RIYADH: Kuwaiti singer Nabeel Shuail is seen on large screens at a theatre hosting the first concert in the Saudi capital since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic late on June 3, 2021. – AFP

RIYADH: Hundreds gathered Thursday for the first concert in the Saudi capital since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to watch performances by Syrian diva Assala Nasri and Kuwaiti crooner Nabeel Shuail. Before stiff rules were brought in a year ago to stem the spread of coronavirus, the ultra-conservative kingdom had started to ease decades-long restrictions on entertainment, as part of efforts to improve its image and attract tourists.

“This is the first concert to take place in Saudi for a very long time,” said one spectator at the concert, held in a restaurant of a large Riyadh hotel. “We are delighted to come from Kuwait to attend the concert,” said a Kuwaiti tourist. Saudi Arabia has officially recorded more than 454,000 coronavirus infections, including 7,408 deaths.

It was not the first concert – Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sang in April at the ancient Saudi city of Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Saudi Arabia has hosted international musicians – from Janet Jackson to 50 Cent and Korean pop group BTS – for concerts that were unimaginable in the conservative country just four years ago. The pandemic put a brake on the country’s ambitious push to revamp its global image and draw tourists. – AFP