Organized by Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy and supported by the Aga Khan Music Initiative, Samaana is a competition aimed at promoting instrumental music through creating a larger fanbase and discovering talented new composers to introduce to the public.
The competition is open to all Arab composers, and submissions in all musical genres are accepted, as long as they are original compositions that have never been released on an album or submitted to any other competitions.
Each composer is asked to submit three pieces, which are uploaded onto a platform that allows users to listen, vote and comment. The three participants with the highest number of votes become the winners of Samaana. The award for first place is $1,500, while the composer in second place wins $1,000, and the third-placed composer wins $500.
However, Charles Akl, manager of Al-Geneina Theatre, where the winners are set to perform in a mini-festival after the competition is over, tells Ahram Online that the prizes – even the concert – are not what Samaana is about at all.
“People always listen to the same kind of music, soft rock tunes that stick with you and light lyrics that are easy to learn,” he explains. “We want to bring another type of music to people’s attention, encourage them to listen to it and savour it, and – most importantly – to be able to effectively critique it and discuss all of its different aspects in an accessible manner.”
Although users’ votes eventually determine the winners, there is a panel of judges who post their evaluation of each piece that is uploaded, and their comments are often the spark that sets off the discussion about each composition, which is, according to Akl, the most important part of Samaana.
“The judges are not meant to influence users’ opinions, but their assessment matters, because they dissect each piece of music in a way that the normal listener wouldn’t be able to, and that is quite beneficial and enriching to both the listener and the composer himself.”
Akl says the submissions they’ve received so far are very promising, and that people are actively interacting on different social media platforms. “One of the best things about this competition is that we discover and give exposure to really talented Arab musicians,” he says. “The feedback they get through the competition will be very useful to them as artists.”
The deadline for submissions is 30 August, and users can vote until 15 September, when the winners will be announced. The winners will then take part in a mini-festival held in Al-Geneina Theatre  on 1 November, which will include four concerts, three of them by Samaana judges, where the winners will perform as their opening acts.
For more information or to apply, go to www.mawred.org .