US, France and Germany turn up the volume on Mena artists, Spotify report reveals

New statistics from the tech platform shows worldwide listeners are increasingly tuning in to regional musicians

Somali rapper Freek is at the forefront of the Arabic trap music scene. Photo: Elia Mssawir
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Musicians from the Middle East and North Africa are gaining fans from beyond the region, according to a new report from Spotify.

Released as part of a series of global “fan studies”, which focus on consumer behaviour on its streaming platform, the Mena version is built from data on regionally created content, with the aim of guiding artists on how to grow their audience.

According to the report, 66 per cent of songs by Mena artists are being heard outside the region for the first time.

“We found that fans recognise great music can come from anywhere. On average, global listeners stream artists from 14 countries every month,” says Mark Abou Jaoude, Spotify head of music for Mena and South Asia.

The top five countries streaming artists from Mena are the US, France, Germany, Canada and Turkey.

A result of that diversity is more artists, such as Moroccan rapper ElGrandeToto and Saudi R&B singer Hajaj, are featured in various popular Spotify playlists, while their tracks appear in the influential Weekly Top Songs charts, a list featuring the most streamed songs outside North America and Europe.

The report also illustrates the power of international music collaborations, with 96 per cent of such tracks heard outside the primary artist’s country.

This is in contrast to domestic and cross-regional collaborations only registering 52 per cent listenership outside the artist’s domestic market.

"Such numbers show how music is becoming even more borderless with fans open to listening to good music from everywhere in the world," Abou Jaoude says.

"So these international collaborations are very important for artists to consider when it comes to increasing their fan base."

A good example of such partnerships working is with Somali rapper Freek, who was born and raised in the UAE.

He capitalised on his single Wala Kilma, which had UK interest, by collaborating on a new version of the hit with British grime artists in addition to touring the UK.

“That was never really on my mind when I first wrote the song as I was writing about things that mattered to me and that I personally experienced living in the UAE,” he says.

“But looking at my streaming figures I can see how the song has taken off, particularly in the UK, and from that came the idea of the remix and the tour.”

Other takeaways from the report include Egyptian users being the ones most likely to share Mena tracks, in addition to being the most likely to play general tracks on repeat, alongside Iraqis.

With so much data now available from streaming services, it is essential for all involved within the music industry to keep on researching and analysing, Karima Damir, A&R (artist and repertoire) and marketing director at Sony Music Middle East.

"You are going to fool yourself if you are not relying on the data, that's for sure," she says.

"Not only does it enable you to discover artists from the region, but it also helps you go on a deep dive and look at artists and future trends that all have potential.

“The beauty of what we do is try to pick up on those artists and trends before they hit the charts and be part of that developmental journey.”

While knowledge can result in better career choices for artists, does it have a detrimental effect on the creative process?

Not so, says Syrian singer and Al Ain resident Ghalia.

Performing her new song Elak w Bas on Wednesday, she said the data can push artists to be bolder.

"I think it’s the audience that really sorts of paves the way for the artist and they encourage us to take on different genres and experiment more," she says.

"And also, as someone who lives in a small community in Al Ain, just to have that amazing feeling there are people that are listening and enjoying my work in places in the US, Canada, Morocco, Algeria and Tunis is amazing.

"Every time I get access to that kind of information feels like my birthday."

Updated: October 14, 2022, 8:51 AM