Curated by Hebah Fisher and Yahya Abou-Ghazala, co-creators of Kerning Cultures
Since 2015, the podcast Kerning Cultures has been highlighting narratives from the Middle East. Co-creators Hebah Fisher and Yahya Abou-Ghazala share a selection of their favorite Middle East podcasts below.
Yahya: The quickest and easiest way for someone to grab my attention and keep me engaged is by telling me a story. I absolutely love following a captivating plot line and connecting with the emotions of characters. Podcasts opened up an entirely new style through which I could experience storytelling: where the power of sound became a gripping way for me to really hear a story on a much deeper level.
Hebah: I’ve been obsessed with podcasts since 2008, when a friend sent me a link to a Radiolab episode. Almost immediately, their stories transformed my mundane commutes. I would listen with friends, my dad, and we’d pause the story throughout, excited to toss philosophical debate back and forth inspired by the stories we heard. Over the years, my podcast library has expanded, but the same constant remains: the stories were always never about the worlds I came from.
About two years ago, a group of us banded together to change that, and we launched Kerning Cultures: radio documentaries from the Middle East. Now, there are not that many Middle East podcasts, but that’s changing, and we’re excited to see new shows crop up since we’ve started.
As children of the Middle East, we launched Kerning Cultures to tell the kinds of stories from our home countries we could actually see reflections of our experiences in: the kinds of stories we wanted to discuss with friends over cups of coffee on cosy sofas, the kinds of stories that captured our imaginations. The Guardian calls Kerning Cultures the Middle East’s version of This American Life because we tell longform, character-driven narratives of society, culture, history, science, and current affairs from across the Middle East and North Africa.
Tala Al-Issa’s work in the Arabic podcast, Blank Maps, addresses a host of universally important issues regarding citizenship, nationality, religion, and borders. The brilliance of Blank Maps is in its ability to not only highlight the compelling stories of common people in relation to these issues, but also contextualize them within a larger historic framework.
West of the Middle East
Country: United States
West of the Middle East takes a very intriguing approach to addressing the West’s misconceptions about the Middle East. Each episode is an interview with a different changemaker from the Middle East diaspora, and centers on the unique ways that these changemakers are challenging stereotypes. The episodes are short, roughly ten minutes each, and feature famous voices like Maz Jobrani and Alia Shawkat. Listeners get quick, comprehensive insight into the lives of those working to bridge the differences between the West and the Middle East.
The Frying Pan Diaries
Country: United Arab Emirates
When it comes to being able to actually taste the flavor of food solely through audio, The Frying Pan Diaries makes for a great listen. Arva and Farida Ahmed, the sisters behind Dubai’s food tourism venture The Frying Pan Adventures, have put together a podcast that is guaranteed to make your mouth water. From tasty camel milk chocolate to warm and savory Palestinian manakeesh, the episodes give you an inside look into the diverse cuisine from all around the United Arab Emirates.
Country: United States
Palestinians Podcast is a character driven production, putting heavy emphasis on the voices of everyday Palestinians around the world that want to share their stories, often recorded at live storytelling events. Many of the episodes feature a single character relaying stories and experiences as Palestinians.
Ehky Ya Masr
Ehky Ya Masr, which translates to “Tell Your Story, Egypt,” is a quick and easy listen that takes you right inside Egyptian life. It features stories like one about the prominent female mesaharaty that wakes neighborhoods up for the pre-dawn meal before fasting, or stories exploring the Egyptian obsession with one’s neighbors. Ehky Ya Masr does a great job immersing you in the daily Egyptian experience.
Eib is another Arabic podcast with episodes hosted by Tala Al-Issa and Ban Barkawi. The name of the podcast translates to “shame,” precisely because it highlights issues pertaining to divorce, sexuality, reproductive healthcare services, and other topics that are socially taboo in Middle Eastern and North African societies. The episodes contain powerful stories from individuals in the region who have struggled with the rules and social structures surrounding gender. Launched by Sowt, the podcast network that also produces Blank Maps, this podcast creates space for thoughtful and informed discussion.
Want to create your own collection of shows that dovetails with your area of interest? Add shows to your Smart Folder on RadioPublic, then inform the Podcast Librarian of your collection: firstname.lastname@example.org.