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Saudi holds first Riyadh concert since Covid-19

Published on June 04, 2021

Hundreds gathered Thursday for the first concert in the Saudi capital since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to watch performances by Syrian diva Assala Nasri and Kuwaiti crooner Nabeel Shuail.

Before stiff rules were brought in a year ago to stem the spread of coronavirus, the ultra-conservative kingdom had started to ease decades-long restrictions on entertainment, as part of efforts to improve its image and attract tourists.

“This is the first concert to take place in Saudi for a very long time,” said one spectator at the concert, held in a restaurant of a large Riyadh hotel.

“We are delighted to come from Kuwait to attend the concert,” said a Kuwaiti tourist.

Saudi Arabia has officially recorded more than 454,000 coronavirus infections, including 7,408 deaths.

It was not the first concert — Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sang in April at the ancient Saudi city of Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Saudi Arabia has hosted international musicians — from Janet Jackson to 50 Cent and Korean pop group BTS — for concerts that were unimaginable in the conservative country just four years ago.

The pandemic put a brake on the country’s ambitious push to revamp its global image and draw tourists.

But the country continues to face recurring criticism of its human rights record, notably a relentless crackdown on dissenting voices, including several feminist activists.