When Maan Abu Taleb launched the music site Ma3azef.com in 2012, he dreamed of not only rewriting the global perspective of Arabic music, but also of giving Middle Eastern musicians and music writers a platform for expression, opinion, and creativity. “The motivation for me was a complete lack of critical writing on Arabic music, coupled with a burst of new and exciting music from the region,” Taleb told Nieman Lab. “There was a gaping hole that needed to be filled.”
Ma3azef publishes interviews, think-pieces, and music reviews, written in Arabic and focused on Arab artists. The bulk of the readership comes from the Middle East, primarily from countries with high smartphone use like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Although it does not explicitly stay away from politics, the site aims to cover the artist without trying to contextualize him or her within the conflict narrative of the region. “What’s happening now is that whether it is the Arab press or the Western press, all of the focus is on the political side and no attention whatsoever is given to the artistic side of a work,” Taleb explained in an interview with DW. He argues that by forcing Arab musicians into the political realm, the media is pulling focus away from the artistry.
Along with typical music site content, Ma3azef has also delved into long-reads on music composition theory. Under the ‘More’ section, the reader will find works such as “Time and Place of Music: Introduction to Music Philosophy” and “Ears to the Arabian Sea”. These pieces discuss foundational music history and theory that the reader may be hard pressed to find on another music site, regionally or globally. This not only provides a deeper layer to the site, but also breaks down and opposes the belief held by many publishers in the region that the population is not interested in this type of content.
The site works to bring indie artists to the forefront by highlighting local groups and unsigned musicians in their music reviews. They have also published more long-form pieces, like one on the history of Rai music in North Africa and another on the roots of Jihadi music. “At Ma3azef, we quickly realized that if a piece is good, people will most likely read it.” says Taleb in his Nieman Lab interview, “The first few times we ran long pieces in the 10,000 to 20,000-word range, we did it because we liked the pieces. We thought no one would read them. But we were seeing that people were coming to the page and reading.”
Taleb blames the publishers in the region for not providing quality artistic commentary to the public, not a lack of interest in the topic. This is why a platform like Ma3azef is so important, and why it has already gained loyal readership. Right now there are only five editors on staff, along with a handful of freelance writers from around the region, along with a few in Europe, China, and the US. But as interest in the articles grow, the company hopes to gain more funding (they are currently working through a combination of grants and art scholarships) and expand their reach.
This December, they’ll be hosting their first concert series to spotlight regional artists and test live events as a way to increase revenue. The funding opportunity is huge for a publication that has often been too short on earnings to pay their writers. But it is the chance to showcase talent that has long been ignored that the founders (and fans) are most excited about. The live event will allow full engagement in the music itself, without the audience feeling the need to contextualize is on a political level.
This platform is promising for both artists in the region and fans around the world. Through Taleb’s vision, Ma3azef has the potential to redefine the image of Arab music on an international level, and give musicians the opportunity to be critiqued on the same scale as their peers in the West.