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.


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.


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?

49 thoughts on “Jazz Night in Riyadh

  1. ahmed,
    everybdy luvs muzik but it is a fact that muziq IS haram
    infact any kind of muzikal instrument is HARAM

  2. I am glade to hear you got to see your first live concert and it couldn’t have been better I bet. Being American I have always taken live music for granted and never consider the possibilities of not seeing live music. My friends girlfriend is planning to surprise my friend with a secret live concert hidden in a college campus basement by two amazing bands 1 of which we knew before they got popular. I have been ghosting your blog for a while seeing what came out of it and I must thank you for continuing to write in face of all the pressures.

  3. salaamz everyhone
    loooooooooooooolz…..music and haraaam……………….loooooooooooooooolz
    who could have come to a conclusion like that…………..hey ithink saudia shud have more pubs evennnnnnn……….wat do u think aafke……………lol these oldies think that pubs r /also haraaam……………besides the prophet p.b.u.h never said anythin liek “From among my followers there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcohol, and the use of musical instruments as lawful. Allah will destroy them during the night…and will change the rest of them to monkeys and pigs and they will remain so until the Day of Resurrection”‘ ………..lol which century r they livin in..

  4. Actually if you look at the program for Al Janadriyah festival starting tonight (www.arriyadh.com) you will see that concerts, music and dancing are all on the official schedule.

    Enjoyed this posting Ahmed!

  5. Prophet Muhammad said this, prophet Muhammad said that… Wouldn’t be better if you all start thinking by yourselves instead of waiting for Prophet Muhammad to think by you? I mean, we are all grown ups and we don’t need somebody else to tell us what is good and what is bad. Besides, Prophet Muhammad was just a man, like all of us.

  6. salaamz
    hey khawaja buddy how r u doin………….tell u wat pal…….there is this lineee…ad u r almost about to cross it…so just try a little harder and u will cross it…….and i will congragulate u …………………….no u wont get a phd but u will become an atheist………..hey now cheer up ,usa will probably give u the nationality now for free……………………..and next time remember if someone amongst u doesnt beliee in hadiths then he doesnt need to believe in islam anymore…………………..salaamz

  7. Ahmed,

    Sorry for any confusion…a formal schedule or program is not cited on arriyadh but the basic info such as opening events and family timings are posted.

    The Kingdom is making forward progress on tourism and cultural events but still needs a little help in the area of public relations and marketing!

    And speaking of rock concerts, I have learned that several SAUDI bands have been formed who do perform “discreetly” in Jeddah!


    American Bedu

  8. I just want to rephrase my last comment. For Muslims Muhammad is a Prophet of Allah. For non Muslims he is just a man like the rest of us. The problem comes when you try to impose your ideology to all the people in the country and make forbidden everything that is allowed outside. And the only reason provided is: “just because Muhammad said so”.

  9. Did someone say Kenye WEST might come,..If so, I want tickets. This is crazy…how come I don’t get invited to these places LOL!

  10. Some of you Saudis need to come fully out of the closet. I used to teach English in Hassa and my former students sounded like this blog. How can you really be happy if you reject parts of your religion and culture?

  11. I grew up in Saudi and I also went to a school which overnight cancelled the music program due to the then new regulations by the ministry of (mis-)education.

    This was compensated by parents who unknowingly brought me to apprciate music and musicicans. I will never forget seeing Al-Moogy on Channel one playing his Oud… We were all moved to almost crying at the pure artistry and emotion of that man. A real cool cat.

    I am honoured to have been raised in such a household which art.

    Now, living abroad, I am taking this need for music almost to the extreme; The Hives in a neighbouring town, missing my train and having to wait for the 5am to get back home.

    The Foo Fighters in another town, broke and still scratching barely enough dosh to get the tickets and paying for lodging (forget the food).

    I know that music, especially rock, can cause a huge discrepancy in one’s mind especially if you come from a conservative environment. A type of music that tells you to f… all rules and be wild and free whereas a throbbing heart spelling the name of Allah in every heartbeat, in every breath and in every waking eye.

