Saudi authorities have announced that King Abdullah Sports Stadium will host a music festival described as the biggest to date in the region, with the addition of US rapper Nicki Minaj as a headline artist seen as further evidence of the relaxing of strict regulations concerning entertainment events in the ultra-conservative state.

The Jeddah World Fest will take place on July 18 as part of the Jeddah Season of activities being organised by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH). The festival, which in line with Saudi laws is alcohol and drug-free, will be open to people aged 16 and older.

Organisers are also seeking to attract visitors from outside of Saudi Arabia by stating that ticket-buyers from outside the country will be able to obtain a visa within three minutes by using an online e-visa system.

At 100 metres wide, 18 metres high and 50 metres deep, the stage at King Abdullah Sports Stadium will be the largest ever music stage built in the Middle East. The event is also set to be broadcast globally by MTV.

Raed Abuzinada, sector development chief of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority (GEA) and director general of Jeddah Season, said, according to the Arab News website: “There is a stereotype of the Kingdom all over the world, and today it is disappearing. In its place is a new picture of the Kingdom, that accepts everyone.”

Along with Minaj, DJ Steve Aoki and singer Liam Payne have been announced for the festival. However, it is the addition of Minaj, who is renowned for her provocative lyrics and live performances, which has drawn headlines.

Robert Quirke, president of event organizer Roqu Media International, said: “She is an absolute global icon. She has 130 million followers on Instagram, she is considered one of the top 10 female performers of all time, she’s had multiple awards and she’ll have her new album come out this year.

“She is going to get a lot of attention for Jeddah in the most positive way you can imagine. She’s going to be actively on her social media, she’ll be posting right from the stage in Jeddah and at her hotel in Jeddah. Everyone is going to know that Nicki Minaj has landed in Saudi Arabia.”

Quirke added: “What we are doing specifically, is creating a world-class live music international festival in the city of Jeddah. It’s an outdoor music festival, on a similar scale to iconic festivals in different countries around the world.

“What makes this project unique among every other project in Jeddah this year, is that this is produced specifically for global TV broadcast, and that’s really special.”

In January 2018, Saudi Arabia reached a major landmark in its sporting history after the country allowed women to attend a football match unaccompanied for the first time. Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system had previously stated that the male family member – usually the father husband, or brother – had to give their permission for a woman to study, travel and take part in other activities.

However, the country has taken a number of steps to encourage greater gender equality as part of its ongoing ‘Vision 2030’ plan, which also included lifting a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia.

Image: King Abdullah Sports City