Don’t define Saudi through oppression alone

Human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia are legendary and largely ignored by the Western elite. That oil is certainly tasty.

But the Kingdom is changing, slowly but surely, through a very modern medium:

“5 riyals” – less than two dollars – that’s all the money many unemployed Saudi youths have in their pockets. It’s also the title of a new song by the Saudi hip-hop group “Blak Royalty,” which launched their first official video in Jeddah a few weeks ago. In a country with unemployment estimates as high as 25%, the group spotlights the challenges that face young Saudis today. But more importantly, their mode of expression is indicative of a new wave of artistic output the kingdom.

An underground music revolution is sweeping Saudi youth culture. Despite strict laws that prohibit the playing of music in public, dozens of bands have popped up in underground venues across the country. Two years ago, there were fewer than five established bands in Jeddah. Today, there are more than 60. With a host of problems affecting young Saudis, from unemployment to restricted freedoms, music is becoming the mode of choice for expressing frustrations.

Here’s the video for “5 riyals”, a curiously Western-sounding track with distinctly Saudi overtones:

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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