This evening I’ll be among men and women, watching live music played on a stage.
Such a scene would be typical in many parts of the world. (Oh, how envious I was of a barn-burning show in New York Monday night!) But I live in Saudi Arabia, where a delicate brew of competing interests helps discourage co-ed, public gatherings — especially if they aren’t connected to Islam or traditional Saudi culture.
As such, it’s worth noting that the Mexican Embassy here is sponsoring a three-piece marimba band. More noteworthy still is that this trio will be playing to a mixed crowd at a venue that holds 4,000 people.
This is the third event of this kind at the venue, Riyadh’s King Fahd Cultural Center. (The first, in May 2008, was a night of classical music; the second, in February 2009, was a crew of traditional Japanese drummers; and a previous contender for the third, a concert this spring by a Cajun band sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, was canceled at the last minute.) But whereas the classical music and drumming hearkened centuries back, this is the first time men and women are permitted to gather together in a public space to hear something akin to contemporary music.
And that’s why I’m eager to attend. This summer, organizers at the same venue attempted to show a feature film. Titled Menahi, the film grappled with modern life in Riyadh, portraying the plight of a rural Saudi who’d relocated to the capital. But on the first night, conservative Saudis attempted to disrupt the screening, reportedly yelling at attendees both before and during the show. (Religious police told a local newspaper the intruders “were not commission members and the commission did not have any role in the disruption”; I wasn’t there but have heard differently, including a report that chairs were thrown.)
Will there be another such disruption tonight, perhaps with an official visit by the religious police, known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice? Or does such an event no longer merit their attention? Will men and women interact without incident? Or, out of practice and unaccustomed to such freedoms, will there be an incident?
Bonus: Wonder what happened to the Cajun band’s Riyadh stand? It was insane.
Update: In the end, there was no commotion. Still, the night was as interesting as they come, and I’ll have a full report for you soon.
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