Young and Restless

Saudi Arabia’s baby boomers, born after the 1973 oil embargo, are redefining the kingdom’s relationship with the modern world

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Hatrash, who abstains from drink and covers the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage, for local papers, had spent the past two years in Malaysia, waiting tables and playing guitar in bars. When I asked about his eclectic tastes, he said, “I am a Hijazi. We have DNA from everywhere in the world.”

At a walled villa in Jeddah, young men were tuning guitars and tapping drums. Ahmad, who is half-Lebanese and half-Saudi, is the lead singer of a band known as Grieving Age. He introduced me around. A few of the musicians, including Ahmad, had long hair and beards, but most did not. One wore a Starbucks shirt—for his job, afterward. Another worked as an attendant on Saudia, the national airline, and a third worked in insurance. All seemed exceedingly polite.

They played songs from the genre heavy-metal fans call “melodic death.” It had a haunting appeal, though the lyrics were, predictably, unintelligible amid the heavy bass. On the walls, a poster of the British band Iron Maiden competed for space with one of Mariam Fares, a sultry Lebanese pop star.

When Hatrash took the stage, he played a series of guitar favorites, such as Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and softer rock, to the seeming delight of the heavy-metal aficionados.

Throughout the evening, more young men arrived—but no women. Some took turns playing; others just watched. By midnight, the jam session had wound down. “This is a tame event, as you can see,” Hatrash said. “There is no drinking or drugs. We are just enjoying the music.”

I asked if he could envision a day when he could play in public, instead of behind closed doors.

He just smiled and launched into another song. Someone jumped up to accompany him on the bass, and Ahmad mouthed the lyrics. The guy in the Starbucks shirt rushed out the door, late for his shift.


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