From crisis to creativity: Jafra’s inspirational tale of musical triumph

by Tanvir Awan
Samer Jaradat Jafra production

Dubai, known for its vibrant cultural tapestry and rapidly evolving music scene, stands as a pivotal location for Jafra, an independent music label and artist incubator based in Palestine. Against the backdrop of regional challenges, Jafra’s journey encapsulates resilience, creativity, and a commitment to amplifying the voices of Arab artists worldwide.

In this exclusive interview with Jafra’s Samer Jaradat, a musician and entrepreneur with a rich blend of experience in cultural music management and business leadership, Dubai Newsweek delves into their unique perspective on how politics, culture, and global dynamics intersect within the realm of music.

Question: Dubai, a city known for its diverse artistic community and a dynamic and rapidly evolving music scene, is important for Jafra’s future plans. How does Jafra see itself engaging with the city and audiences here? Are there any upcoming collaborations or projects with local talents as a part of your NEST initiative?

Answer: Jafra has been actively engaging with Dubai and the United Arab Emirates for the past decade, marked by numerous musical collaborations with local artists and theatres. A highlight of these was Trio Joubran’s memorable performance at the Dubai Opera House last December. It was a night to remember, with the Trio delivering an enchanting performance that captivated the audience at the Opera House – and the attendance was fantastic.

Dubai’s dynamic and diverse artistic landscape is critical to enhancing Jafra’s regional and global presence. The city is a crucial hub for Arab artists, offering infrastructure that can elevate the Arab music industry to new heights. It provides a unique platform for artistic expression and cultural exchange, which aligns perfectly with Jafra’s goals.

Looking ahead, Jafra has exciting plans involving Dubai. We will be participating in several significant conferences in the city; artists from NEST will be featured in various performances scheduled for the upcoming Winter. These engagements represent not just opportunities for growth and exposure but also a chance to collaborate with Dubai’s vibrant talent pool. Our presence in Dubai is a key step in our ongoing journey to enrich the Arabic music scene and bring it to a wider audience.

Question: As an indie music label and artist incubator based in Palestine, how has the ongoing crisis in the region affected Jafra and the artists you work with? More broadly, how has politics influenced your music in the past, and in turn, how has your music influenced wider society?

Answer: The ongoing crisis in our region has a profound effect on Jafra and the artists we work with. It’s a challenging environment, but these challenges often become a source of inspiration. Our artists are deeply affected by the instability around them, and this is reflected in their music. They blend their experiences of the current reality with their hopes and dreams, creating tracks that not only depict a world where freedom is a given but also aim to inspire change.

Jafra was born in these turbulent times, but our strategy has been unique from the beginning. We’ve built a system that overcomes the local limitations – be it political or social. This approach allows us to have a more global perspective on the music industry, helping our artists to deeply connect with their cultural and national identities while reaching an international audience.

On a personal note, I strongly believe in the new possibilities of detaching music production from political pressures. This detachment allows for a richer and more mature musical narrative. Artists find a space of unlimited creativity, where they can truly be themselves and express their deepest thoughts and feelings. In this way, music becomes a universal language, crossing boundaries and touching lives. It’s a force more significant than any individual concept of home – it’s a unifying element for people across different societies.

In Palestine, music emerged as a formidable force. Music serves as a guardian of Palestinian identity and the narrative of its people. It captures our story in its purest form, unaltered and undiluted. Music has woven itself into our consciousness, becoming an unchangeable constant amidst ever-shifting circumstances. It’s more than just sound and rhythm; it’s the heartbeat of our enduring spirit.

Question: What significance, if any, does it have for Jafra’s music that you are based in one of the historically and culturally significant locations in the Arab world? How important is this fact for Jafra as a label, and to what extent does this reflect in the work and artists you promote?

Answer: Being based in Palestine, a land rich in history and culture, significantly influences Jafra’s music. The fact that Jafra is based here shapes our understanding of the musical content of the Arab region. There’s a clear need for an independent music ecosystem to thrive here, as informal collectives and companies that truly grasp the essence of Arab music are pretty scarce. Our goal is to nurture and export this music globally, integrating it into the worldwide music scene.

