Music in the Middle East

21. Sept. 2017 @ Private Cinema (East Hotel)

Speaker: Martin Goldschmidt (Chairman, Cooking Vinyl Group, United Kingdom), Yasmine Hamdan (Artist, Lebanon), Shahin Najafi (Musician, Poet, Social Activist., Iran), Walaa Sbait (Artist, 47SOUL, Palestine)

Moderator: Christoph Twickel (Journalist, Moderator, Die Zeit / Spiegel Online / Byte FM / NDR Info, Germany)

Go to the programme here.

The restrictions faced by musicians from the Middle East who want to build a career, and the lack of infrastructure in the region, formed the basis of a fascinating discussion at the end of Reeperbahn Festival’s second conference day. All of the artists on the panel—Yasmine Hamdan (Lebanon), Shahin Najafi (Iran) and Walaa Sbait (Palestine)—have left the place they were born. Walaa now makes music from London because of the increased opportunities he finds there, Yasmine is based in France for personal reasons and Shahin arrived in Germany as a refugee to improve his future prospects as a musician. Telegram is an instant messaging app used in the Middle East for distributing music, but one which doesn’t “return a single penny,” said Shahin, who makes money through YouTube. For Yasmine, business is getting better organised, and she makes a living from selling music, sync deals, writing music for film and touring. However, it’s very challenging to perform in the Middle East and find people you can trust to work with, she added. “It can be a total disaster or it can be great. It’s about luck.”

The concept of artists owning the rights to their music is almost non existent in the Arab world, said Walaa, who explained that as soon as a track goes viral “it’s not yours anymore.” He continued: “Everybody copies it, downloads it, bootlegs it. We have a history of appreciating art but not appreciating it at the same time. It’s a complex relationship. The concept of copyright, respecting your work and paying for it is not something that’s in the collective thinking.”

Martin Goldschmidt is Chairman of the Cooking Vinyl Group, and last year founded PMX, the Palestine Music Expo, to raise awareness of the territory's cultural heritage and support local musicians. A showcase took place during the inaugural expo earlier this year, which took 18 months of planning and a crowdfunding campaign to make happen. Over 4,000 people attended over three days, and booking agents came along and booked bands for festivals in Europe. Bringing musicians from the West Bank to Sweden wasn’t easy, with permits arriving one day before the flights left. The festival organisers also needed to pay a guarantee that promised the artists would return to their territory once the event was over. Goldschmidt hopes to address the freedom of movement issue—something all panellists agreed was a huge obstacle—with a Palestinian Music Office that will launch next year, as long as a funding drive goes to plan.

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