Spotify ‘still discovering’ music trends in Saudi Arabia, says MD

Spotify ‘still discovering’ music trends in Saudi Arabia, says MD
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Updated 28 December 2023
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Spotify ‘still discovering’ music trends in Saudi Arabia, says MD

Spotify ‘still discovering’ music trends in Saudi Arabia, says MD
  • Akshat Harbola tells ‘The Mayman Show’ that Kingdom’s music industry ‘stands out globally’

RIYADH: Streaming giant Spotify is “still discovering Saudi Arabia” five years after its launch in the Kingdom, with “trends getting created as we speak,” the company’s managing director for MENA and South Asia has told Arab News.

Speaking on Arab News’  “The Mayman Show” podcast, Akshat Harbola expressed excitement about Spotify’s prospect in Saudi Arabia, which he is said is stemming from the rise of the entertainment sector of the Kingdom itself.

“One thing you see in this market is that trends are actually getting created as we speak. There’s not a mature market where everything is completely written down and you know what the trends are; everything is happening and getting created as we speak,” he said.  

Harbola added that the Saudi music market stands out globally due to the exceptional institutional support it receives. This is evident in the performances, week after week, by top international artists in the Kingdom, he added. “You want to be in Riyadh because the top global acts are spending time in performing here in Saudi Arabia,” Harbola said.  

He also discussed the captivating blend of growth in the popularity of international, local Khaleeji and regional Arabic music. Taylor Swift is the top-streamed artist overall, the top regional artist is Egypt’s Mohammed Saeed and Abdul Majeed (Abdullah) is dominating the charts on the Khaleeji side on the audio streaming and media services provider. In addition to these genres, Harbola mentioned the rise of the local Saudi hip-hop scene, highlighting Moayad Al-Nefaie, the comedian-turned-rapper, as an example.  

And it is not just international artists making their mark in Saudi Arabia; Spotify is also noticing a demand for the local music scene, giving opportunities for a new generation of Saudi talent to showcase their talent. Captilizing on this trend, the streaming service has launched three programs: EQUAL Arabia, which focuses on female artists, including collaborations with with Saudi Artists such as Dalia Mubarak and Zena Emad; Fresh Finds, designed to identify individuals in the early stages of their careers; and RADAR, offering support for emerging talent. These programs provide artists with essential tools and resources, ranging from marketing to editorial backing. The aim is for artists to see more streams and get the chance to collaborate with other creators in general.

Regarding streaming patterns beyond these three initiatives, Harbola highlighted three categories of individuals in the Saudi music industry: Those unfamiliar with Spotify, those with some awareness but minimal usage and those who actively use the platform. He encouraged everyone to explore Spotify’s options, emphasizing the platform’s artificial intelligence capabilities. “People tend to say that Spotify knows me better than my partner or my spouse,” he added.

Another initiative that Spotify is working on relates to catering to the Kingdom's gaming scene. “If you’re talking about Saudi Arabia, you cannot ignore gaming — 87 percent of the people in KSA self-identify themselves as gamers …  you won’t find that stat anywhere in the world. And we see that at Spotify as well — 30 percent of the people on Spotify in the Kingdom stream music on a console while they’re playing games,” According to Harbola.

Tapping into this trend, Spotify is establishing partnerships with companies like PlayStation and joining events like Gamers8, the world’s largest gaming and esports event spanning eight weeks in Riyadh. The most popular playlist in Saudi Arabia for Spotify is appropriately titled “Top Gaming Tracks.”

Looking ahead from the prospective of the streaming services data insights, Harbola sees three main goals. Firstly, an emphasis should be placed on the current momentum of developing the music industry in the Kingdom. The music market in the MENA region is among the fastest-growing globally, with Saudi Arabia leading the way. The promotion of music streaming and education of users about its benefits is crucial, Harbola said. Secondly, technical infrastructure must be improved to tailor the experience for Saudi audiences, he added. Lastly, creators must be supported and empowered, helping them succeed and gain more public exposure in general.  

As a former consultant and tech employee at McKinsey and Google, Harbola has always loved the music industry. In his appearance on “The Mayman Show,” he revealed that his favorite genres growing up were Bollywood and 80’s pop, as well as rock music. But now, adhering to his daughter’s preferences, he mostly listens to music from Disney’s “Frozen” and “The Little Mermaid.”


Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp
Updated 40 min 31 sec ago
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Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp

Three Palestinian journalists injured in Israeli strike on Gaza’s Nuseirat camp
  • The 3 reporters were taken to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah
  • Journalist Sami Shehada lost his leg in the attack

GAZA: Three Palestinian journalists were injured in an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza on Friday.

