Qatar trims cultural plans as tradition and budget pressures weigh

Wed Oct 5, 2016 8:24am EDT
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By Tom Finn

DOHA (Reuters) - A 24-year-old jazz fan from Qatar, Hanan al-Kaabi did not lament the closure this summer of the Gulf state's only jazz club.

Acclaimed trumpeters and pianists from New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center band had played at the club in the St Regis Hotel in Doha, a few miles from Kaabi's house.

But a law in Qatar forbidding nationals from entering venues serving alcohol meant she could not attend the club billed as the home of jazz in the Middle East.

"I tried to go to an event celebrating the women of jazz," Kaabi said. "It embarrassed me, the thought that I was barred from enjoying this unique art form in Qatar."

Her experience reflects the delicate balance struck by Qatar, a future soccer World Cup host, as it imports Western art and music to raise its global standing, while also paying heed to local tradition and curbing budgets due to low oil prices.

The $20 million jazz club, with burgundy couches and a curved stage modeled on Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in Manhattan, was founded in 2011 by a Qatari real estate developer and sought to cater to both expats and Qataris by holding musical workshops for children and concerts outdoors at alcohol-free venues that Qataris could attend. But few did.

In July the St Regis announced it was ending its contract with Jazz at Lincoln Center and opening in its place a new venue offering "more musical genres" to a "wider audience".


Labourers work at a construction site at Katara Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar October 4, 2016. Picture taken October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer