RIYADH: The Gulf’s largest music festival returns to Riyadh next weekend for three nights (Dec. 1-3) packed with huge international stars and local up-and-comers. Last year’s SOUNDSTORM reportedly welcomed 730,000 attendees and, according to organizers MDLBEAST, the festival has almost doubled in size this year, with dozens of artists appearing on seven different stages over the course of the weekend.
The festival is once again dominated by EDM DJ sets, although one of the biggest names on this year’s lineup is US singer Bruno Mars, whose fusion of funk, pop, R&B, and soul will be a departure from SOUNDSTORM’s trademark vibe. There are other non-DJ-driven performances lined up too, from acts including veterans of the Arab indie scene Autostrad, and the German-Syrian electronic music duo Shkoon, whose fusion of Arabic-styled instrumentation and Western electro (or ‘Oriental Slow-House’) has established them as one of the most thrilling acts on the Arab electronica scene. As organizers MDLBEAST’s COO Talal Albahiti explained in a recent press release, the promotion of Arab artists remains an important part of the company’s strategy for its events.
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“As well as bringing superstar global headliners to the Kingdom, it is also essential to us that we center our efforts on showcasing unseen talent from across the region,” he said.
Those superstar global headliners include quite a few acts returning from last year — usually a sign that a show has gone well (and/or that the fee is extremely generous) — such as Steve Aoki, David Guetta and Tiesto.
With a few acts still to be confirmed at the time of writing, here are our picks for some of the must-see sets at this year’s SOUNDSTORM.
As mentioned, the French DJ-producer David Guetta will once again be performing at SOUNDSTORM (and at just about every other dance festival that ever happens anywhere), and will doubtless once again prove just why he’s a must-have for almost all EDM promoters around the globe, with his undeniable knack of giving the crowds exactly what they’re there for — Guetta’s unmatched ability to create commercial dance-pop that gets people moving.
While Guetta’s appearance as a headliner is a given, the same certainly can’t be said for Bruno Mars (pictured). But one thing Mars does have in common with his fellow headliners is his danceability. He’s also a consummate old-school showman, whose magnetic live performances have been compared (favorably) with Michael Jackson, James Brown and Elvis Presley for their irresistible charisma. US rapper Post Malone will also be a welcome addition for those who like a little variety at their festivals — his mixture of hip-hop, R&B, and trap will neatly bridge the gap between Mars’ more-commonplace pop and the festival’s mainly electronic vibe.
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Elsewhere on the bill, we’re looking forward to seeing another DJ returning for a second year, Tiesto (Tijs Michiel Verwest) — often cited as the “Godfather of EDM” for his mastery of house music — and his compatriot Hardwell; DJ Snake, the French-Algerian producer behind Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” album, his huge hit with Lil Jon “Turn Down for What,” and 2019’s viral smash, the reggaeton/EDM crossover “Fuego”; Palestinian-American DJ Khaled, on the bill as DJ Khaled & Friends — a moniker that has, in the past, seen him perform with luminaries including Lil Wayne, Mary J. Blige and Drake, so be prepared for some exciting surprises on the night; the Latin-American infused sounds of Swiss-Chilean DJ Luciano; the bass-heavy grooves of Marshmello; the hugely popular French house DJ Cedric Gervais, who won a Grammy for his 2013 remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness”; and Salvatore Ganacci, the Bosnian-Swiss DJ whose live shows are some of the most thrilling around — as shown by the online popularity of his sets at Tomorrowland in 2018 and 2019. Also returning from last year are US superstar Steve Aoki and another acclaimed Dutch DJ — Afrojack.
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As we said before last year’s event, the festival’s programmers deserve plaudits for showing some love to dance-music pioneers, as well as today’s chart-topping big names. UK DJ-producer Carl Cox — renowned for popularizing three-deck mixing in his homeland’s rave scene — was one of the world’s first celebrity DJs, and is returning to SOUNDSTORM for the second year running. Also making his second appearance is Sven Vath (pictured), a hugely important figure in Germany’s influential underground electronic music community, who garnered international recognition as one of the figureheads of Ibiza’s rise to the top of the global party scene. They are joined by Italian dance-music legend Benny Benassi, whose 2002 hit “Satisfaction” played a major part in EDM’s crossover into the mainstream.
