Reflecting on Our Time at XP Music Futures in Riyadh

I went to XP with no expectations, just my notebook, a pen and a sense of wonder. I left with a renewed sense of hope in the industry, newfound artistic inspiration (and a quirky Travis Scott air freshener).

Reflecting on Our Time at XP Music Futures in Riyadh
Menna Shanab

In my four-year stint as a journalist in the region, combined with over a decade of writing, and a lifelong affair with music, moving from the U.S. to Egypt between 2017 and 2019 couldn’t have been better timed. I came at the perfect time as the music scene was on the brink of a seismic shift. It was a really exciting period. Underground movements bubbled to the surface, hinting at future superstars and the birth of new subcultures. The rap scene teetered on the edge of explosion, and Cairo’s music and fashion scenes were poised for a historic breakthrough. It was an electric convergence of artistry, culture, and energy.

Wide-eyed, inquisitive, brimming with and excitement, I found myself immersed in this new world and witness to it all. Years of partying, experiencing all the different realms of music in Egypt from Psytrance to mahragant, to the underground labyrinth of electronic music with its deconstructed soundscapes and experimental whimsy, it was a whirlwind of experiences and encounters. I knew I had to translate these experiences into words and stories for the world to see. I ventured into journalism and later, more specifically, musical journalism, to articulate these experiences, the incredible music unfolding around me, these emerging talents who deserved a spotlight. Over the years, this journey has allowed me to interview countless people and unveil incredible stories about some of the most talented and renowned figures in the region.

XP Music Futures

My adventures in the music world led me to attend XP Music Futures (Instagram), organized by MDLBEAST in Riyadh for a three-day, tightly-knit and immersive experience that brought together some of the most influential and prominent figures in the regional music industry.

Returning for its third edition, the 2023 event, held at Riyadh’s JAX District from December 7th – 9th, featured both a day and night program that drew almost 300 international, regional and local speakers. Situated just over 20 kilometers from the heart of the Saudi capital in the Diriyah area, the venue was a hub of activity, brimming with talks, workshops, activities, networking areas, concerts, and entertainment, all tied together by the common threads of culture and music.

Tarek Mendelek, Nadine El Roubi

I went in with no expectations, just my notebook, a pen and a sense of wonder tinged with curiosity. I left with this renewed sense of hope in the industry and newfound artistic inspiration (and a quirky Travis Scott air freshener). I think what stood out most for me was the event’s seamless organization and ambiance, which made it both easy and enjoyable to connect with people.


I found myself engaged in some of the most inspiring interviews of my career, as well as impromptu, off-the-cuff conversations with a kaleidoscope of people from all over the region who are making remarkable strides in the music industry —songwriters from Morocco, stylists from Saudi Arabia, label managers from Dubai, creative directors from Sudan, producers from Cairo. There was just so much human connection and so many stimulating conversations. We swapped stories from our corners of the industry, from different countries, but it all came down to this one thing: We’re all in this giant, interconnected web, each doing our bit to help this industry thrive, both together and on our own.

Marwan El Sayed

And that’s not to mention the roster of expertly-curated workshops, talks, and panel discussions that spanned the full spectrum of the MENA music industry. Topics ranged from ‘Maintaining a Thriving Grassroots Culture’ to ‘Powering The Creative Economy with AI’, and even ‘Turning up for a Sustainable Future: Music for Climate Action.’ The panel sessions were equally impressive, delving head-first into women’s representation in the industry, the intricacies of streaming revenues, and a host of critical issues, all enriched by insights from notable figures like Paul Pacifico, Nacho Marco, Topic, Don Cannon, and others.

Cliff Fluet, Mostafa Shirah, Rachel Lyske Powering the Creative Economy with AI Panel

The day program has a treasure trove of highlights, featuring sessions on Nicole Moudaber’s evolution from music mogul to philanthropist, the impact of AI on the music industry, and insightful meet-ups with media professionals. The program shone a spotlight on the likes of Emirati superstar Balqees Fathi, as she discussed her journey from inception to stardom, and global rap sensation Abyusif, alongside the pioneer Malikah, exploring the evolution of Arabic hip-hop. A fascinating debate ensued, blending perspectives from both the old and the new school, offering a comprehensive look into the state of rap in the MENA music scene. Headliner Hamaki stole the spotlight with ‘Beyond The Beats: Sony Music Middle East x Hamaki’, where he shared his insights on how to navigate the evolving MENA music scene. It was a “passing the torch” type of moment.

