This week (1st – 4th March 2020), the Norwegian Royal Family visited Jordan for the first time on their 50th State Visit. Thanks to our partners Oslo World and Music Norway, Keychange had the privilege of being part of the occasion! Taking our first steps into the Middle East is an important move and we left feeling inspired and full of admiration for the vibrant music and arts scene in the region that we were lucky to get a glimpse of. We are happy to report that the seeds of partnership and collaboration have been sown, and Beirut and Beyond have already committed to signing the Keychange pledge as a direct result of the trip.

It is important to note that our role on the trip was centred around listening and learning as well as amplifying the reach and impact of Keychange, so this account aims to champion some of the brilliant voices we encountered, alongside some next steps for Keychange in the Middle East.

Due to the constant challenges faced in the region, a meeting in Amman right now is both inspiring and necessary. We strongly believe that building safe spaces and networks, sharing experiences, similarities and differences, challenges and achievements, is the only way to move towards a more balanced and just music industry, in Norway as well as in the Middle East.” – Kathrine Synnes Finnskog

Some background

Oslo World helped found Beirut and Beyond in Lebanon 7 years ago, and has worked in partnership with them since, including brokering support for the festival through the Norwegian government. Alexandra Archetti Stølen, Director of Oslo World, has developed many relationships in the area. Alongside her role on the Keychange board as a partner, Alexandra harnesses a brilliant network of cultural leaders who are passionate about the role of music as a tool for change. This also includes Kathrine Synnes Finnskog, Director of Music Norway, who plays a crucial role in the Nordic music industry, supporting Norwegian artists and helping with development opportunities domestically and overseas. When Kathrine started discussions with the Norwegian Ministry on the theme of gender equality, she spotted an opportunity for collaboration.

In January 2020 Keychange announced 74 women and gender minority participants. Alexandra and Kathrine helped to select the 6 Norwegian participants; Kine Lundervold, Jennifer Gun, Amira Morstaq Ali, Tatiana Palanca (Miss Tati), Charlotte Benediksen (Charlotte Benediks), and Ella Marie Haetta Isaksen (ISÁK). All will take part in a yearlong programme of development, funded by Creative Europe. Kathrine and Alexandra recognised another opportunity for the participants to inspire and be inspired on this trip. With the support of the Norwegian Ministry, they put together a 3-day programme of discussion, performances and networking with local partner in Jordan Aya Nabulsi. They also invited 13 delegates from the region including Rania Elias (Yabous Cultural Centre), Hind Hamed (Singer, actress, voice artist), Lara Khoury (Sony Music Middle East), Amani Semaan (Beirut and Beyond), Liliane Chlela (DJ, activist and producer), and Lina Al Tell.

“It was natural to invite key people from the region to participate. It was therefore important for us to include central, young women from Lebanon and one of the most central cultural personalities in Palestine to this gathering in Amman. By bringing together regional industry, new Norwegian innovators and artists, as well as Keychange centrally, we hope to be able to create new networks that move borders, increase diversity, and inspire creative collaboration.” – Alexandra Archetti Stølen


After introductions and a Keychange presentation, we heard inspiring stories from some of the delegates. Rania of Yabous spoke of her experience with The Jerusalem Festival, which happens this year on 16th – 22nd July. Her hopeful and focused attitude is clearly having a huge impact in Palestine where despite heavy security and political bans, they managed to host 372 events and 4 festivals last year. It was amazing to hear from Beirut and Beyond Festival Director Amani, who had come straight from a free weekend festival where they had worked extremely hard opening venues around Beirut specifically for the occasion – to inspire audiences and help rejuvenate businesses. Beirut and Beyond will happen from 3rd – 6th December 2020. It was important to get artist perspectives, including Liliane and Hind, who shared their personal experiences of navigating the Beirut and Jordanian music scenes.

We also heard from some Keychange participants! Sami artist ISAK gave insight into her vocal technique and the background of her musical identity. Finally, Kine shared her experience of creating opportunities and visibility to emerging jazz scenes.

“My goal is to be proud and to be a role model for my community” – Ella Marie Haetta Isaksen

In a passionate workshop on empowerment, the group discussed focus areas for thought and development: Education, Agency, Access and Space, Gender in Social/Cultural Norms. It is clear that in order to discuss what change Keychange could support in the Middle East, a better understanding of gender and the cultural context in the region is essential.

Lara gave us some understanding of the pop world in a brilliant roundtable on markets in the Middle East. In line with many of the other discussions we had, there was an immense sense of hope and possibility alongside very specific challenges, such as very low income from recorded music in the region (Lara estimated that it’s around 90% live, 10% recorded). Collaboration is essential if you are thinking about building in the Middle East, while radio stations and streaming platforms including Anghami are generally receptive to new music.

We continued the discussions on a trip to Al Balad Theatre, who showed us around their inclusive community arts space after some inspiring testimonials from artists they are working with. We have never seen so many smiles in one presentation! The graffiti artists, dancers, musicians and volunteers said the team feel like a family and you could see that they actually felt that way from how they were interacting with each other. It is a really beautiful space and they are in the middle of a restoration project.

The state visit

Part of the state visit included a Business Forum with a keynote from Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway. We were delighted to be present and hear her mention gender equality in her speech:

“Economic growth is a number one priority for Jordan. I’m delighted that empowerment to women, a topic close to my heart, will be a recurring theme throughout this visit. Economic growth depends on optimal use of the workforce. Women’s impact on the economy in Norway is bigger than oil and gas put together. Gender equality is not only a human right, it’s smart business. Talent is distributed equally and opportunities should be too.”

Finally, some music! Our brilliant delegates Charlotte Bendiks, ISÁK and Hind Hamed all performed showcases throughout the trip (and Lilliane had a show in Amman on 5th). They were all totally amazing and you can listen to a playlist of their recorded music here.

As the Queen herself said of ISÁK when we were at the evening dinner at the lowest point on earth by the Dead Sea, “the stars do not only shine above us, they also shine right beside us.”

Thank you to the Keychange delegation in Jordan, you are all stars.

ISÁK Photo: Tom Hansen