4 UAE podcasters you must listen to
These up and coming individuals are united by their goal to share the culture, stories and music of the Middle East with the rest of the world through a relatively new medium
The Dukkan Show
The term 'dukkan' translates to 'shop' in Arabic and Hindi, and for Omar "OT" Tom, this was the perfect representation of a communal space. "No matter where you came from, a 'dukkan' is a space for the community," he explains. "It is a space where you're always accepted, where the owner knows each and every person in the neighbourhood. It's a place that brings people together."
These were the very same ideals he wanted to transfer to his podcast, when he first started it two years ago. Having previously lived in San Francisco, Omar had seen the way podcasts had taken off in the US, and, with a background in radio, wanted to recreate the effect in the UAE. And so, the Dukkan Show was started in order to be the voice of third culture kids (TCKs) in the region.
Today, this engaging podcast is hosted by Omar along with Reem Hameed, who moved to the UAE from Canada 11 years ago and comes with a background in content creation and entrepreneurship, and Mohamad Akkaoui who works in the field of marketing. Their varied backgrounds and interests is undoubtedly one of the things that makes the podcast the success that it is - a conversation between the trio proves to be entertaining, laid-back and peppered with information.
"Over the last few years, Dukkan's voice has become a lot more solidified as a voice of third culture kids," adds Reem. "In this way, it resonates with a largely expat community that doesn't get spoken to a lot in the media."
With roughly 19,000 monthly listeners from all over the world, they are undoubtedly doing something right. Their episodes delve into a range of topics - from insomnia to depression to heartbreak. However, no matter how relaxed and fun the final outcome sounds, creating content is no mean feat - an hour-long episode usually sees them recording for two hours and then cutting it down. Moreover, some episodes see them interviewing experts in various fields in order to celebrate people who are doing great things in the region - an integral part of their ethos.
"Almost everyone has a story you can connect with or learn from," says Akkaoui. "When you have a one-on-one conversation with someone, you will invariably reach a topic of interest. We try not to limit ourselves."
It's all part of their plan to become a global voice and change mindsets about the UAE. Although a majority of their listeners are from the GCC, today, there have a growing number of international followers who resonate with their voices and messages. "I think one incident that had a major impact on me was when I got a letter from a kid in Arizona, US, telling me the show helped him understand the Middle East and the people who live here," says Omar. "He said he now felt like he had a group of international friends. This helped me understand the deeper purpose of the show a lot better."
"Arabs like us are not represented in mainstream media," adds Reem. "You probably won't find an Arab like me when you turn on the TV and go to the news. This is our way of responding to that and funneling peace, hope and positivity into the world."
The Shady Shadow Show
(Shadi Megallaa, the owner of the Flip Side and the founder of The Shady Shadow Show)
Most people know Shadi Megallaa as the owner of Flip Side, Dubai's only vinyl record shop, but the DJ and record collector has a side project, specifically for musical aficionados. The Shady Shadow Show is a unique podcast he started where he plays an interesting mix of music genres. There's a guest with every episode, and, along with the music, the casual banter between Shadi and the guest is sure to keep audiences entertained.
"It all started during the construction phase of The Flip Side," says Shadi. "I had just come back from a trip to New York where I stocked up on records and I was invited by my friend, Salah Sadeq, to come and play eclectic music on his online radio station. It went so well that we decided to do it every six weeks and called it The Shady Shadow Show."
However, after just five episodes, The Shady Shadow Show got sidelined when Shadi found himself busy with the early stages of setting up the Flip Side. After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, he found himself missing the podcast and decided to restart it - with a new identity.
"Ever since the fifth episode I started coming up with themes for each show," says Shadi. "It started with the Wild West theme. Other themes we've explored are James Bond, Kung-Fu films and Nintendo. The music format is completely open and isn't restricted by genres and, for the most part, my guests on the show are friends who happen to have great taste in music - not necessarily DJs. My main aim with the show is to have it raw as it could possibly be. I want it to feel like you're hanging out with your friends, which is exactly what it is."
It's one of the many reasons for the success of the show, as well as the differentiating factor between podcasts and radio shows, believes Shadi. "Listening to the radio has become a way to kill time while you commute. It's about having something in the background but you aren't listening intently. The other issue is that radio is full of advertising. Dubai isn't a very big city and when you have a 15-minute drive, you don't want to hear advertisements for one-third the journey."
Shadi has, on occasion, had international guests on the show, such as Eli Goldstein from Soul Clap and Jannis Stürtz from Habibi Funk. But for the most, part, The Shady Shadow Show was created for himself, his friends, and true music lovers who enjoy the intimate conversations on the show - not in order to increase the number of followers or listeners. Shadi has not promoted it - the show doesn't even have social media pages - and yet, over the years, there has been steady organic growth - proof that there is demand for podcasts in the region.