    I know this deeply and know the schism, even the abyss, that opens when torn between the spirit and the body.

    Yet in the end, nothing… nothing, has kept me alive, kept me breathing and safe from harm, whether self-inflicted or foreign, like music has.

    I always come back to the one conclusion…

    Can something this beautiful, this fundamental to all our emotions and behaviours be HARAM???

    No! For God is beautiful and loves beauty…

  12. oh my god…….
    Music is just so beautiful………..i mean how can a soul live without it…………..hey wait a sec…………i love pubs toooooooo……..heyyy wait another second there uuuuuuu……….i love alcohol as wellllll……….it makes my heart go numb and forget about the past………how can beautiful things llike pubs,music and alcohol be haraam?????right they r just so important for our xistance……….besides who cares about the sunnah anyway….i never heard the Prophet (pbuh) say “From among my followers there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcohol, and the use of musical instruments as lawful. Allah will destroy them during the night…and will change the rest of them to monkeys and pigs and they will remain so until the Day of Resurrection”……..or DID I?????????

  13. To S.U.T.T.a :

    ummm your use of cynical exaggeration is interesting but is a weak way of communicating if your message is filled with holes. First of all in Islam we have major sins and minor sins, now if we were to agree to your school of thought that music is haram then it must be considered a minor sin (since we already know quite well the major sins). Now you believe that music and alcohol are equal? then thats just a contradiction of major and minor sins. If you wanna qoute a hadeeth why don’t you qoute this hadeeth as well….

    here is a hadeeth (saheeh bukhary):

    Narrated Aisha: That once Abu Bakr came to her on the day of ‘Id-ul-Fitr or ‘Id ul Adha while the Prophet was with her and there were two girl singers with her, singing songs of the Ansar about the day of Buath. Abu Bakr said twice. “musical instrument of Satan!” But the Prophet said, “Leave them Abu Bakr, for every nation has an ‘Id (i.e. festival) and this day is our ‘Id.” (Book #58, Hadith #268)

  14. First of all my skecptical friend……….u need to know i never ,and neither did the hadith,talked about major and minor sins……….but whether somethin is haraam or halal……..to look at major and minor is another story………………secondly u need to c everythin in context…….the above hadith that u have quoted was said when the Prophet was enterin madinah…………….we must treat the Prophet(pbuh) as a human and we must c that when he became the governor of madinah …..the legislation that took place would be the actual views of the Prophet………….in the above hadith he was jsut enterin madinah so obviously if i enter another country i will not just openly tell them to shut up ur damn music….u need to do it in a proper way……………………peace and salaamz

  15. TO S.U.T.T.A :

    My brother first of all you act as if it is a well known fact that it is haram, which is not the case. It is not as simple an issue is it being either black or white. It is an ejtihad by the scholars to classify it as haram or halal.
    Let us look at your argument of the Prophet (pbuh) not being able to impose the rule of banning music since he just came to madina (i’ll take your word for the timing of the hadeeth) and i’ll go along with your logic. If it was haram and the prophet couldn’t impose it on them, he surely wouldn’t participate in the act itself since it was haram, right?

    Another hadeeth to think about is this, Bukhari Volume 6, Book 61, Number 568:

    “Narrated Abu Musa that the Prophet said to him’ “O Abu Musa! You have been given one of the musical wind-instruments of the family of David.'”

    Would the prophet compare the companion’s voice when reading Quran to something haram like a musical instrument?

    All i’m trying to say is it’s not as clear cut as you think…

  16. To S.U.T.T.A:

    First of all my brother the issue is not as simple as it being labeled either black or white. It is an effort (ejtihad) made by scholars to classify it as halal or haram.

    Lets look at the argument that you give of the prophet (PBUH) not being able to impose the banning of music since he just arrived to Madina (i’ll take your word for when the hadeeth occured). I’ll go along with your logic and say it could be a valid point, but would the prophet (PBUH) participate in an act that was haram because he could not impose it on the others? Obviously not.

