The Power of Sound and Culture: How Local Content Creators are Shaping the Music Culture in MENA

Sound is the foundation of our existence, holding a transformative influence over our development, memories, and emotions that may often be overlooked. From the calming rhythm of a mother’s heartbeat to the familiar jingle of an ice cream truck to the electric energy of a live concert; sound creates a rich tapestry of experiences that shapes who we are and how we connect with the world around us. It is so deeply rooted within us that we may tend to forget its power.

As we explore the audio landscape through the streaming services we use, podcast shows we learn from, and voice assistants we depend on, we are increasingly aware of its profound impact on shaping our identities and the communities we belong to. The cultural significance of music and podcasts has been a driving force behind the rise of digital audio, as it amplifies perspectives and is fueled by the values of the youth. On-demand streaming services have grown rapidly in popularity due to their ease of access and compatibility across devices, making it effortless to consume audio content, which is expected to continue to rise as technology advances and people look for more ways to connect.

Music cultures in the MENA region are flourishing with countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, leaving a mark on the global music scene through events like the Dubai Jazz Festival, Riyadh’s MDL BEAST Festival and El Gouna’s Sandbox Festival. Music promotes social cohesion which unifies people from diverse backgrounds and creates a shared sense of identity and purpose; but it is the demand for localized content that will truly drive the industry forward in the region. Anghami, the leading music streaming and entertainment company in MENA, houses the largest library of Arabic content and although this makes up less than 1% of the music on app, it garners 40-50% of the overall streaming volume. It is evident that there is a thirst for homegrown talent and Arabic content creators, which is quickly being acknowledged across multiple industries and sectors.

Public and private companies in the region are on a mission to elevate the music scene, leading to a surge in the number of local artists who are gaining recognition within their communities and beyond. Pepsi, a brand known for its love of music, partnered with Anghami for "Sound of Saudi," an initiative providing a platform for new musical talents that focuses on mentoring and documenting their development. It was quickly endorsed by the Saudi Arabia Music Commission and an immediate hit amongst users on social media receiving an impressive 22,000 participants with an appetite to showcase their skills. A total of 10 artists across various genres were shortlisted and given the resources needed to support their journey in producing high-quality original songs along with the opportunity to be part of the brand’s recent and future projects with the likes of Saudi Idol TV performances.

This interest in Arabic content and thriving music cultures can be seen in the listenership trends on Anghami, whereby Arabic Hip-Hop has experienced an 80% YoY growth, making it the 4th most popular genre on Anghami in MENA, followed by International Hip-Hop. Arabic Indie has surpassed International Indie and gained a 79% YoY growth in the success of homegrown artists such as Mashrou' Leila and Cairokee. Electronic and Afro are also increasing in popularity with 60% and 147% growth respectively. The diverse range of music genres, reflecting the varied cultural backgrounds and preferences of the region's population, highlights the significance of inclusivity and the necessity for brands to engage with their audience through native talents. A recent collaboration around International Women's Day leveraged data insights to better cater to the brand’s audience where a dedicated album featuring four rising female artists in Saudi Arabia was produced covering different genres and artist stories while integrating the brand’s main communication, reaching the Top Charts in Saudi and strengthening their local identity in the market.

From the cultural significance of music to the rise of content creators, there are several key takeaways that we can draw from these trends. It's not just about creating music but creating lasting experiences and impressions that stay with the audience. Wegz's presence at the FIFA World Cup is a perfect example of how music can transcend borders and create shared experiences that bring people together. Audio is becoming increasingly vital in any marketing plan, as it provides a listening environment that resonates with users and creates a sense of intimacy and connection. Based on the Nelson Share Shift study, adding audio to a TV campaign improves performance by 20% and is more cost effective. The podcast scene in the MENA region is one to watch with a growing number of listeners and a range of new shows covering a variety of topics, podcasts offer an exciting opportunity for brands and creators to engage with their audience on a deeper level. We can expect to see more innovative ways to incorporate audio into our lives, creating new and exciting experiences for listeners across the region.