In what sadly may be a first, Spotify has hired an actual working musician to help program the streamer and develop an Arab music and culture hub. Despite concerns about a complex political and cultural landscape, infrastructure investments by wealthy nations like the UAE and Dubai are making the market increasingly attractive.
Spotify has appointed Suhel Nafar as to help the company raise its profile in the Middle East. Nafar, who will be based in New York, will serve as a senior editor and help to build and program Spotify’s Arab Music & Culture Hub.
Nafar comes to his new role with a wealth of experience in the region, having most recently served as the music programmer for the Palestine Music Expo (PMX).
At this year’s PMX, Nafar created, directed, and produced Lit Tent, a digitally distributed music show featuring artists from the region that’s slated to be released later this year. Nafar is also a performer in his own right and co-founded the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, which blends a modern R&B aesthetic with more traditional Palestinian sounds.
Spotify Trails Apple Music, Anghami In Region
Nafar’s appointment comes as companies like Spotify increasingly focus on international markets as streaming penetration in existing markets starts to become a limiter for growth. Spotify is currently not available in much of the Middle East, where Apple Music, one of their key rivals, has established an initial footprint with limited availability in some countries, including the UAE.
Beirut-based streamer Anghami is currently the most popular streaming service in the region, offering millions of tracks from both regional and international artists. The service is currently available in some parts of North Africa, including Egypt, as well as Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula, with the exception of beleaguered Qatar, which is in the midst of armed conflict.
However, streaming music does face some roadblocks in the region, including infrastructure. At present, the Middle East is one of the most underserved markets for internet, with under 65% of the region’s estimated 254 million inhabits with reliable internet access, according to the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union.
Combine that with a complex political and cultural landscape and it’s not hard to understand why international streaming music services have been slow to enter the market. Despite those concerns, heavy investment in infrastructure from oil wealthy nations like the emirate Dubai is making the market increasingly attractive to companies from outside of the region. Video streaming giant YouTube recently built a new studio in Dubai’s Studio City to support a burgeoning content creation scene there.
“It was slower in the early years here but now the monetization is improving tremendously. And there is also much greater collaboration between us and the media companies who are uploading their content to YouTube and growing their audiences as well,” Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s global chief business officer told Arab Business in a recent interview.