Internet connections in Lebanon are notoriously bad, so much so that the Middle Eastern country is ranked among the very worst worldwide as far as speeds are concerned. That hasn’t deterred a pair of Lebanese entrepreneurs from launching a first-of-its-kind music service in the Middle East – offering unlimited and offline music streaming to its users – that’s actually legal.
Anghami, the brainchild of Eddy Maroun and Elie Habib, is the answer to every Middle Eastern tweet, update, conversation and thought, in which many of us (myself included) have wished that a service like Spotify was available in the Middle East.
Spotify for the Middle East
When talking about Anghami, it’s hard to avoid the comparison to services like Spotify and Rdio, offering users a way to legally stream music on their computers and smartphones. That comparison doesn’t really matter since Anghami is catering to an entirely different audience.
Arabic music is freely available to listen to on Spotify, but that’s not much help to a user anywhere from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. That’s where Anghami comes in. The service will offer access to an impressive library of music, having signed deals with major labels in the Middle East including Rotana, Mazzika, and Melody.
In addition to the musical stylings of just about everything from Amr Diab and Elissa to Sabah and the late Warda, Anghami has also signed deals with international labels including Sony Music and EMI. There is also an agreement with Warner in the works, which will bring access to a vast range of diverse content, from Disney hits to Michael Jackson and David Guetta.
“We’re trying to provide all the music that a consumer in the Middle East would search for. Our aim is to satisfy 90% of the queries, and I think we’re almost there,” Eddy explains, adding, “We’ll be the first music service in the region that will cover Arabic and international music.”
While Anghami will be available as a service worldwide, the availability of music will be limited regionally. International music will only be available in the Middle East, while Arabic music can be listened to worldwide.
Going the mobile route
Anghami is on the verge of launching in private beta, and its first offering will come in the form of an iPhone app. Anghami recently changed gears, after initially intending to launch first as a Web-based service. “The Web interface is now a second priority for us,” Eddy tells The Next Web.
“We believe that it’s the age of mobile, more than Web, especially when it’s about music. You listen to music on your mobile more than on your computer. We thought it’s better for us to gain traction and to be in everybody’s handsets. We decided to go the Instagram way – launch mobile first, and then Web.”
Starting out with an iPhone app, Anghami will next be available on Android, finally coming to desktop computers through its Web interface.
“The idea is that everywhere you go, you’ll find your music. This is the concept of Anghami. If you have your own music experience – on your computer, a tablet, on your phone, everywhere you are – you can find all your playlists, your music, offline and online.”
Offline listening is one of the many ways in which Anghami sets itself apart from other music services in the region. “You can have the ultimate music experience. You’ll never have to search elsewhere, you’ll never have to buy any songs, you’ll never have to buy a CD. Your music library will be with you everywhere you go,” Eddy says.
The challenges of a Middle Eastern market
When they first started researching the idea, Eddy and Elie knew that they were faced with an interesting challenge as far as the region was concerned, particularly on the issue of content rights. “Of course this model is new, it’s not like downloading a song and getting a share out of each song.”
The contracts Anghami has under its belt is proof that many have faith in the model and the Middle Eastern market.
Launching the startup out of the region has, however, had other challenges. ”Being a startup in the Middle East – it’s not really easy, especially in order to get established, recruit the right team, raise funds,” Eddy explains. “It’s not that straightforward, but we’ve been really lucky. There are a lot of people who believe in our idea and are backing us one hundred percent. Hopefully to see a good startup becoming a mega-startup.”
Anghami was one of five startups which received backing from Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) in March, while a Turkey-based VC has also invested in the company.
Anghami’s convenience, unlimited streaming, offline access, and huge music library should be enough to attract a significant user-base. But what of that pesky Internet problem that Lebanon, and many other Middle Eastern countries continue to face?
“We’re using state of the art technology in order to stream really quickly. Whenever you’re streaming from Anghami, it will feel like you’re playing a song from your hard disk.”
Anghami has teamed up with Dolby, taking advantage of its latest Dolby Pulse encoding. “It provides high-quality and low-size files. The files are compressed but the sound is the same as if you’re hearing a 256K MP3 or even CD quality,” Eddy says. Most importantly it also saves bandwidth, since the file size is small, so it won’t consume a lot of data. Coupled with offline listening, Anghami is every Middle Eastern music lover’s dream.
So if you’re based in the Middle East and are feeling thoroughly left out of the Spotify/Rdio experience, sign up for the Anghami beta to gain access to a library of the best Arabic and international music available in the region.