Developing into a fully realised medium, ranging from long-form hard-hitting docu-series, creative fiction, variety shows or just some friends recording themselves chatting, podcasts have risen enough as a medium to catch many an interested ear. With a variety of shows, piquing every conceivable interest - no matter how niche - they have developed a mass following, even inspiring their very own conventions and conferences in the US, Europe, and Australia. The podcast has undoubtedly broken into the mainstream, and established itself as a legitimate format.
The Middle East is no exception, with a slate of shows coming out in recent years - both regionally and internationally - with a diverse assortment of choices, ranging from deep dives into identity politics, tackling turbulent Middle Eastern politics, and the casual chats about pop culture.
Here are 9 podcasts, native to the Middle East, that have perfected the format.
Starting as a show devoted to delving into the concept of ‘home’, all the while exploring all sorts of subject matter that fall under that umbrella, Dukkan has grown to be a multimedia storytelling platform that explores several themes within the context of nationality and identity. It is hosted by a charming trio, Omar Tom (known as OT), Reem Hameed and Mohamed Akkaoui. Based in UAE, the hosts share their own anecdotes from day-to-day life, invite several notable cohosts on the show, and share personal woes that can definitely be relatable across the region. The show is self-ascribed as "the voice of Neo-Bedouins and the home of the others.” The show’s name ‘Dukkan’ means shop in Arabic. OT, founder and cohost, attributes the name ‘Dukkan’ to being a “birthplace of media and the community.” From conversations on mental health, the age of influencer marketing, and reviving Arab pop history, the show has a bit of everything that will never fail to keep you listening.
A riveting historical journey into the golden age of Arab music. A telling of Arab artists’ lives, famous and obscure, and their journeys through their fame - or lack thereof - the show serves as a documentary into the lives of artists, their troublesome relationship with fame, or their struggle to hit the spotlight. A newly released show with four episodes so far, and an atmospheric feel to its storytelling, it keeps you hooked with the same attention demanded from a Netflix docu-series. The show is one of the many ground-breaking podcasts to be spoken in entirely Arabic, produced by the Jordan-based Sowt.
An enlightening experience shedding light where some ought to be, ‘Blank Maps’ is a unique, personal narrative storytelling podcast, focused on exploring statelessness in the Arab world, from the perspective of refugees and immigrants. The show describes itself as “searching for identity in the lack of it” and poses questions on whether identity is lived experiences, inherited, or ingrained. The show is in Arabic, with many personal tales of people narrating their experiences, centred around statelessness.
Coming from a term in typography, ‘kerning’ refers to adjusting the space between letters to make a word easier to read - a resounding metaphor to the show’s aim. The show tells stories from the Middle East, trying to fill the gap where regional and international media have tended to pigeonhole the Middle East and North Africa into politics. Telling grounded stories of people in diaspora, culture, business, history, and art. Described as “the kinds of stories we want to discuss with our friends over warm cups of coffee on cozy sofas," the show’s co-founder, and host Hebah Fisher explains that, “There’s maybe a couple hundred active podcast shows coming out of the Middle East. But that’s a fraction of the podcasts [worldwide]. So as Kerning Cultures we are not only building the ecosystem for the region, but also enabling the ecosystem at large.”
A thorough and endearing dissection into all that is taboo and unconventional in the Middle East. From gender, abortion, unmarried parents, the prevalence of circumcision, sexual education and orientation, the show has developed its unique narrative storytelling to make each episode feel like a close up and personal view into an affected person’s life on each of the subject matters, inspiring empathy, and giving a voice to the barely heard.
An informative, celebratory show into the lives of phenomenal women; regional and international female pioneers share their inspirational stories, and pass their wisdom on. The show has garnered a huge following, being one of the most listened to podcasts in the Middle East. On each episode, host and creator Rana Nawas, features one remarkable woman, including CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors, artists, famed correspondents and anchors, and athletes conversing on gender parity in each of their respective industries and sectors, internalised misogyny, and the personal stories of triumph of each of the women.
As podcasts steadily surged in popularity, one particular show shot to global acclaim; Serial was an American investigative journalism podcast narrating historically famous murder cases in the US (one case of which went on to get its own HBO documentary). Caliphate addresses a similar horror, but one which was far more immediate; ISIS. The New York Times produced show follows American-Romanian journalist Rukmini Callimachi as she reports on the Islamic State. The podcast delves into understanding how ISIS operates, from how the jihadist terrorist group recruits and how they appeal to people, to the gruesome and gritty details of how new recruits go through their rite of passage. The show includes disturbing violence, and explicit violent language, and through its glaring closeup look it serves to educate and illuminate.
Now here’s one for all the music aficionados, from our sister website, Scene Noise. The podcast features exclusive one-hour sets from musicians, DJs, producers, and bands from across the Middle East. Their roster ranges from some of the most well-known musicians to up-and-coming talents in the Arab world, making it the perfect place to discover some of the contemporary sounds of the region. While it mainly focuses on dance music, you'll also find a smattering of other genres from hip-hop to chillout.
The Documentary Podcast, produced by the BBC, features gathered tales from all around the world, and is executed in a thorough and informative format. The show includes such stories as how an international NGO works with mothers of jihadist fighters to stop the radicalisation of young men and women; captivating historical analyses of the rise of Arab nationalism; and an examination of how millions of dollars of aid meant for Syria were lost due to mismanagement by Syria's Aid Coordination Unit. While the podcast includes stories from all over the world, it features an exceptional selection of series of episodes dedicated to the Middle East and North Africa.