Rym Fikri is the latest Arab artist to have her name in lights in New York City.
An image of the Moroccan singer and fledgling actress, 22, was recently beamed on to Spotify’s digital advertisement hoardings in Times Square.
The recognition follows her recent appointment as an ambassador for Equal Arabia, an initiative by the streaming platform to amplify the voices of female content creators from the Middle East and North Africa.
As part of the initiative, Rym — her stage name — is the cover artist on the Equal Arabia playlist on Spotify. Her new single, Moroccan-Afro-pop fusion hit Dime Porque, has already had more than two million listens on the music streaming platform.
The eclectic Equal Arabia playlist includes works by three other artists who have appeared on the screens including Lebanese singer Carole Samaha, rapper Perrie from Egypt and Palestinian-Jordanian singer Dana Salah.
A star on the rise
When The National meets Rym in her home city of Casablanca, she chooses the coastal promenade of Ain Diab as the location.
“I have always been a beach person,” she explains.
“It’s not just about swimming. It's a place where I can really feel relaxed because the past few months have been really intense.”
Where such high-profile campaigns are reserved for superstars — for instance, Egypt’s Amr Diab and Mohamed Ramadan also appeared on advertisement hoardings in New York — Equal Arabia aims to highlight artists on the up.
The platform chose Rym on the back of her impressive career rise.
Seven months ago, she released her debut single Stylo Warqa, a breezy pop jam that has Rym’s deep vocals delivering fierce lyrics about female vulnerability and resilience. “Problems always surround me," she says. "I wrote these songs with my own hands. What and where am I? Hypocrites see me as a weak person … but patience is a rose.”
With the track having achieved close to 20 million view on YouTube, it put her on Spotify's radar. The colourful video showing Rym's steely charisma, meanwhile, caught the attention of television producers, leading to her first acting role in the recent Moroccan Ramadan drama Moul Lmlih.
As someone with no acting experience, Rym recalls having to swallow her nerves. “Sadly these chances don’t come a lot for women here in Morocco because the industry is very much male-dominated and with that comes certain mindsets,” she says.
“So while I was honoured to get the role, it was more about showing other Moroccan female youths that they can do it and to show the industry that we deserve a chance.”
The need to keep going
And Rym is certainly grabbing that chance with both hands.
In addition to her latest single Dime Porque gaining more than two million views on YouTube in the space of four weeks, Rym recently played a successful set in front of 8,000 people in Casablanca as part of a concert featuring various Moroccan artists.
She has also received offers for more regional shows and brand collaborations, an idea she found unfathomable a year ago when she began getting noticed with cover songs of Beyonce and Morocco’s ElGrandeToto on Instagram Reels.
“The enthusiastic response has been great and it is forcing people to pay attention to what young Moroccan musicians can achieve,” she says.
It’s a message pointed at both the local music industry, which prefers to invest in established acts, as well as her colleagues.
“A lot of us young artists can feel easily discouraged and when we sit down together we admit that we lack that confidence in ourselves and what we do,” she says.
“This is why it’s so important to have a strong team around you to pick you up and push you forward when needed.”
And if that doesn’t do the trick, Casablanca has a way of keeping you moving, she says.
“I was born and raised here and Casa is known as the economic city,” she says. “We share a similar personality because I do like the sound, the hustle and bustle and the energy from the people that you meet.
“Also at the same time, if you want to chill, there is always the beach. It’s busy and comforting.”