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Once again, SOUNDSTORM will give local and regional artists a rare opportunity to perform in front of a sizeable crowd. For Saudi DJs and musicians in particular, these are shows to savor, in a country where it was impossible for them to perform in public just a few years ago. Those who played in 2019 and 2021 certainly raised their profiles, and many will be returning this year. Saudis performing include Cosmicat (Nouf Sufyani), Dish Dash, Baloo, Hats & Klaps, Birdperson, Omar Basaad, and Saudi house music champion Tarek Antabi. The aforementioned Shkoon (pictured) and Autostrad will be repping Arab alternative acts, while there’ll be a no-doubt emotional trip home for LA-based Saudi singer-songwriter Tamtam. Lovers of deep cuts should also check out the set from Shadi Megallaa, founder of Dubai’s The Flip Side, one of the region’s only independent record stores.
LONDON: In 1916, a young woman named Maisie Plant laid her eyes on the world’s most expensive necklace. Its price tag was the princely sum of a million dollars (equivalent to more than $27 million today). Displayed in the vitrine of French jewelry brand Cartier in New York, the necklace had two strands of around 100 shiny pearls. What happened next was a staggering business deal between third-generation jeweler Pierre Cartier and Maisie’s much-older husband, American financier Morton Plant.
Plant owned a townhouse — also valued at a million dollars — on New York’s upscale Fifth Avenue. The two men struck a deal: Plant would give Cartier his townhouse in exchange for the necklace. The elegant mansion block was converted into a brand-new Cartier store, where it stands until this day.
In the early 20th century, pearls were a sign of wealth and power, adorning the wrists, décolletages, and heads of royals and socialites. “Pearls were it. That’s what everyone wanted, more than anything else, in a way that maybe diamonds are today,” Francesca Cartier Brickell, the English author of “The Cartiers” — and direct descendant of the family — told Arab News. “Pearls were the most valuable objects in the world. One pearl was four times as valuable as a diamond of the same size.”
According to Brickell’s late grandfather Jean-Jacques Cartier, who sold the company in the 1970s, 60 percent of Cartier’s designs featured natural pearls. This was largely made possible through a trip taken by Jacques Cartier, the youngest of the three Cartier brothers, in 1912 to Bahrain, which had earned the nickname “The land of pearls.”
At the time, the Cartier company had three major boutiques in Paris, London and New York, split between the three brothers. Brickell found their old letters in a trunk at her grandfather’s residence, and was moved by the brothers’ evident ambition and determination.
“The bond of the brothers was really striking to read,” she said. “They had this dream from a young age to build the leading jewelry firm in the world. It’s remarkable to have young boys turning their dream into reality. It feels like a fairytale, but it is actually the way it happened.”
Pierre and Louis are remembered as the design and business geniuses of the brand, while Jacques — a gemstones expert running the London branch — is lesser-known. He was reportedly a wise and spiritual man; he actually wanted to become a Catholic priest, not a jeweler. He also risked his life fighting at the Front during the First World War, despite having tuberculosis.
Jacques was an avid traveler, and his trips were vital for Cartier’s growth and innovation. He went to Egypt, where he bought little ornaments. In Sri Lanka, he visited mines and secured sapphires. India was another important destination, Cartier maintained close ties with various maharajas and the Indian love of bright colors would inspire Cartier’s jewels in the Twenties and Thirties, combining rubies, sapphires and emeralds together.
With the help of a translator, Jacques immersed himself in the places he visited.
“When he gets to the sapphire mines, he wants to check that they’re well-timbered and that the men are really safe inside,” explained Brickell. “He’s not just going in and going out and trying to get the jewels or get the best trade — he’s genuinely interested in people.”
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When Jacques visited the Middle East, he was inspired by its unique architecture, drawing sketches in his diaries. “He’s looking at it with the eye of an artist,” said Brickell. “This is the thing about Jacques, when he visited a place, he didn’t just visit it and eat the food and meet the people. His library is full of books on the religions, cultures and costumes. He really wanted to understand the culture from the inside.” Eventually, architectural motifs from the region were integrated into Cartier’s clocks and cigarette boxes.
Jacques’ trip to Bahrain was triggered by competition from the Parisian Rosenthal brothers, who had already struck an exclusive agreement to purchase pearls directly from the source. Jacques agreed with Louis that he should stop in Bahrain on his way back from India to get some of the action too. “The best pearls came from the Gulf,” Brickell said.
