With MENA’s music scene growing at a rapid rate, we have seen artists venturing into new content types to aid the discovery of their music, such as freestyle sessions, podcasts, and filmed live performances.
Online live performances in particular, have recently been gaining popularity, with regional and international platforms and organisations putting their efforts into presenting artists in a more personable light. They have been doing this by designing intimate and cozy settings for artists to deliver vulnerable performances for audiences worldwide to enjoy.
We have seen several of these session series launched over the years, with content platforms such as BalaFeesh leading the way for the format and launching as early as 2013. While some of these series are still ongoing today, others have been on hiatus for some time, with the possibility of returning for more seasons in the future.
Though the format is perhaps not for everyone, it does serve fans who want to see more focused performances from the artists they love. This format offers a break from the chaos of live music settings, the uneasiness of crowded bars, and the mediocre sound engineering and acoustics found in many concert spaces. Instead, online live music broadcasting offers audiences a decluttered audio-visual experience.
Here are ten online performance series to dive into for more of your favourite artists:
One of the pioneering MENA live session platforms, BalaFeesh has been delivering intimate shows of independent regional artists since its inception in 2013. Founded and hosted by Jordanian musician Hana Malhas, BalaFeesh’s YouTube channel has amassed over 45 million views, hosting artists such as Hayajan, Aziz Maraka and El Morabba3.
Balkoon - Cube Sessions
Hosted by Lebanese media platform Balkoon, ‘Cube Sessions’ has built an identity around their signature visual style, featuring artists performing inside a hollow cube. The cube's edges are lit by LED light strips, resulting in a visual atmosphere that is both minimal and futuristic all at once. The series has seen the likes of El Waili, Donia Wael, Adonis, The Synaptik and more performing within their iconic structure.
OffBeat - LightBox
Egyptian content creators OffBeat take a simplistic approach in their live session series ‘Lightbox’, where artists perform in an empty room lit with a bright burst of colour, with the palette used changing from one artist to the next. This series takes a more contemporary approach by including artists that perform with the aid of playback, providing a space for artists in the genres of rap, alt-pop, and the grey area in between the two. It has hosted artists such as Nadine ElRoubi, Husayn, Dirty Backseat and more.
Sofar Sounds is a global music community run by artists, music lovers and organisers who create intimate live music experiences to connect people. The series hosts artists in homes and unexpected spaces in over 400 cities worldwide, including Cairo, Amman, and Dubai. In addition, the series has hosted MENA artists such as Ahmed Safi, Albaitil Ashwai, and Amir Eid.
Jordanian creative media producers Bil3aks launched their Bil3aks: Live series in 2022, hosting artists such as Idreesi, Zaid Khaled, and Zeyne in their endearing space. Their live set is decorated with hanging shrubbery, scattered books, and an iconic neon sign reading Bil3aks in scarlet-red. This series shines a spotlight on a new generation of alternative musicians coming out of the region.
Initiated by Station Beirut and partners, Shuruq is a Lebanese platform that aims to expose SWANA artists to a global audience by showcasing contemporary music from the region. Station Beirut has been actively forwarding the Lebanese live scene for years, and Shuruq was started with the belief that contemporary music coming out of the region has the potential to become a global phenomenon. The series has hosted artists such as El Rass, Taxi 404, Clara Kossaifi, and Adib Yassine El Khazen in their picturesque visual style.
Hiya Live Sessions
Hiya Live Sessions describes itself as a global platform bringing together the radical feminist voices of the SWANA region. The platform shines a light on female SWANA artists with international performances, expanding their reach from New York to Cairo. In 2021, the platform hosted an eleven-hour digital music marathon, which was streamed on SceneNoise’s YouTube channel. The event featured artists such as Felukah, Alsarah & the Nubatones, Deena Abdelwahed, and many more.
Lebanese music streaming platform Anghami has become a regional benchmark for music discovery in the MENA region. Since its launch in 2011, the platform has grown exponentially, going on to rival the world’s biggest streaming giants such as Spotify and Apple Music. The platform has taken to starting a live performance series in which they have hosted artists including A5rass, Nassif Zeytoun, Joseph Attiyeh and more.
Showcasing the diversity of the independent Arabic music scene, Closet Sessions is an intimate audio-visual experience that takes us, as the name suggests, into a set made to look like founder and rapper Satti Al-Hattab’s closet. The set is full of hoodies, jackets, and random memorabilia, giving the series a unique bedroom feel that amplifies the performance's intimacy. The series has hosted Autostrad, El Far3i, Ghaem Jozi and many more.
KickBack Live is an online show from Egypt that shines a spotlight on underground musicians from around the MENA region. It aims to show the delightful nature of live music performances and revive the culture around live music. KickBack live has hosted the likes of Mahmoud Radaideh (Jadal), Do3souqa, Hussein Gamal and more.