Giving a Voice to The Next Generation of Arab Artists, We Chatted To Spotify’s Wissam Khodur

We sat with the man himself

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It’s not every day that you’re found with the opportunity to sit down with one of the region’s most catalyzing individuals. But when it’s there, you don’t think twice, you take it. While on the road with Spotify Arabia and Egyptian artists Marwan Moussa and Afroto, during the shoot for the Swedish streaming platform’s long-awaited relaunch campaign of rap playlist “Melouk El Scene,” we bumped into Wissam Khodur, head of artist and label partnerships at the Stockholm-based app, at the eleventh hour, for a post-production sit-down over a much-needed cup of coffee. 

The former rapper, who is of Syrian and Lebanese descent, is now sitting in one of the industry’s most respected seats as he is, in layman’s terms, the first point of contact between artists and managers from the Arab World and Spotify, uniting sonic creatives, from all genres, nationalities, and styles, under his experienced supervision. 

We shot a series of five rapid fire questions to the man of many contacts and hidden talents in an exclusive interview with Mille. 

How did you get your start in music?

I’m a rapper actually and still spit bars every so often. I went professional with it for a good 10 years, toured with the likes of Wu-Tang Clan and The Gorillaz before flipping into the business side of things. I got into tour, event,  and artist management before landing a gig with Spotify, which is a blessing in itself too.

 

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Une publication partagée par Wissam Khodur (@eslam_jawaad)

Were you always focused on making something happen in the region? 

It was a mix. I was considered the guy who bridged the gap between the East and West. I was the first rap artist out of Syria, and the Arab world, to get international acclaim at that time. So I became that bridge getting a lot of artist on different shows in the US, Europe, and vice versa. I brought The Gorillaz to Syria and Lebanon, for example. I still think of it as one of my best achievements. 

How would you describe your role with Spotify?

My main function is to be the go-to between an artist’s community and Spotify. When Spotify needs something from an artist, they come to me. And when an artist needs something from Spotify, they also come to me. I look after the MENA region and been doing it since 2019. It involves all genres of music, not only just rap or hip-hop. We do a whole bunch of stuff and make sure that opportunities happen.

 

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Do you see progress in the region’s industry? 

Absolutely. There was no industry before. Or actually, there was only an industry but exclusively for classical Arabic music and then Arabic pop. But indie, hip-hop, and the rest of the new genres that kicked off in the mid ‘90s saw an industry develop not before 2019. Maybe I had something to do with it.

More seriously, Spotify entering the market was a huge game changer. Just the very fact that we have such a global reach meant that artists had revenue streams they never really had before with actual charts that represent their respective streaming numbers. This means that when we put out an artist, in our Wrapped campaign, and say that this is the most streamed artist in Egypt for example, all of a sudden brands are like ‘Oh, he’s hot, let’s talk about him.’ And this spurs off into the deals, live shows, and so on. We’re clearly a fundamental engine in that process because we have something in store for everybody. 

 

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What needs to nurtured for the regional scene to remain on the come up? 

The next generation has to be nurtured, it’s always about the next gen. These guys are paving the way for those that are about to come. It really is about getting the turf ready for them.

As for the region, we’re seeing this wave traveling from North Africa to Egypt being much more established now as a business. This is super important as Egypt has always played that pivotal role in Arabic music. It’s the LA, the Hollywood, of the Arab World from music to cinema. If you want to make it in the Arab world you have to make it in Egypt. But that wave needs to travel and head to the Gulf and the Levant, which it slowly is and I can’t wait to see what it has in store for us in the region.

Artists are making more money from their live shows, sponsorship deals, and this is directly linked to their streaming numbers. This is the ecosystem I’m talking about.

All over the Arab world, you’re getting new up-and-comers, not just in rap but also in other genres too. It’s exciting for the next generation of Arab artists, at Spotify we’re trying to give them all a voice.

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