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It was Jacques’ first time in Bahrain, where pearl diving formed the backbone of the economy. He rode in pearl-fishing boats and spoke with divers, and apparently experienced some culture shock, particularly when eating while sat on the floor. There is a rare black-and-white photograph of him, dressed in a dapper suit and holding a cigarette, seated between four prominent Bahraini pearl merchants.
Jacques sealed the deal, and for many years after pearls generated a significant amount of Cartier’s income — the brand was promoted as “importers of pearls.” However, things went south when, years later, cultured pearls torpedoed the market and sent the value of natural pearls plummeting. “It was terrible for Cartier,” noted Brickell. “My grandfather thought that was worse than the Great Depression.”
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Over a century later, Brickell embarked on the same journey to Bahrain, following the footsteps of her great-grandfather and using his intimate diary as a guide. It was also her first visit to the Gulf island. Asides from giving talks, she went pearl diving, and learned just what a difficult profession it is.
“The pearls come from the seabed. It’s not necessarily a glamorous start, compared to where they end up. It’s grounding to remember that,” she said.
Brickell had been in touch with some of the descendants of the pearl merchants in Jacques’ photograph, and eventually met up with them to recreate their ancestors’ image from 1912. “It was unexpectedly moving,” recalled Brickell. “I was quite teary, because all their families were there. It was just amazing to think that all of our ancestors knew each other. There’s this connection that survives through the generations.”
Described once as the “Jeweler of Kings and King of Jewelers,” Cartier has been famously worn by the likes of Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana. Brickell believes that one of the key secrets to Cartier’s long-lasting success is the firm’s family values.
“They ended up building a loyal following of clients slowly, but also of employees,” she added. “They took care of their employees. They were so proud of working for Cartier.”
Brickell gave up her career as a financial analyst to write a book about her family’s remarkable history. Cartier was founded as a modest start-up with little money 175 years ago and it has survived pandemics, political revolutions, two world wars, and global financial recessions.
“It’s a story of resilience and ambition. It’s not all perfect. There’s family arguments and heartbreak,” said Brickell. “I wanted to share the story. I felt like I owed it to them.”
HIGHLIGHTS from ‘On Foraging,’ a group exhibition which runs until Dec. 25 at Abu Dhabi’s Warehouse421
“On Foraging” uses art to — among other things — examine the issue of food security in the UAE. According to the curators, the show “explores the nuances of what it means to be in constant search of sustenance for both the individual and the collective. Al-Saadi’s charcoal drawings of sweet potatoes were made on numerous camping trips in the UAE’s Al-Hajar Mountains between 2016 and 2019.
‘Windows on Work’
The photographer’s images of bus windshields, which are life-size prints in the show, showcase “the ways in which some drivers transform their dashboards into mobile gardens that are reminiscent of their homes, highlighting the connection between culture and the environment,” according to the show brochure.
Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim
Ibrahim — one of the UAE’s most-significant contemporary artists — contributes this dried paper pulp sculpture, which, the brochure suggests, “reminds viewers of the intrinsic relationship between water and the Earth” and “alludes to the possibility that the Earth is ready to be shaped in particular ways to provide sustenance.”
RIYADH: During Riyadh Season, the Alkhobar-based Greek restaurant Hellenika has set up a pop-up located at Riyadh Water Tower. Hellenika’s contemporary takes on Greek dishes are designed to be shared, making it an ideal choice for group dining.
Chef Evangelos Liakouris is running the kitchen at the Riyadh Season pop-up, and explains the thinking behind the dish-sharing concept. “Basically, for us Greeks, food is not just to feed ourselves because we have to eat and get energy; it’s part of the culture — sitting at the table together and discussing the topics of the day, bringing people together, families and friends gathering,” he tells Arab News. “You can awaken emotions by being all together and enhance memories, and the connecting link is the food.”
For Hellenika’s local clientele, Liakouris explains, the restaurant has adjusted some traditional Greek dishes with Arabic touches.
“We have a dish called talagani, which is similar to halloumi. A Greek-Cypriot gentleman fell in love with a lady and moved to the Kalamata region of Greece (to be with her). He knew how to make halloumi cheese so he created something similar to it, but with different characteristics — that’s talagani,” he says. “And one of my favorite Middle Eastern desserts is knafeh. So what I did is I took the (Greek pastry) kadaifi and (made it into a warm, savory dish). That idea comes from knafeh, so we’ve taken Greek products and used them in a way people in the local market will understand.”
