Women of MDLBEAST: Nada Alhelabi, Haya Shaath & Cosmicat share their stories [Interview]
Fast-growing electronic company MDLBEAST, based in the Middle East, are a dynamic brand consisting of festivals, a record label and most recently announced, a music conference, looking to make a difference to the electronic scene in the Middle East, creating a new electronic music epicentre. Behind the dynamic company, MDLBEAST is ran by an even more dynamic team in which they are actively supporting female talent in the industry. To further highlight just a few of the women who help make MDLBEAST what it is, we spoke to some of them.
Nada Alhelabi – Strategy Director at MDLBEAST and XP Programme Director
Working as a strategy director and sound therapist, Nada uses music to further fuel her experiences and career. At MDLBEAST, she fuses her great passion for music with an extensive background in leadership to help MDLBEAST reach its full potential.
Being the strategy director for MDLBEAST, what are your day-to-day duties? Can you talk us through a typical day of work for you?
I am very proud to be part of the MDLBEAST family where no day is ever the same. We pride ourselves with agility and are constantly evolving, always learning and on the hunt for the next fresh, creative idea. I usually keep my mornings open for planning and reviewing my emails, then I will get into meetings with the team and external partners on ongoing projects.
Working in this booming industry requires a lot of dedication – especially in Saudi as we witness this incredible transformation in the kingdom and growth potential for the community and the region. Studies show there is a new generation hungry for culture and quality music, which comes as no surprise when considering 70% of the population of Saudi is below the age of 30. Moreover, 86% of young Saudis said they were prouder of the creativity and culture in Saudi Arabia because of SOUNDSTORM 2019. The opportunities for us are endless and this is what drives me, every day.
The passion I have to the business is reflective on my working hours – I go beyond the typical 9:00am/5:00pm and it doesn’t bother me at all. Don’t they say, love what you do and you won’t have to work a day in your life?
Being a female in the music industry, how important do you think it is to ensure that the music scene becomes more inclusive?
I’m very grateful for this role and being part of these important discussions. The opportunity is huge here, the music industry is going through an unprecedented change in the Middle East, and women need to be a part of it. Female producers, artists & creatives are still underrepresented; the music scene needs to become more inclusive. The number of women in executive roles in the industry is also negligible, mostly dominated by men. There is a lot of work to do to improve this. However, bringing the enthusiasm with the experts in XP will definitely improve this situation. Ensuring women are safe and free to express, is also important to address to help push this agenda.
As the Programme Director of XP, our 3-day music conference and the first of its kind in the region, we’ll be discussing Empowering Women in Music as one of our key topics under our pillar Data, Policy and Advocacy, exploring the advantages of female representation and having a diverse music industry. While there’s a lot of work to be done, this has never been a better time for us to move the music infrastructure forward.
How did you get involved with the scene? Tell us about your origins
I have a background in wellness, and I am passionate about music. Combine the two, and I found purpose in obtaining my sound healing certification. This broadened my knowledge and appreciation for music and its impact on humans.
During my time off as a strategy consultant, I planned trips based on music experiences or festivals around the world. From Burning Man, EDC, Ibiza trips and many others, I was inspired by the scene and most importantly, by the creative process and community movements that these festivals brought with them.
Nothing gives me more pride to combine my experience in strategy development and love for music to create positive impact in my very own, Saudi Arabia.
As you travel around the world to further understand the power of music and its impact on people, what has been the best experience you have had within your career so far?
I truly appreciate being able to travel the world as often as I do. It’s led to building so many relationships with people from different backgrounds and culture which is just beautiful. Music is a universal language, and the best part is connecting to creative souls on the dance floor.
I’ve made some of my best friendships from traveling and now with MDLBEAST, I can’t wait to expand the dance floor to this region and welcome everyone to the Kingdom.
What advice would you give to female creatives looking to follow in your footsteps and work within a top electronic brand and company?
This is the most exciting time for any female creative looking to work in music. The industry is moving and evolving by the beat. And the fun part, is we can all be part of the transformation for women in the workspace.
Be patient, there will be many bumps on the road but keep at it; grab every opportunity with excitement, being a woman should not be a distraction but rather your biggest strength, be prepared to fight for your dreams.
Haya Shaath – Creative Strategist at MDLBEAST
Influenced by a lot of different cultures including her own, Haya Shaath has learned from different life experiences whilst travelling to places such as the Philippines and London, which lead her to conducting two research experiments whilst studying in London – one in India, and one in Saudi Arabia. With this natural skill for learning, she brings this to MDLBEAST.
As a creative strategist, what led you to choosing this career and wanting to be a part of it?
I believe a Creative Strategist is a generalist in the truest sense. It’s a role that asks for a multitude of skills, allowing me to be involved across the business. I’m a student of the humanities with a background in social studies and design innovation.
My training is around understanding human behaviors, the systems they exist in, and their inherent challenges – to eventually design better frameworks to flow through.
