Music videos are an opportunity for artists to promote their singles while unleashing their wildest imaginations. The Middle East and North Africa have served as the backdrop of a number of remarkable music videos over the years. From Kanye West to DJ Snake, a number of rappers, dance duos, DJs, and popstars have looked to the region for its breathtaking scenery and landscapes, bustling street life, and rich culture to spice up the visuals for some of their biggest hits. Below, we rounded up some of our favorite international music videos that were filmed in the Arab world.
‘Disco Maghreb’ – DJ Snake
Born William Grigahcine, the pseudonymous French DJ decided to pay homage to his Algerian
roots via his maternal grandparents with his latest single. The visual for the rai-infused track,
which is an anthem of sorts, was shot entirely in the North African country, specifically in Oran
and Algiers, by Grammy-nominated French filmmaker Roman Gavras. The video opens with a
shot of the storefront of the iconic record shop Disco Maghreb, before oscillating between
scenes of camel races, a traditional wedding, and young Algerians riding mopeds and dancing
in the streets while wearing virtually every Algerian man’s unofficial uniform of Nike
tracksuits and Adidas flipflops, of course.
‘Mercy’ – Kanye West Feat. Pusha T, Big Sean, 2 Chainz
An empty underground parking lot in Doha, Qatar serves as the backdrop of Kanye West’s
2012 black-and-white music video for Mercy. The artist, alongside rap heavyweights Pusha T,
Big Sean, and 2 Chainz (all donning Bedouin-esque turbans) take turns spitting bars in front of
a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, which caused confusion among rap and luxury car fans alike
as the song is basically an ode to the Lamborghini Murcielago. But according to Nabil
Elderkin, who directed the music video, the decision to use a Gallardo was a result of time
constraints. “We used that car because it was the only thing available at the time of the shoot,”
he previously told Complex, adding “Can you tell Lambo to let me take one for a day?”
‘Bad Girls’ – M.I.A
Long before Saudi Arabia lifted its driving ban, Sri Lankan-British artist M.I.A set off to
Morocco’s Ouarzazate to film the music video for her 2012 single Bad Girls in solidarity with
the women’s right to drive movement. The video, directed by Roman Gavras, instantly went
viral and received critical acclaim as it went on to win the VMA for Best Cinematography and
Best Direction that same year.
‘Famous’ – French Montana
With its striking blue-washed buildings and steep, cobblestoned roads, its no wonder that
rapper French Montana chose Morocco’s northwest city of Chefchaouen to film his 2018 music
video for Famous. In the four-minute music video shot by Director X, the hip-hop artist is seen
wearing traditional clothes as he takes viewers on a scenic journey of his Moroccan roots. The
video is replete with belly dancers, children playing football in the streets, and awe-inspiring
views of the city. In one heart-warming scene, the rapper, who immigrated to America aged 13,
is seen visiting his grandmother’s grave.
‘Bodak Yellow’ – Cardi B
For her breakout single as a rapper, Cardi B flew to Dubai with a budget of $15,000 to shoot
the music video for Bodak Yellow, which last year surpassed over 1 billion YouTube views
since its 2017 release. The milestone made Cardi B the first female rapper ever to have two
visuals reach more than a billion views on the online video platform alongside I Like It.
‘Ladbroke Grove’ – AJ Tracey
One would assume that the music video for a song about an area situated in West London
would be filmed in well, West London, but the British rapper decided to jet off to Morocco to
shoot the clip for what is undoubtedly the biggest hit from his self-titled debut album. Co-
directed by Hamish Stephenson and AJ himself, the visual was shot in Marrakesh, a couple
thousand miles away from the rap star’s neighborhood in London. The award-winning video
begins with aerial views of the Red City, before showing clips of Tracey and his crew riding
camels in the desert, playing football, and cruising on quad bikes.
‘Territory’ – The Blaze
It feels almost erroneous to minimize Territory to just a music video. Shot in Algiers in 2017,
the visual from the French dance duo is more like a short film that invokes plenty of emotions
as it follows a young man’s (played by Algerian actor Dali Bensallah) complicated
homecoming as he returns to his family after several years away. “Around this video, a lot of
cool things happened. When we went to shoot the part where Bensallah hugs his mother, the
mother hadn’t seen her boy for ten years. When we did the scene, she was really crying,
because her story was the same. It’s what happened to her,” revealed Jonathan Alric, who
makes up one half of the duo.