One of the wonders of music streaming is that it knows no boundaries. Before, a person never listened, much less bought, music outside their country or comfort zone unless they entered that area of a record store or on the radio dial. But streaming seems to have fueled collisions from genres like hip-hop and rock, perhaps especially fueling the rise of reggaeton, the Latin hip-hop hybrid whose beat has become the most ubiquitous sound of the past decade.
Now, music companies are making even more discoveries and cross-pollination: In the last five years, the world’s top three record groups, Sony, Universal, and Warner, have expanded their global reach by opening offices or partner with local companies i. under-cultivated regions of Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.
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The region that many consider ripe for discovery is the Arab world, which has a musical history as rich, distinctive and historically vital as any other culture, but which the West has overlooked for reasons that are not they have a lot to do with music. This year, however, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the global trade group for recorded music, identified the Middle East and North Africa as their fastest growing region.
In April 2021, during National Arab American Heritage Month, Universal took a big step to globalize the sound, launching Universal Arabic Music. The label boasts a few successful artists and, at the helm, Lebanese Wassim “Sal” Slaiby, whose company, SalXCo, manages the best stars including the Weeknd, Doja Cat, Brandy, Swedish House Mafia, French Montana and Sean “P. Diddy” Kerry. In 2020, Variety recognized Slaiby as Hitmakers’ Manager of the Year.
Unlike regional music companies, UAM covers the entire Arabic-speaking world, from the Middle East and North Africa to diaspora communities as far afield as France, Germany, the UK, Brazil, Venezuela, the Caribbean, the United States and Canada. In the latter country, Slaiby and two lifelong colleagues – Canadian-Palestinian rapper Belly (Ahmad Balshe) and Canadian-Lebanese singer-producer Massari (Sari Abboud) – created their record company CP to turn it into one of the most successful independents in the. country in the mid-2000s.
This focus on culture rather than geography is reflected in the UAM roster, which includes veteran Lebanese singer and actress Hiba Tiwaji and 19-year-old Jordanian singer Issam Alnajjar and Chilean-Palestinian singer 20-year-old Elyanna (Elian Marjieh) and The Saudi rapper Skinny (Sami Hamed).
While the roster features plenty of contemporary but distinctly Arabic music, UAM is also focused on fusion: The company’s latest single, “Sah Sah,” teams Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram with electronic producer American Marsh-mello; This month Tiwaji releases a duet single with Puerto Rican superstar Luis Fonsi; The Los Angeles-raised Skinny released a tag team song this year with Bronx producer Swizz Beatz, who has done extensive work in the region, and Moroccan-American rapper French Montana. Last year, Egyptian star Mohamed Ramadan and Moroccan singer Nouamane Belaiachi teamed up with Moroccan-Swedish producer RedOne (Nadir Khayat), who produced Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” for the single “Gaw El Banat” which showed It has collected over 25 million views on YouTube and was named as the official song of the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt.
“I believe in the growth of Arab music, in the region and around the world, and in the search for artists who want to make it bigger and mix it with others. [géneros]says Slaiby: “There are many of us who have migrated over the years and continue to love the music and the culture, which I think has been misrepresented around the world for a long time. I want to show the positive side: if you go to an Arab house, you will probably eat a lot or dance, usually both,” he said with a laugh.
Massari, who is now head of A&R at UAM, takes that mentality a step further: “The idea here is to try to find ways to help people put aside their differences and problems, and music is one of them the most powerful ways to bring people. together,” he says.
Their friendship goes back to high school in Ottawa, Ontario, where they both immigrated to escape war-torn Lebanon: “I met Sal in the tenth grade, when he had just come to Canada,” recalls Massari, “there is a big Lebanon. community there, and we managed to make friends with him very quickly because we understood how difficult it is to be a newcomer. He is a firm man, the -strong, and he was a very sharp businessman, even when he was young.”
Slaiby heard other immigrants rapping in the street and it was Belly. Massari introduced them, and by the mid-2000s CP was the country’s most successful independent label for several years running, with platinum releases from both Belly and Massari. And more importantly, the label created a network that included Arab communities around the world.
“When we started in Canada,” recalls Massari, “we got a lot of feedback about our songs from [las comunidades de] Detroit and Dearborn, and from there we got news from Lebanon and Egypt, and then it started spreading to Arab communities all over Europe. And in the same way, a song that originated in France spread to North Africa and vice versa. We realized that as long as we were able to put these key points into action, the message was getting through.”
Currently, the UAM has a staff of 15 people. But that network of Arab communities that Massari has been drawing on for the past two decades has grown into partnerships around the world, bolstered by the global reach of Universal and its powerful subsidiary, Republic. And they are not the only ones: To cite three different examples, last month the Middle East division of Sony Music signed an agreement with the Egyptian music production and events company Craft Media; Saudi Arabia’s MDLBeast Soundstorm dance music festival, which brings together Western and local artists, drew more than 700,000 people over four days last year; and the New York Times recently ran an article about “Brooklyn’s thriving music scene that brings Middle Eastern and North African music to the fore.” Many UAM artists share the label’s sense of mission.
“Working with Sal and his team as an artist was very inspiring because we all have one goal: to make Arabic music global,” says Elyanna. “I’m grateful to work with someone who is so proud of their culture and bringing it to life.” Despite all the complex planning involved in running a global music business, Slaiby prefers to take it as it comes.
“It has to happen organically. I don’t really strategize, I like to follow my passion,” he says, “this journey is long. It’s when people come together, and a song can be as one of them on the journey.”