahrain or even Canada to see their favorite artists, but the majority cannot afford the cost of traveling to another country just to listen to live music.

Prince Khalid al-Faisal, former governor of Assir and current governor of Jeddah, supported organizing concerts in the past few years in an attempt to boost local tourism. Only men were allowed to attend these concerts and performers were male artists from Saudi Arabia and neighboring Gulf countries, but this did not stop the conservatives from denouncing the concerts strongly and showing their anger toward Khalid al-Faisal.

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When I went to Egypt for a workshop two weeks ago, I told my friends there that I would really like to go to a nice place where live much is played. My friend Courtney nicely offered to take me to the Jazz Club in Cairo, but unfortunately my schedule was very tight and I didn’t have enough time to do that. “Next time I go abroad, I will make sure to find some time,” I kept telling myself upon returning home.

Few days later, I received a phone call asking me if I would be interested in attending an evening of jazz in Riyadh. I was very, very surprised, but unlike many surprises in this city, this was a pleasant one. I mean, it is not everyday that a prestigious jazz band come all the way from New York to play their music in Saudi Arabia. Actually, how often do you hear about live music events in Riyadh anyway?

So I was one of the lucky select few to be invited to a jazz night at the US Embassy featuring Chris Byars Quartet, a band that has been performing together for two decades, most frequently at NYC jazz club Smalls. This concert comes as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program.

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It was a lovely night and the audience, a mixture of Saudis, Americans and other nationalities, enjoyed it immensely. The band did not stick to the announced program as their visit to the Kingdom has inspired them to play songs by Gigi Gryce, a jazz musician who converted to Islam and adopted the name Basheer Qusim.

After the concert two of the organizers jokingly told me that now they are thinking about bringing Kanye West for their upcoming event :-) The idea left me with this unsettling question: which of these two dreams seems more plausible, a Kanye West concert in Riyadh or a constitutional democratic Saudi Arabia?