From Emerging Artists To Cairokee: KÉME Production Brings Eastern Talent To The West

Music, film and other kinds of entertainment are the forms of art that go beyond borders, nationalities and culture and can have the power of uniting people together. That is the basic premise behind the company dubbed Kème Production that was born out of a passion towards creating a bridge between the East and West by bringing Arab talent all the way to the US. Whether it’s musicians, stand-up comedians or actors, Kème Production has had a successful track record at transforming these emerging artists into big names outside their homes. While speaking to Kème’s founder Ahmed Murad better known as Damby, we got to learn about the journey the company had in bringing the Arab voice to the Western world.

Can you tell us the story behind Kème Production and how it all started?

Kème Production is the first ever Egyptian production company to be based in the US, specifically in New York and we specialize in event management, filming and productions. My partner and I, Sarah Elgabri opened up the company 6 years ago and we were later joined by Kareem El Khatab. From the get-go, our vision was to introduce Arab culture, music and film to the US by bringing artists from the Middle East to the West and it has been a successful journey so far.

Damby Via KEME productions

In terms of the artists, are they from the Middle East at large or from specific countries across the region?

Right now, we are mainly working with Egyptian artists but we did have some projects with the famous Jordanian composer, Aziz Maraka. We are planning to bring in more talent from across the Middle East for our upcoming concerts and events.

So far, who are the coolest Arab artists that you were able to bring to the US?

Just last month, we held a tour for the popular Egyptian band, Cairokee; they performed across four different states that included Texas, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. The tour was a massive hit and we sold out in all four states. We also did a concert for big names like Mahmoud El Esseily, Zap Tharwat, Sharmoofers as well as Aziz Maraka.

Beyond concerts, we also brought SNL Arabia in for a show and we helped bring Amr Wahba to perform his first-ever stand-up comedy show in the US. We helped shoot several music videos for Ramy Ashour and May Abdel Aziz in the US. In terms of 2023, we have some big projects where we are planning on bringing a couple of big names from the booming rap scene.

Beyond music, what other exciting Arab entertainments have you brought over to the US?

We dabbled in ancient Egyptian history when we collaborated with the National Geographic who set up an exhibition all about Tutankhamun. In the world of sports, we covered one of the biggest squash tournaments held in New York for Ramy Ashour. For the first time ever, in Oct. 2023, we are planning on hosting the biggest Middle Eastern real estate exhibition, bringing together the biggest Arab names in the world of real estate to the west.

You have held so many massive events and even mentioned that a lot of them got sold out. What about the Western and Non-Arab audiences, have they been attending these events?

To be frank, our current main audience is made up of young Egyptians especially because there is a large Egyptian population in the US, totaling 85,000 in New Jersey and New York alone. When it comes to western audiences, there is strong potential to make them grow and become a bigger part of the fan base for all our artists. I remember when we had Mahmoud El Esseily perform in the US for the first time, I was surprised that we had three hundred Americans attend that concert. That is why the goal of our company is to also introduce music to non-Arabs and western audiences and make a bigger impact in the West.

Since the start of Kème Production, were you able to make a bigger impact on the Western audience?

Yes, we did. Last year, we came up with a concept to do the first Middle Eastern Halloween party. This generated quite a buzz among the American community as they were very curious as to what an Arab Halloween party would look like. So we came up with a couple of ideas, we included a belly dancer, a tanoura dancer and we even imported Egyptian snacks and treats like Katakito and Shamaadan all the way to the US to giveaway as the official treats in the event.

We also got an Egyptian popcorn machine as well as our own cotton candy machine to create that authentic Arab vibe. It was a hit, the event was sold out and I was surprised to see a lot of non-Arabs in attendance.

Why do you think there is such an appetite for everything that is Arab now?

I can definitely say that it is all thanks to social media including platforms like Tik Tok. In these past few years, there has been this massive boom of growing Arab influencers taking over social media platforms like Tik Tok. Today, the West is getting introduced to our culture through all these big names including Mai, the comedic Egyptian American content creator behind Mai’s Vault that explores the life of Mai and the hilarious ongoing shenanigans she has with her mother, Mama Wafaa.

She started off with five thousand followers and today, she is one of the most popular Arab Tik Tokers with a huge presence in the west. It is great to say that I have had the pleasure of working with Mai way back when she started out and even wrote a few of the jokes in some of her videos.

What are the sort of challenges that Kème Production has faced in bringing its vision to life?

From the logistical side of things, I’d say the flights and visa process proved to be difficult especially when we just started out. It is quite difficult to help get each artist a visa to the US but over time, by working with many lawyers, we have now reached the point where we do not worry about the visa process anymore.

When it comes to artists, we face another kind of challenge, especially with the younger, newly emerging talent. The younger artists who come and work with us have unrealistic expectations about their success abroad. If they are able to stage concerts in Egypt where 20,000 people are in attendance, they have this belief that the same will happen when they arrive in the US when in fact, even if the concert is amazing and a huge success, they will not have more than 200 people in attendance.

We do not face that same challenge with more mature artists because they know that when they come to the US, it is not about making money or selling out concerts, it is about exposure and growing a fanbase abroad.

What advice would you give emerging artists across the region if they want to become big names aboard?

They have to be dynamic and think big. They also have to have their own identity so they can stand out.

In terms of the future, what is next for Kème production?

We aim for consistency and we aim to continue supporting the community and bringing more Arab artists to the west. We also want to expand and go beyond the US and head to Europe. My vision is to hold the very first world tour for an Arab artist as that has never been done before.

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