Sami Shehada and Sami Barhoum were covering the events for the TRT Arabic TV channel, while Ahmad Harb was on duty for Al Arabiya News Channel at the time of the incident.

All three journalists were first taken to Al-Awda Hospital, a small facility in the north of the enclave, but later transferred to Shohada Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

Shehada lost a leg in the attack, which reportedly directly targeted the media team.

“(We) were in a (relatively) safe spot, wearing our press armor and helmets,” Shehada told Arab News. “Even the car I arrived in was labeled ‘TV,’ and I’m a civilian and a journalist — they targeted us.”

Since Oct. 7, at least 122 journalists have been killed by Israeli strikes, according to UN figures, and many more have been injured.

UN experts said in February that they were “alarmed at the extraordinarily high numbers of journalists and media workers who have been killed, attacked, injured and detained in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in Gaza, in recent months, blatantly disregarding international law. We condemn all killings, threats and attacks on journalists and call on all parties to the conflict to protect them.”


Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists
Updated 12 April 2024
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Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists

Media watchdogs urge independent probe into Israeli attack that injured Gaza journalists
  • ‘Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,’ says NGO official

LONDON: Media watchdogs have called for an independent investigation into an Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza that injured eight journalists.

The strike on March 31 also killed four people and injured nine others.

“Israel’s March 31 attack on a hospital compound where journalists were sheltering and working must be independently investigated,” said Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York City.

With media offices facing widespread destruction in Gaza, journalists in the enclave have increasingly sought refuge in hospitals.

However, attacks on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and the March 18 assault on Al-Shifa Hospital, where journalists were arrested and faced violence, have rendered even hospitals unsafe for press personnel.

“Assaults on hospitals have further restricted the ability of the press to work safely,” added de la Serna.

Reports show that on March 31, an Israeli drone strike hit a tent encampment outside Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza, near a tent provided by the Turkish Anadolu news agency, where journalists had sought refuge.

The attack targeted a command center belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, resulting in the deaths of four militants and injuries to 17 other people, including eight journalists, according to multiple media outlets and the Palestinian press freedom group MADA.

Items including cameras, laptops and mobile phones belonging to journalists were also destroyed in the strike.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in central Gaza has warned of deteriorating conditions for journalists in the enclave, leading many to seek refuge and access to electricity in hospitals in order to file stories.

But recent attacks have eroded confidence in the safety of hospitals across Gaza.

During the Israeli operation in Al-Shifa Hospital on March 18, Al Jazeera Arabic reporter Ismail Al-Ghoul was detained for almost 12 hours alongside several other journalists.

Witnesses reported that soldiers assaulted the group of journalists, destroyed their tent, and damaged equipment and press vehicles.

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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown
Updated 12 April 2024
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Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown

Mali’s junta bans the media from reporting on political activities in a deepening crackdown
  • Maison de le Press, an umbrella organization of journalists in Mali, said it rejects the order and called on media to continue with their work
  • Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, has failed in his promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024

BAMAKO, Mali: In a deepening crackdown, Mali’s ruling junta on Thursday banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, a day after suspending all political activities in the country until further notice.

The order, issued by Mali’s high authority for communication, was distributed on social media. The notice said it applied to all forms of the media, including television, radio, online and print newspapers.
Mali has experienced two coups since 2020, leading a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa in recent years. Along with its political troubles, the country is also in the grip of a worsening insurgency by militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
The scope of the ban — or how it would be applied in practice — was not immediately clear. It was also not known if journalists would still be allowed to report on issues such as the economy, which are closely tied to politics and who would monitor their work.
The umbrella organization that represents journalists in Mali responded with an unusually stern rebuttal.
The group, known as Maison de le Press, or Press House, said it rejects the order and called on journalists to continue to report on politics in Mali. It also urged them to “stand tall, remain unified and to mobilize to defend the right of citizens to have access to information.”
Mali’s national commission for human rights also expressed regret and profound concern over the decision in a statement published late Thursday. It warned the junta the decision could prove harmful.
“Instead of calming the social climate, these restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms could potentially stir up trouble and tension, which the country does not need,” it said.
The clampdown on the media followed a similar action on Wednesday, when the junta ordered the suspension of all activities by political parties until further notice, citing a a need to preserve public order. The news was broadcast on state television as the population was celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which observant Muslims fast from dawn till dusk.
Analysts said the move was likely a backlash against political figures, civil society and students who have expressed frustration with the junta’s failure to return the country to democratic rule as promised.
“Recent weeks saw mounting pressure by political parties and figures,” Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told The Associated Press. “For the first time, the public and politicians have publicly criticized junta leaders and accused them of a lack of seriousness.”
Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.
The junta has vowed to end the insurgency that emerged in 2012 after deposing the elected government. It cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian contractors, mercenaries from the Wagner group, for security support instead. But analysts say the violence has only grown worse.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the ban on political activities. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are critical to an open society,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.


Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy
Updated 12 April 2024
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Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy

Palestinian flag emoji sparks Apple controversy
  • The latest iPhone software updates automatically suggest the Palestinian flag when users type "Jerusalem" in Messages
  • Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital

LONDON: The inclusion of a Palestinian flag emoji when users type “Jerusalem” has sparked controversy for Apple, with accusations of antisemitism leveled against the American tech giant.

The issue emerged after a recent software update automatically suggested the Palestinian flag emoji, drawing criticism from British TV presenter Rachel Riley, an outspoken supporter of Israel.

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Riley took to social media to highlight the anomaly, noting that other capital cities typically do not trigger flag suggestions.

She wrote on X: “Dear @‌Apple @applesupport @tim_cook I’ve just upgraded my software to version iOS 17.4.1, and now, when I type the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, I’m offered the Palestinian flag emoji.

“This didn’t occur on my phone immediately before this update.

“Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of capital cities that do not offer their nation’s flags, let alone the wrong one.”

Riley accused the Cupertino company of “double standards,” which she views as a “form of antisemitism” when referring to Israel.

One social media expert suggested that the issue could have resulted from “human intervention.”

“There is nothing inherently wrong with associating Jerusalem with Palestinian belief, but Apple's choice of default settings warrants justification, especially considering the potential discriminatory implications of this decision,” said Tom Divon, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in an interview with The Telegraph.

The iPhone maker said the change made to the keyboard was unintentional and followed a recent software update.

A spokesperson for Apple explained that the Palestinian flag was the result of a “bug” within predictive emoji, adding that it would be fixed in the new iOS software update.

Jerusalem’s status remains highly contentious, with both Israel and Palestine claiming it as their capital.

Map of the Old City of Jerusalem. (AFP/File)

The city is divided, with Israel controlling the western part and the eastern part viewed as Palestinian territory by the UN, although Israel has repeatedly been accused of exerting extensive power and using violence over the area in an attempt to gain control.

Former US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 further fueled tensions, drawing condemnation from the international community and Palestinian leaders, who described the move as “deplorable and unacceptable measures (that) deliberately undermine all peace efforts.”

 


Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel
Updated 11 April 2024
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Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel

Protesters in Eurovision host city call for boycott of Israel
  • Eurovision organizers European Broadcasting Union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision over Gaza war
  • EBU said Eurovision is not a contest between governments and that Israeli broadcaster KAN met all competition rules

MALMO: Protesters waving Palestinian flags and banners on Wednesday called for a boycott of Israel at the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in the Swedish city of Malmo that will host the event next month.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes Eurovision, bills the song contest as a non-political event.
But the global political backdrop often weighs on the contest, which this year takes place amid protests and boycotts over the devastating Israeli military campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, affecting cultural events across Europe.
“I think there is no way that Israel should be able to participate in Eurovision and it’s complete double standards that they let them participate when they kicked Russia out,” said Malmo resident Mats Rehle, 43, who works in a bookshop.
Protesters outside Malmo city held a banner calling for the boycott of Israel above the Eurovision logo, while another banner featured red stains to look like blood and a pair of scissors cutting the chord to a microphone displaying an Israeli flag.
The EBU in 2022 banned Russia from Eurovision after several European public broadcasters called for the country to be expelled following its invasion of Ukraine.
The union has said it suspended the Russian broadcasters over “persistent breaches of membership obligations and the violation of public service values.”
The organizers’ decision to include Israeli broadcaster KAN has sparked protests from artists and ministers, but the EBU said in January that Eurovision was not a contest between governments and that KAN met all competition rules.
The union has so far resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from Eurovision, and on Wednesday urged people to refrain from online abuse directed at some participating artists.
“We have all been affected by the images, stories, and the unquestionable pain suffered by those in Israel and in Gaza,” the EBU said in a statement.
“However... we wish to address the concerns and discussions surrounding this situation, especially the targeted social media campaigns against some of our participating artists,” it added.

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