Reporter's Notebook: Saudi Arabia changes its tune on music in public

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A rap concert was the last thing I expected to see in Saudi Arabia.

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After all, this is a country so conservative, so puritanical in its official interpretation of Islam, that for decades there was almost no music played in public at all. Not in stadiums or theaters. Not in restaurants or malls. Not in elevators.

But on the outskirts of Riyadh, at an amusement park on the edge of the desert, there it was: rap music. It’s all part of the sweeping changes being unleashed in Saudi Arabia by the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (“MbS” as everyone calls him).

Since he was catapulted to power with the support of his father, the king, MbS has thrown open the gates to a new, more liberal era for this strategically crucial country, one of the most important allies of the United States.

He’s declared he wants to restore a “moderate Islam, open to the world” in Saudi Arabia. He’s pushed to (finally) allow women to drive, beginning this June. He’s cleared the way for movie theaters to reopen for the first time in 35 years.

And, once again, you can hear music in public in this country, including rap.

Not everyone approves. Saudi Arabia is still a profoundly conservative country. But it is also a country where about 70 percent of the people are younger than 30 years old.

Times change. Youth will be served. Even in Saudi Arabia.

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