Arabic hip-hop culture takes center stage at BeatRoots in Riyadh

RIYADH: The Saudi hip-hop music scene was in the spotlight this weekend when local talent took the stage in Riyadh at BeatRoots, a special music event that took place Friday at AlMashtal Creative Space, in collaboration with the label Bahrain Museland.

The event, inspired by New York-style block parties, featured live performances by six Saudi and Bahraini artists, as well as graffiti artists, b-boy dancers and a market selling sneakers, street fashion and vinyl records.

AlMashtal, a creative incubator, regularly hosts collaborations with creators of all kinds, including musicians, visual artists and fashion designers. Its goal is to provide a platform to help creative talents develop their craft, grow and showcase their work.

“We really like to focus on these local talents, these emerging artists who need a space to express themselves, to have their own audience, a chance to showcase themselves in front of an intimate audience; the right kind of audience, the right kind of space,” Elham Ghanimah, curator of creative labs at AlMashtal, told Arab News.

The evening began with a sweet performance by Bahraini musician and graffiti artist Du$t. His music is inspired by various elements such as B-boy dance, graffiti and surrealist art. He explained that it is important to his profession that he think outside the box when creating his music, and said he was delighted to see his style of music gaining an audience in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s amazing to see it growing here too,” he told Arab News. “In Bahrain (we did) the same event there, so bringing it here and seeing everyone involved is a nice feeling.”

BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland founder Ali Al-Saeed. It’s already a regular occurrence in Bahrain and now the label is expanding to other parts of the region.

” Everybody is happy ; the energy is really good, everything is positive, the crowd is really enjoying it,” Ghanimah said. “I think in the end, that’s really what matters.”

Many people assume that the hip-hop scene is relatively new in Saudi Arabia, but its origins date back to at least the early 2000s, with interest in the genre fueled by the growth of the internet.

“Generally everyone is focused on hip-hop in English…It’s good to take inspiration from the West but it’s also good to see what you have here, to connect with your own culture, with your roots,” Ghanimah said.

Hip-hop artist and rapper Dattune told Arab News, “We already had a hip-hop culture (in the Kingdom) but we didn’t have enough spaces to perform or connect with each other. That’s what I like about these kinds of events. I met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met if we didn’t have these spaces. The talent is already there; all we need is a chance to perform.

In addition to Dattune and Du$t, the BeatRoots lineup included Fizzy, Septemba, Str8tup Rkls and hip-hop artist, rapper and crowd favorite Albakri, who gave a hardcore yet heartfelt performance that included two previously unreleased songs.

Albakri said his inspiration came from his introspection, citing his culture and personal identity as huge influences on his work.

“I’m a guy with mixed identities: I’m Jordanian, I’m Palestinian and I’m Saudi. I am all that. So it’s just about how I can connect to these three cultures,” he told Arab News.

Regarding his unique sound, he said his main inspirations came from Riyadh, especially its producers Leo, Mufasa and Dice, as well as DJs and friends such as Bucky Grooves, Vinylmode and Baloo. The rapper said he hopes to start his own record label one day.

“I’m very happy that someone from Bahrain looked into (Riyadh) and looked for artists… To see people opening up to the genre, to see collaborations between the hip-hop genre, the dance/house/minimal genre …and having a space, being a collective – all of that matters to the genre and to music in general,” he said.

AlMashtal’s stated goal with cultural events such as BeatRoots is to open doors for discussion, cultural and artistic exchange, and the promotion of creative enterprises in the Arab region.

“We want to do more collaborations just to put it all in a positive light,” Ghanimah said.

“Not everyone has a chance and if people have a chance, not everyone has the good luck and the right kind of support.

“So you show up not just in any space, but in a creative incubator where the goal is to nurture those creatives and help them achieve their goals.”