Understanding the historical, social, and political nuances of the Arab world is crucial for music production. It empowers us to authentically represent and develop music that not only reflects but also contributes to the evolution of the Arabic people. This understanding is vital, especially in a global market filled with regulations and norms that often overlook the needs and aspirations of Arab artists. Young artists, brimming with modern musical ideas, require comprehensive support to leave their mark.

At Jafra, despite our limited resources, we have been running tailored programs and methodologies to meet the needs of the Arab artists. We aim to integrate them seamlessly into the global music landscape. Our approach isn’t just about Palestine; it’s about expanding to serve artists across Arab countries. This involves guiding them in understanding their identity and equipping them with skills for growth and sustainable career development.

Moreover, Jafra is deeply committed to diversity and openness when it comes to styles. We’ve played a significant role in creating a vibrant music scene in Palestine, one that encompasses contemporary and modern in one space. This diversity reflects the spirit and vision of our youth, showcasing the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of music in our region.

Question: How does Jafra contribute to the cultural landscape of the MENA, which has a rich and diverse musical tradition, as well as a thriving contemporary musical scene? What are the ways in which Jafra has impacted this broader landscape so far?

Answer: Jafra’s mission over the years has been to establish a robust business model for a music company in the Arab region. Our goal is to foster the growth of the music industry and provide comprehensive support to songwriters/musicians. This involves addressing the identity crisis in music production and building a better infrastructure. Key aspects include developing systems and laws for artists’ and publishers’ rights management, integrating technology and innovation for industry growth, whilst creating educational programs to nurture a new generation of music professionals.

Our approach has been to develop this model meticulously, laying a solid foundation in Palestine that can be extended across the Arab countries. We take pride in having built and continually evolved this model, which authentically represents the Arab region’s musical diversity and richness. Our vision is inclusive, embracing the various traditions of the region.

Looking towards the future, Jafra is committed to expanding its reach throughout the Middle East, using our model to serve the music industry in the Arab region. We aspire to contribute more significantly to the musical landscape, bringing our understanding of the industry’s unique dynamics and cultural depth. We aim to share our experiences of the path we’ve been walking so far with other countries of the Arab world, nurturing a network of artists and professionals who collectively enrich and diversify the region’s music scene.

Question: Does Jafra make a conscious effort to promote local culture through its music and the artists it promotes? Can you share specific instances where your artistic incubator NEST initiative has played a role in promoting local culture through music? Any success stories of musicians who have flourished through the incubator?

Answer: Jafra is deeply committed to promoting local culture, both consciously and as a natural part of our work with Palestinian artists worldwide. This effort aligns with the broader Palestinian music industry’s endeavors. We view our role as both a continuation and an enhancement of existing efforts to elevate local culture. The Palestinian music scene is incredibly vibrant and diverse, arguably one of the strongest in the Arab region, known for its high-quality projects.

A distinctive aspect of Jafra’s approach is our focus on music diversity and openness to the individuality of creators. This has been instrumental in a richer, varied music scene where experimentation and creative freedom are encouraged. We have actively sought to create projects and partnerships that blend different styles, enriching the cultural tapestry around us.

However, I believe the crux of promoting local culture lies in its integration within the historical, cultural, and geographical context. This means closely associating with the wider culture, and acknowledging the deep-rooted identity formed over thousands of years. For instance, understanding Palestinian music involves a broader look at the musical traditions of the Levant.

Furthermore, the perception of Palestinian music is evolving, especially considering its global diaspora presence. There are whole generations of Palestinians born and raised abroad, like in the Chilean community, who hold a more classical and romantic view of Palestinian music, almost as if time paused in 1948. Meanwhile, those living in Palestine might have a more dynamic approach, with their concepts of identity and resistance shaped by daily experiences.

Through our program NEST – Palestine Music Incubator initiative – we’ve seen numerous success stories of musicians flourishing, bringing their visions and interpretations of Palestinian culture to the forefront. This initiative has been pivotal in nurturing local talent and enabling them to contribute meaningfully to our rich musical heritage.

