5 Landmark Concerts That Rocked The Middle East

By Team GQ Middle East
12 December 2018
UAE, Jordan, Lebanon, Concerts, Middle East
With Saudi Arabia set to hold an unprecedented series of musical concerts this week, we look back at five shows by international acts that have defined the music scene in the region

Enrique Iglesias, The Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta, OneRepublic, Amr Diab and Jason Derulo are set to play at Formula E’s Ad Diriyah Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia starting on Thursday, December 13.

It is the first time that an event with such star-studded international line-up is taking place in the Kingdom, but we are certain it won't be the last.

Saudi now looks set to become the latest Middle Eastern destination for big name acts, and here we look at five memorable concerts that took place in the region since the turn of the century.

Cairo 2001

Sting had already performed in Dubai and Amman before arriving in Egypt to perform in the shadow of the Pyramids on April 25, 2001.

The concert was not without controversy, though Sting had little to do with it. Egyptian performer Hakim had stormed the stage after having his slot cancelled by the organisers for being late, and after a long delay minutes, Sting finally made it on stage.

In the end it was well worth the wait, with a crowd of 10,000 treated to a string of his greatest hits as Sting was joined on stage by Cheb Mami for a duet on “Desert Rose”.

Bryan Adams
Amman, 2004

Over 5,000 people, mostly students, watched Bryan Adams make his Amman debut in February 2004 at the Al Ahlia University Arena, where Sting had played three years earlier.

Among the Canadian’s greatest hits that got an airing that night were Run To You Summer Of 69, Please Forgive Me and crowd favourite Everything I Do (I Do It For You).

A memorable night for the lucky ones who made it.

Robbie Williams
Dubai, 2006

It’s hard to overestimate just how much of a buzz the announcement of this concert created in Dubai. Robbie Williams was at the peak of his powers and for weeks his impending show at Nad Al Sheba in April, 2006 was the talk of the town.

Tickets were at a premium and visitors from around the Gulf, Middle East and even a few from Europe made the effort to fly over for what turned out to be an epic show. More than 15,000 rocked to 21-song set-list that included Supreme, Millennium, Back For Good, Come Undone and Angels.

For once, the hype was justified. He truly did entertain us.

Justin Timberlake
Abu Dhabi, 2007

The day Abu Dhabi introduced itself as the Middle East’s undisputed No.1 destination for A-list international acts. Justin Timberlake was at the end of his world tour when he was persuaded to play one final gig at Emirates Palace in the UAE’s capital.

An almost disbelieving crowd lapped out hits like Señorita, Rocky Your Body, Cry Me A River and SexyBack, among others.


This concert signalled the beginning of an unprecedented series of concerts by some of the world’s most successful artists in Abu Dhabi. Within two years, the city's Formula 1 Grand Prix, and Yas Arena, would make events of this calibre commonplace.

But on that December night in Abu Dhabi, a whole new world opened up for music lovers.


Abu Dhabi, 2010

Aerosmith had delivered stunning post-race concerts at the first Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix in 2009, and in 2011 Paul McCartney would deliver a storming post-race show. But it was Prince, sandwiched in between, that would give Yas Arena its most iconic performance to date.

"Too many hits, not enough time," Prince said to the delirious Abu Dhabi crowd in November 2010.

Indeed. Let's Go Crazy, 1999, Little Red Corvette, Raspberry Beret, Cream and Kiss where just a few of those hits, and by the end of the show prince was surround by dancing fans he’d asked to join him on stage.

To this day, the Purple One’s gig at Yas remains peerless among Middle East concerts.