Hundreds gathered on 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.