We mention here four artists from NEST: Tareq Abboushi, Faris Ishaq, Ebaa Monther, and Marwan Halabi. They leave Jafra with immense pride in what they’ve been achieving.

Question: How do you intend to bridge the gap between local talent and global audiences? Are there strategies in place to showcase the talents incubated by NEST on an international stage? What are the challenges you face here?

Answer: NEST Music Incubator is a comprehensive program dedicated to nurturing talents and broadening horizons for artists at scale. Our process begins at the artistic development stage, where artists gain essential knowledge and understanding of the industry. This foundation equips them to confidently enter and compete in the global market.

One major challenge in this endeavor is the saturation of the global market with an ever-increasing volume of musical projects. However, recent statistics and studies, including those from IFPI, highlight that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is experiencing rapid growth in the music industry.

In 2022, MENA saw a 23.8% increase, with the highest global share for streaming at 95.5%. This data underscores the region’s potential and burgeoning interest from companies, investors, festivals, and event organizers worldwide.

I believe that music from our region holds immense global potential, as it remains relatively unexplored and underrepresented in the international market. This creates a unique opportunity for attention and growth, suggesting a promising future for music in the MENA region.

Our focus at Jafra and through NEST is to capitalize on these opportunities, promoting local artists on a global stage. The key challenges we face include the need for supportive government strategies in the Arab region, particularly in creating a legal environment that protects and promotes artists’ creativity. Additionally, there is a need for developing academic and quasi-academic programs that can further advance the music industry, especially in areas of innovation and technology.

Question: NEST aims for lasting success for emerging artists. How does the incubator support the long-term career development of musicians, and what resources or mentorship programs are in place to ensure that the talents nurtured by NEST continue to thrive in the competitive music industry, both locally and internationally?

Answer: NEST Music Incubator is intricately designed to empower artists to build and sustain successful careers in music. Our approach involves providing personalized mentoring, production support, and opportunities for live performances. This comprehensive support system equips participants with the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate the ever-changing global music landscape.

The program unfolds in three phases, each offering unique benefits. Artists gain from educational and mentorship opportunities, sharing experiences and insights. They have access to creative spaces, communication platforms, production and technical assistance, and guidance in marketing and communications. A select group of artists even gets the chance to be part of a five-year incubation process, focusing on high-level work and dedicated artist development.

Over the past two years, NEST has hosted leading experts from the global music industry. We’ve also forged significant partnerships with major industry players like Believe (Arabia), SACEM, YouTube, Musically, Groover, and Lyricfind. These collaborations have greatly enhanced our program, opening up vital opportunities for all participants.

Additionally, Jafra has established a strategic partnership with the DROSOS Foundation, a major supporter of our incubator. Other supporters include the Arab Fund for Culture and Arts “AFAC” and the French Development Agency (AFD). These partnerships reinforce our mission to nurture and propel the careers of emerging artists ensuring they thrive in such a competitive industry.

About Samer Jaradat

Samer Jaradat is a musician and entrepreneur with a rich blend of experience in cultural music management and business leadership. Grounded in both music and business management academically, his passion for music has driven him to deeply engage in the fusion of diverse musical cultures.

Samer Jaradat Jafra production

His global journey in music, characterized by a relentless pursuit of cultural discovery, has taken him to various countries, immersing himself in their unique musical traditions. His expertise in managing cultural and fusion music projects internationally is showcased in numerous endeavors, including albums and projects like “Arabi Gharbi” & “Music without Borders.”

In 2010, Jaradat founded and directed Jafra Productions, significantly influencing and advancing the music industry in Palestine. He also manages the Palestinian band, “Le Trio Joubran.”

Jaradat’s journey is defined by his dedication to research and travel in music, with a mission to bridge cultures and create a unique musical dialogue that resonates globally. His career is a testament to his lifelong passion for uniting and celebrating the diversity of musical expressions around the world.

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