Dandin: Rendering alternative sounds from the Arab region accessible

Rowan El Shimi, Sunday 8 Jun 2014

Dandin.me hosts an archive of music and sound from Egypt and the Arabic world. Ahram Online sits with its founder to see how the online platform has progressed since its launch nine months ago

Dandin.me (Photo: Courtesy of Dandin)

If you’ve been following the creative explosion that has been taking over Cairo, you’ve probably been among those looking to find new artists online. In the best cases, you'd probably find a few tracks that given artists have shared on popular audio platforms like Soundcloud.

If you’ve been itching to find a website that gathers all these musical talents emerging from Egypt and the region in one place, then you’re in luck as Dandin.me gains a foothold.

Dandin.me, an entirely Arabic platform for sound sharing and dissemination, has had a home on the Internet for nine months now. It hosts a variety of alternative and independent music emerging from the scene in Egypt and the Middle East. Dandin has also been active offline as part of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival in April, and this weekend was one of the supporters of the two-day 100Live Electronic Music Festival in Rawabet Theatre.

However, Dandin is really about sound and sonority in its entirety. Music is one of the many forms of sound that Dandin offers, classifying it under many genres, including pop, rock, oriental soul, rap, mahraganat, folk, film soundtracks and electronic music. Dandin also hosts poetry, comedy sketches, political rants and storytelling. One particularly interesting post on the platform is a reading of the 2014 Constitution that users could listen to prior to the constitutional vote.

While Cairo has seen a recent upsurge of online radio, such as Gramafoon and Wasla FM, while Alexandria has been enjoying until recently Radio Tram, Dandin is quite different to these stations.

One cannot really classify Dandin as an online radio, since it is up to each user to choose and play tracks. A registered user can follow both artists and other users. As such, users can create playlists and save favourites; they can even upload their own tracks and share them with friends. One can register via the website directly or use existing own social media profiles such as Twitter, Google or Facebook.

Founded by three brothers, Abdel-Rahman, Tariq and Karim Hussein, Dandin came to be through a long process. While the website officially launched in October 2013, the idea has been playing in Abdel-Rahman and Tariq’s minds for quite a while.

Back in their early twenties, Abdel-Rahman and Tariq were musicians themselves and were frustrated with the lack of opportunities for independent artists.

“There was nothing to do. You could play a show or two but that was it. There was no space to deposit what you are doing and have it live there so people can engage with it,” Abdel-Rahman Hussein told Ahram Online.

“A decade later, it really struck a chord with us. We wished something of that sort (like Dandin) existed, a platform where the process [of music making] did not stop at a certain point but could extend and perpetuate into many different things,” he explained.

After a push from their eldest brother, Karim, the trio hired a web development company to create the platform. One year and three months later, following a lengthy process of back and forth on how the site should look and function, Dandin.me came to be.

“We were very clear about how we wanted it to be: very accessible and very simple,” Abdel-Rahman says.

“Luckily it coincided with this period of time where there seems to be this explosion of alternative artistic self-expression in many different mediums,” Abdel-Rahman explained, underlining that Dandin provides a space for people to explore this explosion and have full access to it.

At the start of Dandin’s launch, the brothers were finding it a challenge to get artists onboard and encourage musicians to upload their tracks, and users to engage. However, nine months down the line, things are much easier. Now that the website’s fanbase is growing, artists are seeing the benefits of Dandin. While many independent artists opt for using Soundcloud, more and more now are getting onto Dandin due to its focus on art from the Arab world, which helps audiences discover more and more artists.

However, Dandin still has a long way to go. That is a fact that Abdel-Rahman is aware of.

“We are trying to win over one artist at a time and one user at a time,” he says. “We put in a lot of effort to bring people on board to use the website and enjoy it to its full potential,” he adds.

One important aspect the founders need to focus on, which they have not gotten around to yet, is the project’s financial sustainability. To date, not only is Dandin not generating income, but they have no plan as to how it will. Abdel-Rahman explained to Ahram Online that at this point they are more focused on launching the platform and making sure it is functional. But it is inevitable that the question of financial growth and sustainability will arise.

While this project is unique, and fills an important void in the independent music scene, it is vital that the Dandin team starts exploring the financial aspect. Since the outbreak of the 2011 revolution, Egypt has seen an upsurge in cultural and development initiatives that while sincere in their goals have not managed to sustain themselves in the market.

One can only be hopeful that Dandin will manage to find a business plan as creative and alternative as the content they host.

Listen to a selection Dandin created especially for Ahram Online readers here.

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