"The show has always been about sharing music with friends. I don't see them as fans," says Shadi. "The aim is and always will be to play music I love. As long as there is great new and old music to play, the show will keep going."
Suffice it to say we hope to hear plenty more of The Shady Shadow Show in the years
(The full team behind Kerning Cultures. Back row, left to right: Co-founder Razan Alzayani, producers Jackie Sofia and Ahmad Zeid. Front row, left to right: Managing producer Alex Atack, Co-founder Hebah Fisher. Photo credit: Alex Atack)
Hebah Fisher is half-Egyption, half-American, with a vivid childhood that had her growing up between Bahrain, Saudi, Egypt, the US and the UAE. So, when she met Razan Alzayani, who grew up between the Bahrain, the UK, US and UAE, they immediately clicked. While Hebah was experimenting with audio journalism a few years later, Razan reached out to help - and it laid the foundation for Kerning Cultures, a podcast that aims to "tell brilliant, human-centred stories from the Middle East and its diaspora".
"We realised that there was nothing like the style of storytelling we wanted to do in podcast form in the UAE," says Hebah. "It's the nostalgic, hearkening way of the hakawti - the oral storytellers in the streets around which crowds would gather to hear long-form tales. We wanted to transport people into worlds of the characters, with a combination of rich sound designs, relatability and intrigue."
Today, the stories they create for their podcast are ones that anyone with a Middle Eastern background - or a TCK for that matter - would be able to relate to. Their latest episode, To Oslo, With Love, for instance, follows the story of an American journalist and a Syrian refugee living in Istanbul. An episode takes an average of three months to put together - including research, interviewing, scripting, editing, narrating and post production sound design. Which means that every episode goes through a team of three producers and sound engineers as well as an editorial team of about three to five people. It's a lot of work - but with a lot of rewards too.
"It means a lot when listeners tell us how much they love the show or how they cry when they're listening to it because they feel like we're telling their own story," says Hebah.
It's one of the main reasons the team has been creating stories with the aim to "capture the imagination when you're stuck in traffic on Sheikh Zayed such that you don't actually mind the standstill!" It's also the reason Hebah encourages others to listen to podcasts.
"If you think of the amount of time we spend commuting to and from work or school, or doing mindless chores like the dishes at home, you realise we spend a lot of our time passively, where we're physically occupied but our minds wander," she says. "Sometimes music is a great fix, and sometimes, it's nice to be intellectually stimulated in other ways - like, listening to podcasts. Personally, most of my topics of conversation come from podcasts I listen to."
Tea with Culture
(From left to right; Wael Hattar and Hind Mezaina, founders of Tea with Culture)
Want to learn more about the UAE's art and culture scene without any intimidating technical jargon? You may want to tune in to Hind Mezaina and Wael Hattar's podcast Tea with Culture. The duo decided to start a podcast around three years ago when Hind, who is Emirati, quit her job in the corporate world to focus on being an artist and writer, while Wael, a Jordanian-Lebanese, split his time between advertising and the world of art. With a shared interest in art, culture and cinema, the duo wanted to open up more conversations on the following topics in the Middle East - something they felt wasn't being discussed with enough insightful criticism.
"There's a lot of praising and surface-level discussion about the arts in the UAE, but not enough critical analyses or reviews," says Hind. "That's what we're trying to do by including diverse voices and opinions when we talk about art and culture in the UAE, while being supportive of its growth."
They do this by inviting people who create art or run organisations they are interested in, onto their podcast. A standard episode has an interview or discussion with these guests as well as a narration by Hind and Wael (together or separately) for which they do a fair amount of research. While Wael takes care of the editing of the audio episodes, Hind handles the social media aspect.
"The aim is to have candid and critical discussions, and to make listeners aware of the talented artists, and active cultural happenings in the region," says Hind. "We want our episodes to be relevant and interesting even if they are heard months or years after we publish them, and also to be of interest to listeners who are not based in the UAE."
Currently, a majority of their audience stems from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Algeria, but there are also a few international followers who listen in. Their audience has grown over the years and the duo recently hosted a birthday breakfast party to celebrate their third anniversary, where they invited friends, listeners and followers based in the UAE.
"The podcast scene in the region is still very young as we only have a few teams that are consistent in posting and developing themselves," says Hind. "Not many people actively listen to podcasts and it doesn't appear to be 'mainstream' yet, despite being an international phenomenon. But podcasts are so easy to start now that it is slowly growing, with more coming up - both in English and Arabic. Perhaps we'll see podcasts in other languages coming out of the UAE, in the future, too."