Youth Culture

Saudi youth: Leading change in Arabia

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Sawsan Al Bahiti

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus noticed that the only thing that is constant is change. And in present-day Saudi, the people leading that change are, by and large, under 35 (they make up 67 percent of Saudi’s population). Our video series shines a light on these young change makers. The subject of this segment is Sawsan Al Bahiti, who is not just the first classically trained female Saudi opera singer, but the first opera singer in Saudi altogether. It’s been said that her vocal cords are “breaking the glass ceiling,” but Al Bahiti doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer. “When I was beginning, I didn’t imagine that this was going to happen. But in time, when I was searching for other opera singers, I began to realize that I might be the only one. It was, of course, very exciting, but then I got hit by the idea that this is a big responsibility and that I need to be a great representative of my goal.” 

In line with her “purpose in life” to spread the culture of classical music and opera in Saudi, she founded The Soulful Voice Institute, the country’s first vocal training center, in Jeddah in 2018. In 2020, Al Bahiti made her singing debut in Riyadh, accompanying the orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala Academy. She performed the Saudi national anthem — and, like a true diva, she brought the crowd to its feet. And though some opera singers may dream of performing at the Sydney or Metropolitan Opera Houses, Al Bahiti says her biggest honor would be to perform at the Saudi Opera House (which is slated to open in 2025). Until then, you can catch her below. 

—Didi Gluck is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience reporting on travel, culture and style for publications including Travel + Leisure, JWM, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.

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