Here, Liakouris discusses the value of mistakes, the best seafood, and the importance of ego.
When you started out as a professional, what was the most-common mistake you made?
(It took some time before I realized) it’s all about food pairing and seasonality — understanding how the ingredients work. Then creating a dish becomes much easier. But sometimes it’s important to let mistakes happen; we forget that a lot of recipes came about by mistake. But in order to understand and use these mistakes in a good way, we must understand the pairing and how the food works not just as ingredients but as chemistry.
What’s one ingredient you think can instantly improve a dish?
I can’t live without extra virgin olive oil. Our olive oil is a blend of two different olives, so it makes it very special. It has an acidity of 0.28. Olive oil has to be below 0.8 to be considered extra virgin. So ours is well below that.
Another ingredient that I love is mastika (a sweet liquer flavored with mastic). It comes from just one island, called Chios. It won’t grow anywhere else. It costs around 3,000 Euros per liter.
What’s your favorite dish to make?
My mother is from an island called Icaria, so I love making seafood. People always ask what the best seafood is, and my answer is that the best seafood is fresh seafood. But you have to be very delicate with it. To cook a very nice, juicy fish is very complicated, technically.
What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly?
It’s a Greek dish, trahana. It’s a small cracked-wheat pasta (fermented in) sour milk or yogurt, and then we use some flour or other ingredients sometimes. When you want to eat something fast, you take some stock or tomato or some yogurt and put this pasta inside. Mix in some herbs and feta cheese and it’s a super-quick, delicious and nutritious dish.
What are you like in the kitchen? Are you laidback, or a disciplinarian?
I’ll never put someone in a corner and make them feel uncomfortable; I will try to elevate their talents. This way you can (be productive). I always say that when you join my team, you are under my umbrella and you should feel safe. When people trust you, they can work in a better way. But of course there are rules everybody has to follow. For example, anybody can be late, but if you don’t inform me, you’re automatically out that day. It’s important everybody respects each other.
There’s an assumption that chef’s have big egos. Is that fair?
To be honest, yes. If you want to be good at something, you have to be competitive, and you can’t be competitive if you don’t have an ego. It’s all about creating a culture and trust between people, so we can share the same vision.
DUBAI: One step closer to knowing the 2023 Oscar nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its shortlists for 10 categories on Wednesday, with three films by directors from the MENA region making the cut.
Moroccan filmmaker Maryam Touzani’s “The Blue Caftan” has been shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, it was just announced. Starring Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri as well as Lubna Azabal and Ayoub Messioui, the film made a mark at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
The film follows a husband and wife duo who run a handmade caftan shop in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas while their marriage hides a secret that neither wants to confront.
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Also making the cut in the same category is Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh’s “Cairo Conspiracy,” submitted from Seden and the winner of Best Screenplay and the coveted François Chalais Prize at Cannes Film Festival 202.
The film, originally titled “Boy From Heaven,” follows Adam, a fisherman’s son, who is offered the ultimate privilege to study at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. When the Grand Imam suddenly dies, Adam becomes a pawn in a ruthless power struggle between Eqypt’s religious and political elites.
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The third and final film to be selected from the region is Iranian writer-director Ali Abbasi’s “Holy Spider.” The films tells the true story of Saeed Hanaei, a construction worker and decorated veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who in the years 2000 and 2001 strangled 16 female sex workers in the Iranian city of Mashhad.
AMMAN: Jordan’s northern town of Umm Qais has been named among the best tourism villages of 2022 by the UN World Tourism Organization.
Nayef Fayez, Jordan’s minister of tourism and antiquities, said that the listing will promote tourism in the country and increase job opportunities in local communities.
A national strategy has placed the tourism sector at the heart of Jordan’s economy and society, Fayez said on Wednesday, according to the Jordan News Agency.
To celebrate the achievement, festivals, art exhibitions, forums and showcases of industries and handicrafts will be held in the town.
Umm Qais was among 135 locations judged by UNWTO member states based on a range of criteria, including cultural and natural resources, promotion and conservation of cultural resources, and economic, social and environmental sustainability.
The initiative is part of a UNWTO program to promote tourism and rural development. It also focuses on improving connectivity, infrastructure, access to finance and investment, and enhancing education and skills.
Umm Qais is located in the northwestern corner of Jordan, on the hills above the Jordan Valley. It is known for its impressive colonnaded streets, vaulted terrace and the ruins of two ancient theaters.