Spotify is breaking ground in the Middle East — and tapping Suhel Nafar as its emissary.
Spotify has tapped Palestinian artist and musician Suhel Nafar to help guide its aggressive expansion into the Middle East. Currently, Nafar is currently Senior Editor for Arab Music & Culture at Spotify in New York, though his focus will now shift towards far-flung expansion.
As a creative force for the brand, Nafar will help to shape and develop Spotify’s Arab Music and Culture Hub.
Suhel Nafar has already a carved a name in the music industry as a performer and producer prior to this appointment. He is a co-founder of the influential Palestinian hip hop group DAM, a pioneer of this genre in the Middle East. The group’s unique fusion of R&B, hip-hop, and traditional Palestinian musical influences has opened doors to other contemporary musical acts from the region.
Nafar also served as the music programmer and strategist for the Palestine Music Expo (PMX), an annual event that provides a platform for Palestinian musicians across different musical genres.
Nafar also conceptualized, directed and produced the online music show ‘Lit Tent’ as part of the PMX experience. He has also exhibited as a filmmaker in global venues, including the Arab Film Festival in Berlin and the Asiana International Short Film Festival.
Nafar’s appointment comes at a crucial time for Spotify’s global expansion. Currently, the music streaming company has a limited presence in the Middle East, where Beirut-based music service Anghami continues to hold court. Indeed, but Anghami and Apple Music are solidly ahead of Spotify in this region, an area where streaming is just taking off.
The ensuing political and cultural climate also poses a challenge for the company, as well as the internet infrastructure and online access issues in the region.
On a structural level, connectivity is often a problem. That could mean that it’s time for Spotify Lite in certain pockets, or some serious emphasis on cacheing and downloads.
On a broader level, interest from wealthy investors from the UAE and Dubai has paved the way for digital companies to enter the market. That’s making the region more tech-friendly, and bubbling competition from a number of competitors. Just recently, Apple Music intensified its presence in the UAE, and YouTube is also making serious inroads.