Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I never thought I’d be able to attend music festivals little alone hear music playing in public places. Fast forward a few years, and Saudi becomes the regional hub for the music industry where artists and musicians from around the world gather to host the most entrancing music festival of all time – MDLBEAST Soundstorm. What’s even more exciting, is that one of the brains behind the operation is a female – further proving the strides that the country is taking to include more and more women in the labour force and reach gender equality. We’re so excited for the four-day festival that we had a chat with Nada Alhelabi, XP Programme Director at MDLBEAST to discuss the future of the music industry in the country as far as MDL Beast is concerned.

Nada Alhelabi XP Programme Director MDLBEAST at XP 2021 launch, courtesy of MDLBEAST

Grazia: What is it about music that you think brings people together?

Nada Alhelabi: I believe that music is a universal language and as a trained music therapist, I know a great deal about the positive impact it can have on humans. For me it’s the cultural and emotional connection of music. It’s a shared experience which brings us all closer together regardless of borders or boundaries. That’s certainly how we think about it at MDLBEAST. It’s our fuel, our energy, it drives our excitement, and it unites us.

G: How important is music to the future of Saudi?

N.A.: For a long time, there was a busy underground music community in Saudi, so for many people the passion for music has always been there. Now though, the opportunity has never been bigger – huge from a cultural perspective and huge from an economic perspective.  We have a chance to take our talent to the world stage and showcase regional culture globally, all the while building a self-sustaining music economy in the Middle East.  MDLBEAST’s festival, Soundstorm, will be a big part of channeling that youth enthusiasm and we expect to welcome huge crowds for the event, enjoying local and international artists performances.

Then we have XP, our music conference event, which will bring together some of region’s most important industry players to work together in ensuring we’re following a strong path of growth for the music economy.

G: What do you think it means to have a female in your position in this industry and this crucial time for gender equality in Saudi?

N.A.:Music has always been a huge part of my life and I know there are a growing number of women in the industry, in Saudi and the wider region. Further to that though, female representation is very important issue globally. We need to examine ways on how to develop that and empower female artists, talent, and professionals through different policy development and initiatives.

Empowering women in music will be a key topic under our pillar Data, Policy and Advocacy as we explore the advantages of female representation and having a diverse industry at XP this year.

XP Launch 2021 In Dubai, Alserkal, courtesy of MDLBEAST

G:What is your main mission at XP?

N.A.:To grow the regional music scene and amplify music culture.

Through XP, we will be focused on our four main pillars: to empower and develop talent, map out opportunities to develop the region’s music scene, develop a strong and sustainable music ecosystem through policymakers and initiate dialogue around social impact, music mental health and diversity of thought and representation.

We want to be gathering the right minds in the room to cover everything from how we can realise the creative economy of the future, to learn about new music innovations and impactful partnerships and ensure positive impact extends beyond festivals and nightclubs penetrating communities to bring new opportunities.

G: Do you think the Middle East and more specifically, Saudi, have the potential to compete with the west when it comes to the music industry?

N.A.: I would suggest that the music industry is global so I don’t see it as a competition because we all learn from each other and can find inspiration in all sounds. What is for sure is, we have talent capable of wow-ing global crowds, we have huge potential audiences in our region who want to be a part of a thriving music and creative scene, and we’re progressing our policies to be able to accelerate our growth.

More importantly, we are ready for it and I think the enthusiasm and excitement we’re currently see in the region and Saudi specifically, is unmatched. With that, there is no limit to what we can achieve in the region and right now the opportunity is in our hands to move forward quickly. So, that’s what we’re going to do.

Just saying that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck!

You can now purchase your tickets for the festival of the year via their website.