You might not have heard the name Telfaz11 before, but you’ve probably already watched their videos. Since their launch in 2011, the company have become experts in virality.
When their video No Woman, No Drive was released in 2013, it became an instant hit, having garnered over 16 million views.
An impressive feat at the time, but considered the norm today. With a collective 1 billion views and 20 million subscribers across their channels, Telfaz11 have now become a leading player in the Saudi digital space (they secured a $9 million investment during their first round of funding).
Founded by Ali Kalthami, Alaa Yoosef, and Ibrahim Al Khairallah, Telfaz11 keeps satire at the heart of their success. With ultraconservative government policies in place, the genre has become the preferred form of expression for young Saudis. But little was done to encourage a scene to grow, until Telfaz11 came into play. They’ve managed to carve out a space that pays homage to their local culture, while still fitting in to the wider global conversation.
“I’m an artist and social activist” announces Hisham Fageeh in the aforementioned viral video, in which they reworked Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. “I decided to do my own rendition, with lyrics relevant to my culture, but without musical instruments” he says before delving into a set of side-splitting lyrics parodying Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers. (Note: the video was released prior to the lift of the ban that took place in 2018)
This format has become key to their rising popularity. By offering a much-needed outlet to the large Saudi youth population, Telfaz11 has given rise to a flourishing creative industry that has persevered through a decades-long ban on various forms of entertainment.
With the Kingdom’s plans to open an opera house in Jeddah, and over 500 companies now registered to produce Saudi media content, for Telfaz11, this move can only mean additional growth. They’ve essentially pioneered what it means to be a Saudi creative, and have inspired a new generation of Saudi comedians who are unafraid to challenge the nation’s conservative history—setting the tone for what’s to come from the Gulf nation.
Photo courtesy of Naif Aljaser