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The first Riyadh International Jazz Festival strikes a chord in the capital

The event’s success signals a new era in the city’s entertainment landscape.

Riyadh’s event scene shows no signs of letting up. With one show after another, the Saudi capital is the place to be in the Kingdom for all things entertainment. Recently, it played home to the city’s first-ever jazz festival — the Riyadh International Jazz Festival. Held at the Mayadeen Theatre in Diriyah from 7 to 9 February, this inaugural event showcased a fusion of regional and international talent, drawing music lovers from near and far.

The festival opened with a bang as Saudi artist Fulana took to the stage. Known for her blend of electronic pop synth and poignant lyricism, she set the tone for an electrifying weekend ahead. Her performance resonated deeply with the audience, proving, right away, the undeniable talent brewing within the local Saudi music scene.

Riyadh International Jazz Festival
YolanDa Brown

Next up, British saxophonist YolanDa Brown infused the air with a fusion of jazz, reggae and soul, captivating listeners with her infectious energy and undeniable stage presence. As she serenaded the crowd with her saxophone, the audience was wowed. We loved how she got off the stage and sat with audience members to take them deep into the jazz experience.

Closing the first night, The Cat Empire delivered a performance to remember. Hailing from Australia, this ensemble brought their signature blend of funk, jazz and rock to the stage.

The anticipation reached a fever pitch as the second day of the festival dawned. Majaz, a local four-piece band, kicked off the festivities with their unique blend of progressive rock, metal, and Khaleeji folk music, setting the stage for an unforgettable evening.


London-based ensemble Kokoroko took the audience on a journey through jazz and Afrobeats. However, it was the festival headliner that everyone was waiting for. The legendary Chaka Khan graced the stage with her powerhouse vocals. At 70 years young, her performance was a testament to the enduring power of music. All the Apple Watches in the audience sent a “loud environment” alert due to her impressive vocal range. Singing to a full house, she touched every heart with her audience interactions. At one point, it seemed like she was done and even left the stage, after which the audience started to leave too. But she returned with a bang and ended the night with her famous hit, Ain’t Nobody.

Riyadh International Jazz Festival
Chaka Khan

On the final day of the festival, Saudi jazz-fusion band Garwasha displayed their musical virtuosity, paving the way for an evening of unforgettable performances. Following suit, Hiatus Kaiyote from Australia mesmerised the crowd with their genre-defying blend of soul, R&B, jazz and funk. They delivered a set that showcased the transformative power of authentic expression in a city ripe for cultural exploration.

Masego closed the Riyadh International Jazz Festival with a performance that left audiences spellbound. He brought the house down with his genre-defying blend of hip-hop, jazz, and soul, leaving attendees wanting for more.

Riyadh International Jazz Festival
The Cat Empire

The Riyadh International Jazz Festival proved to be a triumph of music and culture. As the final notes faded into the night, attendees departed with hearts full and spirits lifted, already eagerly anticipating the next instalment of this extraordinary event. 

We can’t wait for it either.

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Shaheera Anwar - Staff Writer
From a beautiful childhood in Riyadh to a calm and collected life in Dubai. When she's not busy penning her latest masterpiece, you can catch Shaheera lounging with her family or binging on the latest movies. And as a millennial, she's got her sights set on TikTok - hoping to go viral someday (fingers crossed).

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