Spotify, the leading audio streaming platform, unveiled earlier this month the top artists, albums, songs, playlists, and podcasts genres from the creators that helped soundtrack the year for more than 381 million users worldwide. This year’s “Wrapped” report was brought to life through Spotify’s in-app experience, out-of-home creatives, and collaborations with content creators like Khaled Mokhtar. Furthermore, there will be an activation of the viral dancing cactus at City Center Almaza on the last two weekends of the year.
Taking a closer look at 2021’s top streamed lists across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Daily News Egypt spoke to Spotify’s Managing Director for the region, Claudius Boller, and Artist Label and Partnerships Lead for MENA, Wissam Khodur.
Both Boller and Khodur discussed the latest trends in the music scene, and what “Wrapped 2021” said about Arab music listeners.
Can you elaborate about the status of music streaming in the MENA region (Arab countries)? What are the most-streamed songs here?
Boller: We launched in the MENA region three years ago and we have been blown away by how fans and creators have been engaging with our platform. It has been inspiring to see the rise of a new generation of artists over the past few years. Seeing how their music is increasingly crossing borders on Spotify is a reflection of our deep commitment to Arab creators, where we constantly look for ways to strengthen their connection with a global audience. We’ve also recently expanded into Libya and Iraq,to further support local artists and foster the local music scene. We believe that this region is the future of streaming.
Khodur: MENA is so diverse, with nuances varying from one region to another. A huge growth has been observed in hip-hop streaming in North Africa and Egypt. We are also seeing local rappers in Palestine top the lists as well. The Sheilat genre is making a comeback in the Gulf region and has broken into the mainstream and in Jordan the love for Indie continues to grow.
This year Egypt’s most-streamed song was “Ghaba” by Marwan Pablo, followed by the viral hit “Astronaut In The Ocean” by Masked Wolf. “Asyad El Soot” by Wegz, “CTRL” by Marwan Pablo and “Msh Bel 7ozzoz” by Afroto have also topped the lists. Four out of five of the most-streamed songs are hip-hop hits from the local scene, and this tells us a lot about the trajectory of the genre. We’re seeing similar trends in Morocco, the region’s biggest market for rap. Rapper ElGrandeToto’s “Mghayer” is the most-streamed song in Morocco and of course, CKay’s “love nwantiti” (feat. ElGrandeToto) landed at number two along with “Nadi Canadi” by Tagne, “7ali Ya 7ali” by Inkonnu, and ElGrandeToto made another appearance on the list with “Haram (Pablo II)”.
In the United Arab Emirates, the scenario is very different, as this market is more westernized, with a large expat community. So it was not surprising to see Lil Nas X, Masked Wolf, The Kid LAROI, Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo dominating the Wrapped songs list. The United Arab Emirates’ neighboring Gulf country, Saudi Arabia, has once again shown its openness to international music including K-Pop, while also spending the year listening to local tunes such as “Leh Al-Jefa” byAbdullah Al Farwan and Abdullah Al Mukhles’ “Ashkar Jamalek”.
Across the Arab world, according to Wrapped 2021 data, the most-streamed artist is ElGrandeToto, followed by fellow Egyptian rapper Wegz. Amr Diab is among the top 5 most-streamed artists further underlining his timeless legacy.
In the MENA Wrapped lists, the majority of artists hail from Egypt and Morocco, so it will be interesting to see how these two countries continue to grow as trendsetting markets for the region in the coming years.
Who is your target audience? Which segment is more engaging with Spotify?
Boller: Our intent is to reach everyone and our platform is open to all. That being said, we know the region has a tech-savvy young population, one that is highly engaged with Spotify, and always on the lookout to discover new content. Our listeners in Egypt are actively creating their own playlists, sharing song recommendations with their friends via our collaborative playlists. We’ve also just launched Lyrics, making it easier for them to jam out to their favorite songs.