    Here is another hadeeth to think about, Bukhari Volume 6, Book 61, Number 568:

    “Narrated Abu Musa that the Prophet said to him’ “O Abu Musa! You have been given one of the musical wind-instruments of the family of David.”

    Now would the prophet (PBUH) compare the voice of a companion that recited Quran with that of something haram, which in this case would be a musical instrument?

    All i’m trying to say is that it’s not as clear cut as you think. It’s still someone’s ejtihad in the end.

  17. The question is music halal or haram is not the issue at all. The fans of Rotana and MTV could care less. Shouting at them will only harden their positions.

  18. speaking of democracy..
    i’ve always wondered what would happen if “true” democrary (where every voice is valued) were to be practiced in saudi arabia (where the social system is highly patriarchal and the popular attitude among a significant majority is misogynous)?
    just a thought.. and NOT an objection!

  19. To AbuJamal:
    To Funny:

    The question isn’t about the fans of Rotana and MTV. The question is about the people’s and especially the scholars fascination with focusing on music when there’s very little evidence of it being haram. Instead of focusing on larger issues they always make it a theme that Islam is synonymous with music being prohibited. When Islam should be associated with a greater and stronger message.

  20. I was just wondering where all that middle eastern music is coming from, which you see here in the shops and on music-festivals.

    And I wouldn’t want to live without music. Not only am I playing it all day long, I also play the western concert flute myself.

    Sutta: music is beautiful and God loves beauty, so I see no problem here.

    And I like heavy metal very much, but none of my friends do. So if I want to go to a heavy metal concert I’d have to go alone. So sometimes I go, all alone, to a big concert, and I have néver éver been bothered at a hard-rock-concert. At many other places, yes, but never at a hard-rock-concert. So although it may have a bad name, Hard-rock is defenitely good for morals. :D

  21. Good for you!
    But hey, a concert with no women at sight!
    I wish you a quick revolution :)

    The next time you’re in Cairo also look at this place’s schedule. Their events are not fancy but sometimes you can find really nice music. And it’s much cheaper.

    CJC is a different atmosphere. Should try it once also. I don’t know it’s current mood though.

    Uzi, are you Israeli? ;)

  22. Muhammed I agree with you on Islam has a greater message than music being haram. I get it but your scholars have proofs from the religion they did not just make it up. They are not people of moderation, they take a hard stance. For them movies, music, fashion and television is a waste of time. I have prayed in many masajid in Saudi Arabia and only the Imam is Saudi. While the shabab are outside listening to music dressed in a style of clothing favored by homosexuals. Again I agree with you they should tackle bigger problems like employment, education, drugs, prostitution, health and poverty.

  23. To AbuJamal:

    I don’t know which mausks you’ve been praying in, but I assure you that Saudis are one of the most consistent people (in their country) that attend the five prayers in mausks. You probably prayed in an area where there were mostly non-Saudi workers because to make such a strong statement saying that most of the young Saudis are outside listening to music while the non-saudis are inside the mausk praying is completely ridiculous. I’ve never ever witnessed such a thing.

    Then you describe teenage Saudis as wearing homosexual style clothes is quite a surprise to me considering that most Saudis in Saudi wear a traditional (thoob) garment because of the extreme heat.

    As far as scholars having proofs, there are counter proofs as well to their statements, and so in the end things like music are considered an ejtihad by each scholar.

  24. I’ve found this:
    *Any keen observer of the universe will realize that the whole universe was created with music in every corner of it. Our talking, crying, laughing, singing, yelling or screaming are nothing but music. Our heart beats, bowel sounds, breath sounds, the sound of our blood flow or even our brain waves are but music. The birds, the animals, the trees, the oceans, the wind and the clouds are all created with their own music. Music is in every corner of our universe. With music in every thing around us, it is naive to think that the One God who created all this music prohibited it. Those who claim that Music and singing are haram, lie about God and prohibit what God never did.*

    It’s a very small bit about music nót being haram, from a site which bases it’s explanations solely on the Qur’an,

  25. To Aafke:

    Although I agree the issue on music is a fuzzy one. The website you put on here discredits all the narratives about the prophet (hadeeths), and that is a completely absurd idea. I’ll tell you why, most of how we perform our religion is based on what the prophet did. The prophet was our working example of how a muslim should pray, phast, and just about everything else. That site throws away 50% of islam by throwing away the hadeeths. And none of the verses they displayed has anything to do with music, it was quite funny lol.

