American actor John Travolta and singer Nelly are in Saudi Arabia as the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom undergoes a vast ‘modernisation’ plan launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Travolta was in the capital Riyadh for a discussion Friday on ‘the secrets of Hollywood’, and rapper Nelly gave a concert Thursday in Jeddah on the west coast.
Only men were allowed admittance to Nelly’s performance, for which US media had reported he would not rap about women or marijuana.
As part of the crown prince’s modernisation drive, the kingdom has recently organised artistic events open to both sexes and has also announced the forthcoming reopening of previously banned cinemas.
“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.
“This experience is probably bigger for me than it is for you guys, so it feels great to be here.” Nelly is a three-times Grammy winner known for such hits as Hot in Here.
He was arrested in early October in the United States in connection with a rape case but denied the allegation and was later released without charge.
Travolta was in Riyadh to meet fans and talk about his artistic career and Tinseltown.
Half of the Saudi population is aged under 25 and both events are being held under Prince Mohammed’s drive to modernise the kingdom, enshrined in the ‘Vision 2030’ plan unveiled in April last year.
In addition to diversifying an economy still too dependent on oil, the plan provides for developing tourism, sports and entertainment, despite the opposition of some religious circles.