Khodur: It is also important to note that we are seeing high engagement from listeners outside of MENA with artists from MENA. For example, a Saudi independent artist called Hajjaj was on the cover of Spotify’s global flagship playlist, “Fresh Finds Pop” and there has been high interest in Moseqar from Egypt who has been added to various global Lo-Fi playlists.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the number of subscribers on the platform?
Boller: Culture happens at Spotify and we see that every day on our platform. Since the pandemic, our listeners have adopted new habits and consumption patterns. As a result of curfews and lockdowns across the world, we saw, for example, a drop in car streaming during the early stages of the pandemic. We have also seen listeners connecting with wellness and meditation content more and more as they use audio to relieve stress. Family-related content also increased as families spent more time together at home. In spite of the pandemic, streaming continues to grow and as shown in our third quarter Earnings report our monthly active users are up by 19% year-on-year.
Do you plan to host any live concerts on Spotify?
Boller: We currently have no plans for live concerts in the region on Spotify. Earlier this year, we launched Greenroom, as we’re constantly iterating and innovating the future formats of audio in order to enable creators and their fans to connect in new ways. We’re building Greenroom with the creators and artists in mind who make Spotify great, optimizing for interactivity and deep connections between participants in live rooms, where all creators can come together and host live discussions. In these virtual rooms, you can talk about the things you love with artists and fans with similar interests. If you want to catch your favorite artist performing, we have our own Spotify franchise called “60 Second Concert” featuring a broad range of regional artists singing their latest releases to their fans.
Can you elaborate about your “Sawtik” initiative?
Khodur: We have long seen that the number of Arab female artists is declining over the years, especially among emerging artists. We’ve decided to do research to better understand the status of Arab female artists and the barriers emerging artists face when it comes to pursuing a career in music. We partnered with Nielsen, a global data and insights company, to conduct market research with artists, listeners, and music experts. We also sent a separate, anonymous survey to MENA-based music labels. The research findings revealed that there is still a long way to go when it comes to gender equality in the music industry. We felt that there is a need for initiatives like Sawtik to provide emerging female artists with the support they need to jumpstart their careers. We launched Sawtik intending to bring more visibility to rising female artists through providing them access to on-platform/off-platform marketing support, education, networking opportunities and guiding labels to discover them.
Through our Sawtik playlist, we wanted to create a destination for emerging female artists to amplify their music and for our listeners to discover their work locally and globally.
What are the criteria you use to pick the participants?
Khodur: First of all the artist must be female, older than 18 years old, has lived in the Arab world, or frequently visits. The artist must have one original released song and must not be signed to a label. The artists can reach out to [email protected], and our Music team will add artists to the initiative that reflect MENA’s diversity of musical genres.
Why did “Perrie” gain such popularity in Egypt?
Khodur: It is amazing to watch Perrie thrive in a male-dominated genre like hip-hop. This is what we need to see more of, a scene that is more inclusive. Perrie’s music carries this raw energy and she adds something special to any track she’s on. She’s also been working hard and producing new music, which shows how committed she is. Her recent collaboration with Abyusif on “MAMLAKA” charted on Spotify’s Top 50 Egypt. Aside from that, emerging female artists can learn from Perrie when it comes to how she builds her fanbase on Spotify, she consistently engages with her fans and directs them to listen to her music on Spotify. Our discovery tools have also enhanced the exposure of her songs by directing listeners to music they might like and this works by serving our listeners songs based on their streaming history.
What distinguishes the Egyptian audience from the rest of the Arab world?
Khodur: Egypt has always been a powerhouse when it comes to music production and breaking musicians. Non-Egyptian artists who wanted to be introduced to the region needed to break into Egypt first, and once they had made it there, they made it regionally. Egypt has always been the fountain of Arab creativity from older times to now. Today’s music taste in Egypt shows how sounds blending local hip-hop and Mahragant really resonate with the youth. The storytelling element of these songs is very strong and relatable. Egyptians also love to keep up with global hits like the rest of the region.