Malikah, Abyusif The History of Arab Hip Hop Panel

The power of collaboration was a central theme at XP Music Futures. Gracing the stage was a mix of emerging and established artists, along with an A&R, making for one of the most enriching moments at XP. These sessions not only showcased the Arab music scene to those unfamiliar with it, but also highlighted the challenges and frustrations artists face in gaining international recognition due to their roots.

JEME, Min.8, El Waili, Megatronic Dancefloors: SWANA Panel

XP also announced nine initiatives aimed at educating the next wave of creatives across the industry’s ecosystem. Standouts included XPERFORM, a collaboration with YouTube and sponsored by FORMULA 1 STC Saudi Arabian GRAND PRIX to discover the region’s top singing talent, XCHANGE, a series of pre-conference workshops in four cities to foster community building, and HUNNA, a female-led mentorship program reflecting XP’s dedication to inclusion and diversity.


It was obvious to me that the XP team had done their research and were able to identify where the gaps and pain points were, what discussions needed to be had and who the right people are to talk about those topics were. Their thoughtful curation tried to strike a balance between the mainstream and the underground, spotlighting both renowned names and giving emerging artists a platform.

Nicole Moudaber, music mogul to philanthropist

Mornings at XP were all business. You felt the engine of the industry revving up. In the midst of this, I found myself rubbing shoulders with industry giants every morning, the air thick with the potential of new collaborations and the hum of new projects. With this kind of event, beyond the educational and thought-provoking talks and workshops, and the incredible live acts and shows, the true power lay in bringing important figures from across the globe together to meet and collaborate. I had conversations with numerous artists who were bursting with excitement about new projects birthed from these connections. One of the highlights for me was meeting my Instagram connections from the creative ecosystem in person. It reinforced that sense of being part of something much larger, a collective belief in a shared vision.


As evening set in at XP Music Futures, the venue morphed into a pulsating network of parties and performances. The conference areas, bustling with talks by day, turned into this massive dancefloor at night, complete with performances on every corner across seven different stages. XP NITE was something else. It was like a sneak peek into Saudi Arabia’s underground scene, full of fresh music, incredibly talented artists, and homegrown party brands.

The NITE program was a display of artistic collaboration and performance at its finest. Renowned artists like Satoshi Tomiie took the stage, collabing with the French record label Yoyaki, while local collectives such as Untamed showcased their uncanny ability to unite club music enthusiasts in Riyadh and beyond.


Over the course of XP Nite’s three-day event, an impressive roster of more than 130 artists graced seven different stages. This lineup included international sensations like Tinariwen from Mali and Chelina Manuhutu from the Netherlands, each bringing their distinctive sound to the event. Local talents weren’t far behind, with acts like Majid Untamed and the dynamic lineup from Femme Fest x EQUAL Arabia adding to the vibrant mix.

The schedule for XP Nite had been put together with care, featuring an array of showcases that spanned the globe. Highlights included Jordan’s Vortex Festival, Tunisia’s Fabrika Festival, and contributions from UAE’s Ego Records and GXR Records, alongside the celebrated FemmeFest. Each day brought something new and exciting.


While every dance floor at the event drew a considerable crowd, the hip-hop arena was notably packed from beginning to end. The highlight was undoubtedly the SVNBIRDS showcase, which featured heavyweight Sudanese Soulja (who I’ll be covering in our upcoming print edition) and his label mates, as well as Dafencii. This high-energy showcase brought together the Sudanese diaspora in Saudi Arabia for a truly memorable night. The event was bumping until the early hours, concluding only when everyone was ushered out at 2 am.

XP Music Futures

Seeing so many Saudi youths out there partying was something special. It’s pretty cool to see a country known for its conservatism embracing change like this, with the youth leading the way. It just goes to show, music has this incredible power to open minds and maybe even pave the way for bigger changes in society.

XP Music Futures

XP does more than just place a spotlight on the Arab world’s place in the music industry. It opens a door that allows rest of the world a peek into how the Middle East is shaping its own unique culture. It’s about putting this region on the map, showing that it’s right up there with the big players.

The vibe at XP Music Futures was like day and night – literally. Mornings are buzzing with business, and then as night falls, the place just comes alive with this inexplicable energy. It was a microcosm of the music industry’s future, all charged up with the energy of collaboration, creativity, and a shared vision for what lies ahead. It’s an experience that not only celebrates music, but the people behind it.

XP Music Futures

For more coverage of events like XP Music Futures head to our dedicated pages, here.