The culture of Palestine is celebrated in “Deira,” a new song and video from artists Saint Levant and MC Abdul released in the wake of Levant’s recent signing to Universal Arabic Music (UAM).
Levant is a singer, rapper and songwriter of Palestinian, Algerian, French and Serbian descent. MC Abdul is a 15-year-old rapper from Gaza whose 2021 viral hit, “Palestine,” brought him global prominence.
Done in the traditional Shaabi Arab musical style native to Algiers, “Deira” — which translates to “the Kasbah or “the old city” — is an homage to Levant’s lineage, with the video highlighting daily life, food, fashion, sports and more in the Middle East through a dreamy and nostalgic lens.
“Deira is the name of the hotel that my father Rashid, an architect, built with my mother in 2000 when they moved to Gaza,” Levant says in a statement. “He built this hotel with mud because it was impossible to import cement at the time. Located on the beach, this hotel was one of the most beautiful in Gaza, made up of 22 rooms. It was a true architectural marvel. On July 16, 2014, four children playing ball out front of the hotel were killed by Israeli rocket fire and most recently the hotel was totally destroyed by bombing three months ago.”
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MC Abdul — who left Gaza for the United States a month before the war started — delivers a verse acknowledging the current conflict with the lyrics, “Big dreams, heavy nights/praying that my family can stay alive/imagine trying to fly with no wings/but I promise you the caged bird sings.”
Levant’s catalog includes a host of singles and two EPs, including 2023’s From Gaza, With Love. Based in Los Angeles, the artist recently signed to Universal Arabic Music (UAM) via a partnership with Republic Records and UMG launched by The Weeknd’s manager Wassim “Sal” Slaiby in 2021.
The Middle East has recently become a growth area for the music industry, with major labels like Universal setting up imprints and local offices there. Spotify launched in the Arab world in 2018, while Abu Dhabi-based streaming company Anghami received a $5 million investment from the venture capital arm of the Saudi Arabia media company SRMG last August. (SRMG is also behind the recently launched Billboard Arabia.) San Francisco-based distribution company EMPIRE has an operation covering the Middle East/North Africa, bringing on Spotify’s Suhel Nafar to oversee it in 2021.
The 2022 IFPI report notes that the Middle East and North African (MENA) region posted the world’s third-highest growth rate in 2022, seeing revenues from recorded music climb by 23.8%. Streaming accounted for the majority of the market, with those revenues making up a 95.5% share.
But the war in Gaza has disrupted that opportunity for many Palestinian acts, and increased attention around the conflict has not brought any significant streaming gains to Palestinian artists. MC Abdul’s global streaming numbers did, however, see a spike last fall in the weeks following the start of the war.