Meet the people building a Gulf music chart and protecting artists' rights

The IFPI's regional director Rawan Al Dabbas explains how the company will help fight for the rights of the region's record labels and artists

epa07730334 Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram performs during the 2019 Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts at the Jerash archeological site, Jerash, some 46 km North of Amman, Jordan, 20 July 2019. The Jerash festival takes part from 18 to 27 July 2019.  EPA/ANDRE PAIN
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The Middle East and North Africa’s music industry has a new champion.

As director of the newly established regional chapter of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, Rawan Al Dabbas is aiming to shake up the region’s thriving music scene through initiatives that compile and share information about the sector, in addition to protecting the rights of record labels and their artists.

The first project that has been announced as part of the May launch is the creation of a regional music chart spanning works released across the Mena region.

Also on the cards is the establishment of a regional music collection agency, an organisation that collects royalties on behalf of record labels featuring artists whose work has been used in commercial venues or licensed to television, films and advertising campaigns.

What is the IFPI?

Rawan Al Dabbas is the regional director of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Courtesy: IFPI

These announced moves not only elevate and align the region’s industry practices with major international music markets, it also marks the arrival of a powerful music organisation to the Arab world.

Founded in 1933 and with a main base in London, the IFPI is a non-profit organisation representing the interests of more than 8,000 record labels spanning 70 countries.

The Mena chapter, with headquarters in Abu Dhabi’s Yas Creative Hub, joins a network of regional offices including Hong Kong, Miami and Nairobi.

The IFPI also counts the British Phonographic Industry as a member, the organisation behind the UK’s annual Brit Awards.

The Mena branch was officially launched with its founding members, including the three biggest regional labels: Sony Music Entertainment Middle East, Warner Music Middle East and Universal Music Mena. Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth, also attended.

Al Dabbas tells The National a new creative ecosystem is being forged in Mena.

"I have to stress how important this is because now you are not only getting the record labels here working together, you are also getting government ministries looking at the music scene as not as a separate thing, but part of a wider creative ecosystem," she says.

"Having the IFPI not only means the music industry here has somebody in the region representing their interests, but it is also a way to continue building the industry by attracting future talent from Mena.”

The Mena music scene is thriving

The Mena chapter also represents a strong endorsement of the region’s music landscape.

According to the IFPI's Global Music Report 2022, the Mena region experienced a 35 per cent growth in music revenues in 2021, establishing it as the world’s fastest growing territory of that year.

This is in comparison to the massive Latin American market, which recorded a 31.2 per cent climb, followed by the US and Canada, Europe and Asia.

Al Dabbas says such growth necessitates the creation of a regional chart, to be launched soon.

More than the bragging rights afforded to artists at the top, the information supplied by the charts — extrapolated from streaming figures across music, social media platforms and physical sales — will provide consistent and timely information on the developments of the Mena music scene.

The initiative will be backed by the IFPI’s lobbying efforts for sound policies to help the industry unlock its full potential.

"Ultimately, we want to get the value of music hopefully recognised and for the artists to see the value for it, which will encourage them to create more," he says.

"By representing so many global members, we can share our knowledge and show what best industry practice looks like, while recognising the local differences and challenges."

Creating a better atmosphere

It will be interesting to see if Emirati pop star Hussein Al Jasmi's popularity translates to the top of the Mena music charts soon to be launched by the IFPI. Satish Kumar / The National

Al Dabbas has been in the thick of it when it comes to advocating for the rights of Arab creatives.

Prior to joining the IFPI, she spent seven years at the Emirates Publishing Association as the head of legal and international relations.

It is a role in which she facilitated discussions between the publishing industry and UAE authorities to enhance the country’s copyright laws.

“The UAE has excellent copyright laws, to be honest, but there's a big difference between having such a framework and enforcing it and creating the right systems to make it work,” Al Dabbas says.

"So by us being here is significant because now the industry has someone to follow up and press the button, so to speak. The way to fight piracy over here is that you need to first alert the authorities of the alleged offence. We will do that and defend the rights of our members and make sure we can fight that battle."

Al Dabbas disagrees with the notion that her role is akin to policing.

"It is the opposite, in fact,” she says. “I want to encourage legal access to music and create the right environment for people to do that."

Only upon achieving this will the full impact of the IFPI's arrival be felt by regional independent artists, many of whom are unsigned to a label that are members in the organisation.

"At the end of the day we are an organisation that is trying to improve the ecosystem so we all can thrive in," she says.

"While measuring that is not exactly tangible, we are trying to create an atmosphere where all Mena artists can create work while knowing their rights are protected.”

For more information on the Middle East's copyright laws, check out the conversation below between The National's Saeed Saeed and Esmaa co-founder and chief executive Hussain ‘Spek’ Yoosuf as part of Dubai Media City's On Music series.

Updated: May 31, 2022, 8:53 AM