As popular uprisings have unfolded across the Middle East this year, much attention has been paid to the both underlying unrest that is causing them and the social media that often helps fuel them. In the background, receiving less of the limelight, lies another phenomenon: the growing community of musicians whose music is inspired by this growing demand for social change

It was this growing creative movement that inspired Esra’a El Shafei to launch MidEastTunes, a website that serves as a central hub for independent artists from throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The site, which went live in 2010, was recently relaunched with a fresh design and new features geared toward making it easer for artists to upload and share their music.

“If you read the mainstream coverage on underground music during the revolutions and regional protests, it always brings across the idea that somehow, this is a new phenomenon here. But some musicians have been doing this for almost a decade.”
-Esra’a El Shafei

There are a number of things that naturally come to most Western minds when thinking about the Middle East, from conflict and politics to food and culture. Heavy metal is not typically one of them. Yet there exists a growing metal scene in places like Iraq and Bahrain.

After MidEastTunes launched with a handful of profiles for metal bands from Bahrain, it started getting major press, most notably from CNN, at which point the site began to grow into a more popular destination, with more artists submitting their music, which El Shafei and her team would manually vet and post to the site.

The newest version of the site, which went live about a week ago, streamlines that process by giving artists the ability to submit and update their own profiles. It also features a new music player, which stays in place and streams music as you navigate the site.

MidEastTunes is one of a number of projects by MidEastYouth, an organization that uses digital media to advocate for progressive change throughout the Middle East. The team plans on launching new apps for iPhone and Android within the next three months.

For now the focus is on the newly-relaunched website, for which several new features are already being planned. What’s most important to El Shafei and her team is that the artists on their site get as much exposure as possible.

“If you read the mainstream coverage on underground music during the revolutions and regional protests, it always brings across the idea that somehow, this is a new phenomenon here,” El Shafei said. But some musicians have been doing this for almost a decade, some much more than this. It’s time they all get discovered.”