I can’t say I was expecting to read an article today about a Toby Keith concert in Saudi Arabia this weekend.
The more I think about it, however, it’s a clever idea from a Saudi government PR perspective in terms of subtly “liberalizing” the population in ways that are culturally acceptable. Of course, as long as any pitfalls are avoided (more on that below).
And the choice of a country singer such as Toby Keith isn’t surprising. In fact it’s quite clever.
One thing that always struck me in traveling around the Saudi provinces, was how in many core ways their culture isn’t that much different from American culture outside of big Big State urban area.
For example, both are:
- Rural in nature
- Emphasis on importance of tradition and honor – resistant to latest urban fads
- Preference for pick-up trucks
- Tied to the land
- More slower, lower
- Rural-gun/hunting culture
- Do your own thing collectively – less individualistic
And remember, 40 years ago, 99% of Saudis were living in the countryside/desert. So even for city dwellers today, culturally in many ways, it’s still rural in nature.
Potential Pitfall in this Concert?
Obviously there are some.
Given that concerts were illegal in the Kingdom until very recently, there is going to be a conservative faction that isn’t too happy with this. Especially when the concert is done by a Christian who has songs like Red Solo Cup or I Love this bar.
At the same time, aside from references to alchohol, the themes are fairly universal. It’s even hard to see huge differences between country music and bedoin songs. I’d say about 60% of Saudis could get behind about 90% of Toby Keith’s lyrics although not many will understand them in great detail.
And if true that some of Keith’s songs are overtly sexual in nature, it’s not as if Saudis don’t have the very same topics on their mind. The only difference is that their culture doesn’t talk about it openly.
Furthermore, the typical Arabic pop music from Egypt and Lebanon that is widely listened to in the Kingdom is no more or less “risque” than what’s heard in County music.
Therefore, a stadium full of several thousand Saudis men listening to songs like Should’ve Been a Cowboy, Love me if you can, He aint worth missing, I’m So Happy I can’t stop Crying, and White Rose won’t be all that controversial.
What will be interesting is what songs end up being played. Obviously that will be important to only pick the appropriate songs. That process in itself – who gets to pick the playlist – would be a fascinating story about contemporary Saudi politics…