Recently working with Edge of Arabia, an arts initiative, you’re also doing huge work within the art community. Can you tell us more about what you did with Edge of Arabia?
Edge of Arabia (EoA) was in fact my first internship when I was doing my undergrad in London. I was first supporting them in putting together an exhibition in Brick Lane, then stayed working with them on content in the very early days of social media. It was my first foray into the Saudi arts scene – and I maintained a good connection with the team, so I jumped back in on a project basis. EoA showed me the potential behind supporting artists and their creative communities in the absence of art education and institutes.
How did you get involved with working with MDLBEAST?
After attending the first edition of MDLBEAST’s SOUNDSTORM in 2019, I wrote this article about my experience – understanding that this was way beyond a music festival, and a real cultural turning point in Saudi’s history. Since then, Ahmad Alammary, our Chief Creative Officer, aka DJ Baloo, began his plot to bring me on board.
At the time, I was starting a Saudi-based travel business with my sister, so it was very hard for me to drop that, thought I recognized the huge potential and opportunity of joining MDLBEAST. Then the pandemic hit, and travel was put to a halt, so I had to find an alternative path – enter MDLBEAST. In a sense, this was the greatest silver lining. I started on a project basis developing the website, then an offer came through shortly after that and I haven’t been more excited to be part of what’s next!
Being the creative strategist for MDLBEAST, what do you do within the brand?
Our team works on developing creative concepts, ideas and experiences that are aligned with our strategic mission of developing the region’s music industry. At the heart of that, it’s about building completely new creative outlets for the youth of a nation in transformation – to me, that’s social innovation in practice.
My role is to ensure that the brand identity remains consistently bold, that our storytelling is captivating, and our experiences are always fresh. We support teams in bringing concepts to life – and we have so much fun doing it. My work is wide-ranging and can go from reviewing content and developing creative briefs to recording voice overs and building connections on dance floors around the world.
What I’m most excited about is harnessing the power of our creative and musical communities – and develop a real nightlife culture in Saudi and beyond. It has been a challenge with the pandemic, but we’re finally coming back together, and it feels huge and humbling.
How important do you feel it is to open up even more career opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia? What would you say to those looking to also follow in your career steps?
The need for opening up career opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia is undeniable, and we’re making great progress – yet still have much room for a more balanced gender representation, especially at a leadership level.
To those looking to get into the music and creative field – I would say listen, absorb and take it all in like a sponge. Be divergent in your thinking, knowing that inspiration comes from everywhere. Your intuition is your greatest guide, so listen to that most intently. It will give you the confidence to be bold in your decisions. When you start to veer off traditional career paths, that’s when the stuff gets good; it’s scary, wild and fun. Trust yourself in that journey.
Cosmicat – DJ and producer
Cosmicat, real name Nouf Sufyani is one of Saudi Arabia’s first female DJs to hit the scene. Armed with her own style of house music, not only does she offer up high energy performances but is also opening more conversations about the cultural shifts of entertainment in the region, along with new opportunities for women in terms of career paths. Cosmicat features regularly at MDLBEAST events, representing local talent.
How did you get your start in the music industry?
I started as a music lover and a collector. I grew up listening to pop, disco, R&B, and hip-hop, the influence of all of which are very noticeable on my music selection. I bought my first set of gear online and began DJing in my bedroom, using my innate understanding of music flow and online resources to teach myself.
I decided to take up my passion up a level with learning how to mix records and one thing led to another, people started recognising my sound and I was lucky enough to pursue making music and being able to take my passion as a career. It is undeniable that with a music festival like SOUNDSTORM, the number of opportunities we have in Saudi now are marvellous. So it’s onwards and upwards from here!
As one of the first female DJs in Saudi Arabia, you’re representing a wide variety of female artists who want to follow in your footsteps. How does this feel?
I am honored to be part of a circle of women who inspire and encourage each other, but I only represent myself. It’s very humbling yet a huge responsibility to be under the spotlight and I wish to be an inspiration for others to pursue their dreams.
How does it feel to be one of the leading artists in the region and getting to perform all over the Middle East?
It required a lot of discipline and hard work, and I love that music knows no borders especially in our region where you find unity and harmony in our sounds.
I got a lot of support from the music and creative community as a fresh artist and this is what I hope to give others who are entering this world.
To those that don’t know, how would you describe your sound and style?
I play and produce electronic music, more specifically deep house and techno. During my sets I love to play and listen to melodic house that is futuristic and emotional, and all types of things that makes you move your feet.
What plans do you have to not only push your career even further but the inclusivity of female artists within the industry in the future?
I’m planning to work on releasing more music with empowering messages and do more live performances hopefully. I am also very keen on education and would love to share what I learned with everyone. I believe in women helping each other and will be joining MDLBEAST in December to talk this through during the XP music conference.
All image credits: MDLBEAST press