RIYADH: Arabic music with a rock mentality? Songs with a message sung in the Hejazi dialect? Those might not be the traditional ingredients for a hit in Saudi Arabia, but for one indie band they are proving to be a recipe for success.
Ana Nahn released their debut single “What Did I Do?” in 2019. It tells the story of a man who wakes up one day to find himself trending on Twitter and wondering how it happened.
The role of social media in modern-day society is an idea the band has returned to many times since and remains at the core of their being.
“We wanted to address current social concerns on social media or topics that are important for people who were raised in Saudi Arabia,” lead singer and synth player Abdulmalik Zubailah told Arab News.
“And we wanted to do so without seeming preachy because we are a part of that society.”
Based in Jeddah, the band also features Maan Balila on drums, Saleh bin Saif on tabla and keyboards, and Saif Mufti and Shaher Karkashan, both on bass.
“We like to think of ourselves as an alternative Hijazi music group, and we sing in Arabic,” Zubailah said.
“Local musicians with a strong sense of culture can produce impactful independent music, employing their culture and societal themes.”
The band’s name translates as “me and us,” which reinforces the idea that when songs are about cultural or social issues they have a meaning for everyone.
Their latest release, “Harfiyan,” meaning “literally” in Arabic, is a portrait of how people on social media, in the quest to impress others, can sometimes lose their identity.
But not every track has such a weighty message. The song “Ginger, Honey and Lemon,” for instance, is a warm tribute to the titular tonic that many Saudis regard as a panacea for all ills.
“The message of the song isn’t that we are attempting to eliminate the use of ginger, honey and lemon. Rather, it’s a humorous song that discusses some of the remedies that we grew up knowing and some that are promoted now on WhatsApp,” Zubailah said.
The band perform mostly in their home city, at venues like the Jeddah Hub, Virgin Megastore, The Music Space, Makan Music Center and The Basement, to name a few. But they have also been seen at Bohemia in Alkhobar, the Syrup Lounge in Riyadh and Sama Abha in Abha.
“The local scene is expanding,” Zubailah said.
While he is encouraged by the support provided by industry bodies within the Kingdom, the indie music scene still had a long way to go, he added.
“I think it’s a wonderful step that the Saudi Music Commission is promoting emerging talent because there is so much (of it).
“We are not accustomed to promoting local talent, and I think we are still a long way from developing a truly authentic music scene.”
Indie music is very much an emerging scene in Saudi Arabia but relaxed entertainment regulations have aided its growth.
The Anghami music platform even has a dedicated “Saudi Indie” category to reflect its growing popularity among young people.
Ana Nahn’s music can also be found on Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music.