    Sites like these are quite misleading because they focus on something that you agree with, which in this case is music being halal, and then slowly loop around and focus on a completely separate issue of making you believe that narratives should all be discredited.

  26. Muhammed if I said something you never heard or seen, it does not make it ridiculous you just know nothing about it. Yes some asians who work on farms have their own Imams and are away from Saudis. I am American not Asian and I lived in a regular neighborhood not some western compound. I never said most Saudis did anything. I said I have been to many masajid where only the Imam was a Saudi. It is not hot all year around in Saudi Arabia. What is ridiculous if you think the youth wear thowbs everyday all year long. I listened to the youth and they do not want to lead the Islamic world they want to join the Arab world. They want to connect with other Arabs khaleeji and non-khaleeji Arabs. About the Ijtihad you were talking about. You know as well as I do the scholars in Saudi Arabia could care less about any scholars saying music is permissable.

  27. To AbuJamal:

    You mean to tell me that somehow you (considered an outside observer) infiltrated the Saudi youth in a way that I (inside this Saudi youth group) have never seen? Yes that is ridiculous, considering you have no proof or anything to back up your strong statements :)

    In your second point you said “I never said most Saudis did anything”, again let me refresh your memory and give you the quote that you said previously which is “I have prayed in many masajid in Saudi Arabia and only the Imam is Saudi. While the shabab are outside listening to music dressed in a style of clothing favored by homosexuals.”. Now when you use the term “many” that means that this behavior you’ve observed is overwhelmingly rampant in Saudi. So yes you did say that.

    But I guess you seem to enjoy grouping the following words together “Music”, “Homosexuals”, and “Saudi youth”. As to paint a false generalization of how our youth have become such low-life spoiled beings.

    But you’re not done yet, you say the following “I listened to the youth and they do not want to lead the Islamic world they want to join the Arab world. They want to connect with other Arabs khaleeji and non-khaleeji Arabs.” so absurd that I won’t even reply except with this simple suggestion, that you listen to yourself before writing comments that discredit you :)

    I’ll agree with you that some scholars in Saudi Arabia have a hard stance concerning different views on music, which was our original topic.

  28. AAFKE
    Hey and i believe im being blocked from this site due to unknown reasons………..im sure noone who tries to spread the word to the world about ksa,will have a problem about freedom of speech….i have to change these nicks a thousand times just to post……………………

  29. Come on guys, please this is not a place for preaching. People can’t careless if you think music is halal or haram!
    I believe there are more people watching Rotana than those watching the Iqra’a channel!! So find a better way to reach to them, other than saying they are totally evil… :)

    Btw SaudiJeans, I am sorry to say this but I wasn’t sure what to make of your post! If you are only sharing or making a point…
    At first I thought you were sharing that:
    – You are fond of live music.
    – You were one of the lucky few selected to see a jazz band play.
    – You want to see coed concerts all over Saudi.
    But afterwards I thought you have definitely made a few points:
    – Live music is the cornerstone of democracy.
    – A society with no live music is doomed.

    However, you kept me wondering what is a Constitutional Democratic Saudi Arabia?
    With your strong association to live music, I couldn’t help it think, it is merely a state where live music is permitted!!
    Excuse my simple mind… :-)

  30. TO UZI:

    Yes I’m familiar with these fatwas and their explanations. I could give you you books to why it also might be halal…. it’s their interpretation versus others. Music has a low level of importance compared to the more REAL issues that are affecting us today. Lets start with the basics then reach the specifics :)

  31. Thank you all guys for taking part in this conversation but I’m sorry I will shut down comments on this post because they have gone way off-topic. All I wanted to do is sharing a slice of my life in this city with readers; it’s not about the permissibility of music and it’s not about a possible link between live concerts and democracy. Thanks.

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