NADA ALHELABY AND HER TAKE ON THE MIDDLE EASTERN ENTERTAINMENT SCENE

Hello Nada, and thank you for taking the time with us today! Numéro Netherlands had the immense pleasure of being invited to the XP Music Futures and the MDLBEAST festival. I sure had a great time there and met excellent local artists. The panels at XP were exciting as well as informative and interactive, especially to further understand the ongoing status of the Middle East’s music and entertainment scene. You are the strategy director for MDLBEAST and have a role in special projects and being the official program director for these events, XP Music Conference, CSR leads, and management of advisory relationships. Born and raised in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, what are some significant changes you’ve perceived in the past few years regarding entertainment and artist opportunities?

One of the changes I have perceived is that our music community changed from only being underground to hosting major international and regional artists and festivals with thousands of attendees. We now have opportunities that were previously not there for artists, labels, promoters, venues and music fans. XP is our effort to bring together the right people at the right time to explore our scene and sounds. 

Another change that happened over the years and which we are still working on is gender equality. There is still a lack of female voices in the music space and it is one of the most important topics at XP. We want to provide a platform to create a dialogue about women in music, and exploring equality and diversity within the industry. We are really mindful about the ratio of males and females at the conference and our mission is to have a healthy balance. As for me, I can already see this change happening, as a woman in a leadership role in a music company based in Saudi. This already challenges the stereotype and all the cliches. 

Finally, now we have music education in schools and training centers, and also shops where you can buy musical instruments which were not available 5 years ago. 

What are your methods of implementation for your strategies? What are the resources you utilize to research new possible partnerships and artists?

There are several phases that we go through to ensure proper implementation. First, we would do proper research and benchmarking to understand the gaps and the opportunities we have in the market. We then put together a team who are passionate and competent to deliver on the plans. We collaborate with partners who share the same vision as we do and join forces to deliver our concepts successfully. At MDLBEAST, we have several teams and departments such as MDLBEAST Records that support us in identifying new artists. Thankfully we are an established brand now, Therefore many artists and brands are approaching us to collaborate. 

In our ’21 satisfaction survey, we’ve received 94% positive responses across XP and Soundstorm, with 89% of young Saudi artists and musicians seeing MDLBEAST as an opportunity to grow, develop and empower the Kingdom’s art and music talents. This alone is a testimony that we’re doing something for our youth and building an industry for the next generations. We always have an objective to optimize what we do, whether it’s event operation or management, we always make sure we are within budget and sustainable in everything we do. 

In your opinion, what aspects still need to change and are necessary for the Saudi Arabian music industry? Especially in terms of inclusivity and safety on the dance floor for females and queer people. 

In all our events, we welcome everyone to enjoy and express themselves. The male-female ratio at XP Music Futures is quite equal and I also feel like it is a safe space. For Soundstorm this is definitely something we are making a top priority. By showcasing a lot of female talent we are aiming to attract more women to the festival to diversify the crowd more. The electronic scene across the world is dominated by men. However, the good thing is that we are just starting and we get to learn from other industries on best practices. We are still at the beginning of our journey and we will need our own methods and timeline to achieve what’s optimal to our music culture. 

Who are some of your favorite local acts we should know about?

I honestly can’t pick favorites, there are many artists who are brilliant!  I love how we are growing in many styles and genres. All the talents we booked at XP22 were outstanding and the energy they brought with them is something special. ​​I do like how genres and languages are morphed together to create glocal musical performances. There is Vinyl mode who produced a track with Moayed Alnafiea called “ Shoft alhala” mixing Arabic rap with electronic music. There are artists like Bluepaper, whose adding oriental sounds to his electronics tracks. Also, one great performance we had by Ntitled in the opening of XP22, where he performed modern hip-hop with a traditional Saudi band. There is also Saint Levant, who is singing in three languages, Arabic, English and French. The best part with globalization, is that music and art are clashing in beautiful and new ways while keeping it authentic and original.  

What makes these events so unique? And how did you experience both occasions last week? Any highlights?

What makes them unique is that those events are done by a Saudi company, led by music lovers, delivering on one of the best experiences in the world. 

As the XP program director, I’ve made sure that everything is beneficial to the audience . The thing that excited me the most were the networking sessions. These range from connecting talent with bookers and brands all the way to connecting brands together, it’s the best outcome of the conference. We had new party brands who were inspired by XP21 and launched this year, which makes it rewarding to see the impact it has that fast. Also, we had speakers coming from all over the world for the first time in Saudi, and from our conversations, they had an incredible time learning about and exploring Riyadh. 

For SoundStorm, we added new live artists such as Bruno Mars, Post Malone and Jorja Smith and it was beautiful to see how happy the audience was. We elevated the guests’ experiences overall and just seeing everyone so excited, makes it complete. Lets not forget, the out of this world drone show!

Thank you for your time in answering these questions. We are looking forward to coming back soon and experiencing this brilliant initiative! 

Looking forward to you joining us next year! 

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