‘Hey, We’re Here’: Saudi Arabia’s Women Are Taking The Stage With MDLBEAST

Cosmicat performing live at the first edition of Soundstorm.
Matt Crossik/MD Beast via Getty Images
– Cosmicat performing live at the first edition of Soundstorm.
The first festival of its kind within Saudi Arabia, a showcase of international and local artists in music, art and culture, took place Dec. 19-21, 2019.

“Whether it was singing along to something, or just singing alone in my bathtub, I was singing all the time. And I never thought that it would be something that I could actually pursue as a Saudi woman.” The words of Nourah Alammary, a Saudi freelancer and creative strategist, who grew up between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., and recently added singer and songwriter to her CV.
Nourah Alammary.
– Nourah Alammary.
Started songwriting immediately after the government announced that it would issue public performance licenses last year.

Alammary is one of many female artists making a name for themselves in Saudi Arabia, which announced that it would issue licenses for public performances for the first time in January 2019. Prior to that, you couldn’t play music in a restaurant, let alone have an act perform live, whether that’s music or comedy.

Saudis reportedly spend some $20 billion on entertainment each year overseas for want of domestic offerings, and Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority would like to see some of that money being spent at home.  The move to open up business for private event promoters was also supposed to shake the country’s conservative image, create jobs, and help put Saudi Arabia on the map as an entertainment destination for artists and fans from all over.
With privacy and secrecy being key elements of Saudi society, the music scene has been brewing underground for years, pioneered by DJs like Vinyl Mode or Baloo, who’s also the chief creative officer of a company called MDLBEAST, which launched the moment Saudi Arabia opened up and has positioned itself as a showcase platform for local artists of any gender.
MDLBEAST promoted its first festival, called Soundstorm, Dec. 19-21 in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, boasting a strong female lineup, including Cosmicat, Nas G, and Lady Lou, one of the first Saudi women to make a career singing Jazz. They joined a bill that featured some of the biggest DJs in the world, including Martin Garrix, David Guetta, Afrojack, Steve Aoki. Promoters counted some 400,000 guests across all three days. The event set a Guinness World Record for the world’s tallest stage.
Talal Albahiti
Courtesy of MDLBEAST
– Talal Albahiti
Deputy CEO and COO at MDLBEAST.

Talal Albahiti, deputy CEO and COO at MDLBEAST, who heads up anything related to music and experience art the company, told Pollstar, “Our intention is to book more female performers and bring more balance to the scene. Female representation in underground culture is still underwhelming. We worked hard to balance female representation across the Soundstorm, including everyone from the DJs, to Vocalists, to project managers, designers, and Dancers. 

“Some of the performers were Peggy Gou, Cassy and Saudis Cosmicat, Hatoon, Walaa, Nourah, Loulou Alshareef, Nas G, were all part of the lineup. We hope that more international female artists participate as DJs, producers, and vocalists in order to inspire many more females to perform.”
Another artist on the Soundstorm lineup was Alammary. In an interview after her performance, she said, “Women that I would look at and think, ‘oh they’re really conservative, and they’re going to judge me,’ would come up to me after the show and tell me how much it was empowering for them to see a Saudi woman do this. Getting off stage, I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t processing anything, I was just walking in a haze, or a daze, or in awe. This platform, MDLBEAST, gave all of us local artists the opportunity to say, ‘hey, we’re here’.”
Alammary began songwriting immediately after the government announced that it would issue public performance licenses last year. One of her lyrics goes like this: “Seeing how this lyric chose me, even though I hid it clearly. So, I stop and hold my phone, letting the words come on their own. Wishing it would leave me peaceful, fearing it would make me prideful. Then I looked into the mirror, hoping it would be much clearer, that the only way for me to go on is for me to write this song.”
She explained in the interview: “It’s me singing away the taboo of being a Saudi woman and being a performer and pursuing a passion that was deemed unworthy. It took me so long that I accept that I love to sing, and accept that I love music. There’s no going back.”
Alammary is convinced, that seeing women on stage will inspire other Saudi women to pursue their passion, discover what it is they have to offer, and become better versions of themselves. “The news has been filled with so many different amazing Saudi Women and their stories. It’s time for the world to see that we’re not afraid, we’re not these little women that listen to what men say, we actually have strong opinions. I’m excited to see history happening,” said Alammary.
Nas G, who also performed at the first edition of Soundstorm, said the brand offered female artists an opportunity to go out, be verbal and show their craft and their god-given gifts. Cosmicat, one of Saudi Arabia’s first female DJs, and a MDLBEAST resident DJ, has been pushing her sound of house music throughout the region, said, “We have tons of interesting women here in Saudi, but they shy away from the spotlight. Soon that’ll change, I’m sure we’ll have more women on the scene.”
The stage at Soundstorm.
– The stage at Soundstorm.
Earned a Guiness World Record for the world’s tallest temporary stage.

The second edition of Soundstorm had to be postponed to early next year due to the current restriction on live. Being limited to online, MDLBEAST started producing a series of live DJ sets recorded in spectacular locations. It’s dubbed Freqways, and recently featured Biirdperson, another noteworthy female artist from Saudi Arabia, from Jeddah to be precise. Mainly working as a filmmaker, assistant director and producer, she writes on her Instagram, “I play music sometimes,” proving that it’s as pointless to limit a person to their regular day job, as it is to limit them to their gender.

Freqways allowed MDLBEAST to work with “freelancers and small businesses that were struggling because of the global pandemic. These guys are the backbone of this industry, and we need to navigate this shift together. Everything we do is a collaborative effort – it is a beast after all,” Albahiti said.
Freqways is free to watch. As Albahiti explained, “we wanted to trigger our audience’s sense of nostalgia through sets from unique locations at a time when most of the world was on lockdown, paying for that experience during a time of uncertainty did not sit well with us.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be ways of monetizing the stream in the future. “Due to the success of the first edition with over 850,000 unique visitors, we are looking to expand the Freqways offering beyond music and make it more frequent – from there, partnership and sponsorship opportunities open up,” Albahiti explained.
– Biirdperson.
During her Freqways performance, filmed in Bayada.

And while it’s not yet clear, if Soundstorm will be returning in spring 2021, depending entirely on the restrictions in place at the time, the plan is to further diversify the lineup as well as the genres of music performed. Albahiti also said his team was planning to combine real life and virtual experiences through new technologies much more going forward. One thing is clear: whenever Soundstorm returns, it will take place at a new location, the spectacular area of Riyadh known as “Edge of the World.”

Albahiti isn’t too worried about what the local regulations will be at the time: “MDLBEAST is very agile, we are constantly evolving our brand and offering for our audiences to amplify the unseen and ultimately supercharge a whole community of creators. With a whole roster of exciting new projects in the pipeline beyond Soundstorm, we are staying true to our vision of unleashing creativity anywhere.”