John Travolta and US rapper Nelly visit Saudi Arabia

John Travolta and US rapper Nelly visit Saudi Arabia
2 min read
15 December, 2017
Rapper Nelly is performing at a men-only concert in Jeddah, while the American actor John Travolta gave a talk to fans in Riyadh.
Oscar-nominated actor John Travolta and Grammy award-winning rapper Nelly and are in Saudi Arabia for public engagements, in part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's effort to modernise the Gulf kingdom.

American rapper Nelly performed alongside Moroccan singer Cheb Khaled at a men-only concert in Jeddah on Thursday night, while actor Travolta took part in an open "dialogue session" with guests, supported by the kingdom's Entertainment Authority.

The two events come as part of an increasing programme of cultural activities in the ultra-conservative kingdom, as de facto leader bin Salman - or MbS as he is known - attempts to boost domestic spending and revive the flagging economy.

Despite the prince's liberalising efforts, the men-only concert still carried the hallmarks of Saudi's deeply entrenched conservative traditions.

The rapper was also ordered not to rap about cannabis or women, it was reported. 

One of Nelly's most well-known tracks, Hot in Herre, asks women to take off all their clothes.

"It's amazing to have your music transcend and be accepted globally, not just by where you come from but also by people who have never met you or seen you before," the 42-year-old Nelly told reporters before his performance.

Travolta, famed for his singing and dancing roles in films such 
Saturday Night Fever and Hairspray, held a Q&A with fans 
in Riyadh as part of a wave of entertainment events in the
modernising Gulf kingdom [Getty]

"This experience is probably bigger for me than it is for you guys, so it feels great to be here," he added.

The rapper was arrested in October in the United States, in connection with rape allegations brought forward by a college student, which he denied.

He was later released without charge. The rapper has also faced charges of marajuana possession, causing some people to suggest that he should not be permitted to perform in the conservative country. 

Travolta was in Riyadh on Friday, to meet fans and talk about his Hollywood career in a "dialogue session" named A night with John Travolta where fans could ask him questions about his time as an actor. His visit coincided with the lifting of the ban on cinemas in Saudi Arabia.

The newly bolstered Saudi arts and cultural scene form part of the crown prince's "Vision 2030" plan to diversify the economy away from oil, as well as developing the entertainment, tourism and sports industries inside the country.

As part of the programme, Lebanese singer Hiba Tawaji performed at a women-only concert in Riyadh earlier this month.