Alfonso Perez-Soto , Warner Music’s President, Emerging Markets, on the ‘huge opportunity in the MENA region’

MBW has written time and time again about the growth of the record business across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

According to stats published by IFPI, the Middle East and North Africa was the world’s fastest-growing market in 2021, and the third-fastest-growing in 2022.

Last year, MENA’s recorded music market grew 23.8% YoY, and represented the highest share for streaming of any region globally, at 95.5%.

More evidence of the Middle East and North Africa’s growing importance in the global music business arrived over the past year and a half with a number of prominent companies committing resources, striking partnerships and making investments in the region.

In July 2022, for example, Sony Music entered into an exclusive partnership with Egypt’s Craft Media to ‘sign Arabic superstars’.

In May this year, Gamma, the billion-dollar-backed company launched by Larry Jackson expanded its operations into Africa and the Middle East, and in August appointed Arab artist and DJ, Dany Neville as Vice President, A&R, Middle East.

Also in August, Universal Music Group acquired Chabaka Music, a prominent company based in the United Arab Emirates. In October, UMG entered into a partnership with Harb Talent Management in Egypt.

Warner Music Group has also been active in the region for some time, having invested in Saudi Arabia’s Rotana Group-owned Rotana Music in 2021, and last year acquired Qanawat Music, which operates as a music distributor across the Middle East and North Africa.

Most recently, WMG made a strategic investment (in October) in HuManagement, a GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) based talent agency.

The company has also signed superstar artists from the region, including Dalia Mubarak, described by Warner as one of the ‘most influential female superstars in the Middle East”, and Lebanese singer and TV presenter Maya Diab. (Warner Music Middle East is led by Ahmed Nureni, who was appointed to the role in October 2022.)

Commenting on WMG’s MENA strategy, Alfonso Perez-Soto, President, Emerging Markets at Warner Music, told an audience at the XP Music Futures conference in Saudia Arabia last week that he “see[s] huge opportunity in the MENA region”.

Perez-Soto explained during the keynote, where he was interviewed by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Mayssa Karaa, that he sees a parallel between the global growth of Latin Music and that of the MENA region.

“I come from the Latin region and they mirror one another but some years apart. So many things that I see happening in this region, I lived through when I was building the Latin region,” said Perez-Soto.

He added: “You look at Latin artists now and their success is undeniable, but I can tell you back in 2007, 2010 and even 2012, apart from some exceptions, there wasn’t really a position for Latin music in the world.

“And now, Bad Bunny was 2022’s biggest artist in the world, you have J Balvin, you have Maluma, you have an amazing amount of superstars coming from Latin regions. Why? Because they unify in a sound that has the push of 500-550 million people, as well as a strong diaspora in critical Western markets. All of that equally describes and applies to MENA.”

Commenting further on why he believes there’s an opportunity for global superstars to emerge from the MENA region, Perez-Soto explained that “there are 400-500 million people connected by culture, with a strong diaspora in key markets like UK, France, Benelux, Canada, North America”.

Perez Soto was interviewed by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Mayssa Karaa in Saudi Arabia last week

“What we need is to find [the region’s] international sound and I think we are very close. That will be the engine and the fuel that will engage the diaspora and give us an artist from the region that will crossover and become an international superstar.”

Alfonso Perez-Soto, Warner Music

He added: “What we need is to find its international sound and I think we are very close. I’ve been talking and working with some artists lately that I think are coming very close to that sound and I believe that is going to work from Morocco to Iraq, from Saudi to Lebanon.

“And that will be the engine and the fuel that will engage the diaspora and give us an artist from the region that will crossover and become an international superstar.”

Commenting on WMG’s choice of partners in the region, Perez-Soto said: “It is important to us that we partner with local experts that [are] connected to the culture, and are hyper-aware of nuances within the market.

“Once we’ve partnered with local experts, we can offer resources to help them grow and support their artists by upstreaming them to our global roster.

“We identify the global potential and once they are in the Warner Music international ecosystem we can see incredible results.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Perez-Soto was asked about the challenges in the Middle East and North Africa that could inhibit the growth of the music business in the region. “I feel we need a stronger live business in the region – more venues, more arenas – the capacity to provide shows,” he told the audience.

He added: “And we need CMOs, we need local societies that help to govern and influence in the territories, not just for protection of intellectual property, but also to fight piracy.

“This will create more value, more revenue, protect the composers, the songwriters, the producers and the artists. And there is a lot of effort being put in by the local IFPI in the UAE and in Saudi. The great work they are doing will help trigger other territories to do the same.” Music Business Worldwide

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