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Rising music streaming propels region’s artists into spotlight 

Mahmoud Al Turk Dubai Expo
Iraqi artist Mahmoud Al Turky is currently number 1 on the Official Mena Chart with his song Asheq Majnoon
  • 95.5% of Mena music revenues in 2022 came from streaming
  • Local and international streaming platforms gaining in popularity 
  • Anghami being sued in Abu Dhabi over alleged copyright infringement

Not long ago, the only Arab music artists to make it big were traditional singers like Egypt’s Amr Diab and Lebanon’s Nancy Ajram, firm favourites in wedding playlists and live event calendars the region over. 

Today, new names and genres are pushing into the mainstream. One recent prominent example is Egyptian rapper Ahmed Ali, better known as Wegz.

“This is no clean-cut pop star, this is grimey hip hop,” says Hussain Yoosuf, founder of Abu Dhabi label and music publisher Pop Arabia, which also owns rights manager ESMAA.  

Wegz’s rise to fame, with his blend of shaabi (Egyptian street music) and trap (Southern US hip hop), has been remarkable. In 2020 his song Dorak Gai became Egypt’s most streamed song on Spotify. It has now had more than 100 million YouTube views. 

For Yoosuf (also known as Spek), who in the 1990s was a member of Canadian hip hop group Dream Warriors, such rapid success is not the result of a traditional career path through recording, promotion and gigs. It has been made possible by the growth of music streaming in the region.  

“More streaming platforms are embracing domestic music, creating a virtuous circle where a bigger subscriptions base brings more money into the industry, supporting the rise of local artists,” he said. 

Music streaming is a way of playing music directly online, in real time, without having to download it first – a type of music rental service. Platforms such as Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music and Amazon Music make their money through subscriptions and sometimes advertising, turning hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. 

In Mena, streaming adoption has been slower despite a young population, rapid digitalisation and high rates of smartphone usage. 

The average time spent streaming music in 2022 was 38 percent lower in Mena than in the US, according to a report last month by Redseer Strategy Consultants. 

The industry is “underpenetrated and restricted to a few dominant cohorts”, specifically Gen Z (those aged between eight and 23), the report said.  

However, take-up is rising. 

A 2023 report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) shows that recorded music market revenues grew by 23.8 percent in 2022 – 95.5 percent of which came from music streaming.

Since 2018, Spotify, Deezer and others have launched regional operations, joining UAE-based Anghami, which launched in Lebanon in 2011. 

The region has also seen an influx in record labels such as Sony, while local labels such as Rotana Music Group and Five Music have grown. Last year, PopArabia, in partnership with US-based Reservoir Music, bought Egyptian label 100COPIES. 

Rush for market share

“Major streaming platforms have been rushing to acquire market share, especially in the GCC, which has high purchasing power, and North Africa, where countries have large populations,” said Habib Rahal, executive director of marketing and branding at Rotana, which represents more than 50 Arab singers. 

“This is boosted by music streaming on social media reaching Gen Z tremendously directly and indirectly, through reels and memes.”  

As more people in Mena subscribe to music streaming services, the volume and variety of content will swell, propelling more artists into the spotlight and generating more revenues to reinvest. 

Said Spek: “You only see meaningful growth in the industry when there is meaningful growth in subscriptions. We’ve not yet reached that tipping point but we’re nearly there. We’re probably three or four years into a 10-year story.”

Last November the IFPI launched the Official Mena Chart, which compiles data from the leading streaming services to monitor online music consumption. 

Egyptian pop singer Ahmed Saad’s R&B ballad Ader Akmel topped the chart as its first-ever Arabic number one hit in March – a proud moment for the industry, according to Rawan Al Dabbas, the IFPI’s regional director. 

“It shows that local artists are benefitting not only from the growing music ecosystem, but also from the opportunity to reach a global fan base like Latin and Korean music have. It’s an exciting time to say the least,” she said.  

Indeed, Anghami’s co-founder Eddy Maroun told AGBI last year that an increase in local Arabic content was one of the “key drivers” to maintain Anghami’s leadership position in the Arabic music streaming market. 

Proper framework

But there is more work to be done. For Al Dabbas, the priority is to create frameworks for licensing, protecting intellectual property, collecting royalties and fighting piracy. 

“There hasn’t been enough credibility given to the creative sector, or awareness that an artist has put their work into this and it’s their bread and butter.” 

Last year, the IFPI and the UAE Ministry of Economy signed an agreement to work together to develop and protect the music industry. 

“The UAE at least is becoming a lot more aware of these things, and with further IP protection systems in place across the region it could become a new creative hub,” Al Dabbas said. 

Plugging these regulatory gaps is increasingly important. In December, PopArabia and Reservoir sued Anghami for alleged copyright infringement related to unauthorised streaming of dozens of Arabic and Western songs. 

The case, filed at Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts has yet to conclude. PopArabia could not comment on the matter and Anghami did not respond to AGBI’s requests. 

“The region has immense potential to compete globally, driven by its rich heritage and diverse cultures,” said Moroccan hip hop artist 7liwa. 

“To realise this potential, it must improve training for specialised professions such as music managers, lawyers and producers. Helping artists navigate contracts and understand music publishing and production will also foster growth. 

“By investing in these areas, we can unlock the region’s artistic and economic potential.”   

Mena top 10 for w/e May 25

  1. ASHEQ MAJNOON Mahmoud Al Turky
  2. YMKEN KHER Ramy Sabry
  3. CALM DOWN Rema
  4. BDET ATEEB Majid Almohandis
  5. ALO ALEKY Mohammed Saeed
  6. PEOPLE Libianca
  7. CUPID Fifty Fifty
  8. ZROUF MANDANY Wael Jassar
  9. BERAHA YA SHEEKHA Bahaa Sultan
  10. EL BAKHT Wegz

The Official Mena Chart

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