Eastern Promise

MTV Arabia gives Middle Eastern youth a new voice.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Fast issue 01/15/2009

MTV Arabia gives Middle Eastern youth a new voice.

When MTV launched its Middle Eastern channel in November 2007, some observers were skeptical about how revolutionary a concept it really was. With more than a dozen music channels on air, Arab audiences already had seen a lot of music-oriented programming.

But MTV’s parent company, Viacom, was confident it was tapping into a high-potential emerging market. With its mix of 70 percent Western music and 30 percent Arabic, MTV Arabia was hoping to serve a different audience than its competitors, who were more focused on Arabic pop music.

Headquartered in Dubai and broadcasting throughout the region, MTV promised to bring a distinct blend of East and West to viewers from Egypt to Morocco and Kuwait to Saudi Arabia. But what no one predicted was the way it would blend Eastern and Western sounds. Much to the surprise of viewers who have tuned in over the last year, the network delivered on popularizing a new sound in the Middle East: Arabic hip-hop, a blend of Western-style hip-hop street beats performed in both English and Arabic.

The arrival of MTV Arabia provided a unique opportunity for many young Arab artists who long had been influenced by Western musical styles but had their own cultural twist on it, explains Dany Neville, MTV’s official DJ.

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Neville, whose family originally hails from Lebanon, grew up just outside of Dubai. “Most of us from here grew up listening to American music. It has been a great influence.” Neville, whose real name is Dany Nabil, got his break hosting a show on Dubai radio at just 17. “Back then, all the English-speaking DJs were from the U.K. or Australia,” he says. Producers gave him the on-air name Neville instead of Nabil. “It’s just stuck since then.”

Neville is today one of Dubai’s preeminent DJs and a veteran in the young music scene. Along with his role at MTV, he continues to host a popular radio program called The Edge on Dubai’s Radio One and has been responsible for discovering many emerging artists from the region.

“Bit by bit, I saw a lot of home-grown artists coming to me with their music, and it was really good,” he says. Neville started feeding some of this to MTV and it took off. He helped create a hit show on MTV Arabia called Hip HopNa, dedicated to scouting new hip-hop talent from the region. With 200 million viewers across the Middle East, the exposure from the program has been phenomenal for young music acts. “These kids are getting record deals now. MTV has been a great stepping stone for them, which they never had before,” says Neville.

In the past, Arab youth looked West in search of opportunity, but now they are finding it at their doorsteps. Lebanese-born and Dubai-raised Karl Wolf recently won an MTV Europe Award for best Arab act. Though he is a Canadian citizen now and has made a name for himself in the Canadian music industry, his rise to stardom was fast-tracked in the Middle East by the arrival of MTV Arabia. His hit single “Africa,” a remake of the popular Eighties song, was the first music video ever to play on MTV Arabia when it launched.
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