ALULA: In the historical epicenter for cross-cultural exchange, between the majestic mountains of AlUla, popstar Jason Derulo took the stage to deliver a performance unlike any other at the second edition of the Azimuth music festival on Saudi National Day last weekend.
The American artist entranced the crowd with some of his most recent hits, including “Swalla” and “Jelebi Baby,” as well as some of his older fan favorites such as “Solo” and “In My Head.”
The concert took place in the same valley that hosted the contemporary art exhibition Desert X earlier this year, ensuring a special music experience for nationals and visitors alike in celebration of the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day.
“Any time you can come to a place and have an experience … it makes the show so much better because it’s something that’s completely different that you can’t get anywhere else,” Derulo told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
Historically known as a strategic crossroads for trade and pilgrimage routes, the settlement conceals hidden gems such as the narrow valley oasis and the unique Elephant Rock. As part of the Madinah province, AlUla is a symbol of the cultural richness found throughout the eastern region of Saudi Arabia and beyond.
Any time that I can spread the word about how incredible this place is, I jump at the opportunity, and this is another one of those opportunities.
“Coming through the rock and all the sand, it’s almost like it’s a hideaway from everything, and to bring all of this luxury to the middle of the desert is unlike any other experience,” he said.
“Here you get to really see all the stars, you get to see all the rock, the mountains, you get a piece of that world. Then you bring the highest level of luxury to it and it’s just a blend of worlds that you can’t get anywhere else,” Derulo added.
Derulo has performed throughout the region, headlining in Saudi for the first time in 2018 at the Saudia Diriyah E-Prix alongside Enrique Iglesias, The Black Eyed Peas, and Egypt’s Amr Diab.
“I’ve been performing for a very long time and I can say that this experience was unique, unlike any experience I’ve ever had. I’ve performed all over the world and even coming here today, I pulled out my phone — I was like, ‘this is amazing,’” he said.
The three-day Azimuth festival is one of several initiatives, forming part of Vision 2030, to position the Kingdom as a tourism hub.
“I was actually one of the first performers, if not the first performer, that performed with an integrated crowd between men and women here, and I feel honored and blessed to be a small piece of history.”
“Any time that I can spread the word about how incredible this place is, I jump at the opportunity, and this is another one of those opportunities,” Derulo said.
“I love that people from across the world have come here and made this home because it really is a special place. They have a sense of pride, a small piece of ownership even, you would think that they were from here and they know so much about the history,” he added.
The artist believes that Saudi Arabia is on the verge of becoming one of the “biggest” attractions in the world.
“This is something that’s just starting, though people are just now starting to see it, I’m sure this has been in the works for such a long time. There’s still so much room for growth, but it’s already incredible,” he said.
Bringing in a diverse lineup of both local and international artists was a key goal for the event, collaborated by entertainment festival MDLBEAST and the Royal Commission for AlUla.
Ahmed Alammary, the Saudi DJ and chief creative at MDLBEAST, told Arab News that this celebration was a chance to create cultural exchange opportunities with international artists while also catering to a local audience.
Derulo commended the efforts made to globalize local talent and create new avenues for entertainment, recalling his performance during the professional LIV Golf tour, financed by the Public Investment Fund.
“This is becoming a melting pot, and it’s beautiful to see … I think Saudi is really pushing the envelope in terms of tourism and technology. When you think of arts when you think of entertainment, Saudi has become really high up on the list because they really took a stand and really took a giant leap in that world,” Derulo said.