Halla Walla: Making Khaleeji cultures global

February 23, 2017 4:18 pm

Yasmine Rasool and Eriko Varkey, founders of Halla Walla app. (Image supplied)

* The new app captures the conversation of the Arab and Khaleeji lifestyle.

* Halla Walla claims to be the region’s first comprehensive digital communication kit

* The app allos for less use of words and more emoticons


There is finally an app that expresses the GCC culture. Halla Walla, the new keyboard emoji and sticker app, was just launched in Dubai, with the aim of translating the Khaleeji culture in the digital world.

AMEinfo spoke with Yasmine Rasool and Eriko Varkey, the creators of Halla Walla, about this venture and their plans for the future.



Currently, the app reflects mainly the Khaleeji culture, with many emojis having connotations from that part of the MENA region. Do you plan to expand and include emojis/stickers that are fit for other sub-regions as well, such as North Africa or the Levant?

Absolutely, yes. We do intend to do several emoji pack add-ons that will cater to each sub-region. In April, we’ll be visiting different areas in the Gulf, North Africa and the Levant to do focus groups. The research is traveling to relevant countries and try and be as local as possible to develop an understanding of how people communicate.

The emojis are carefully curated to fit the culture, so we believe heavily in getting the voice of the clients we aim to reach. However, the general emoji pack is specifically Khaleeji as our focus groups consisted of going to different majlises in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, as well as meeting with social birds in Kuwait, Qatar and Doha. Through these focus groups and by engaging in local, cultural and social settings, we’re able to best capture the true culture of each of the demographic generations – X, Y and Z – in each region.

On that note, there are some cultural differences within GCC countries. Expressions in the UAE are slightly different from those in Saudi Arabia, etc. Which country did you focus most on? Did you try to balance things out? If so, how?

There are SO many differences between the various countries within the GCC, but also just as many similarities. It is tricky to capture all of the differences, but having spoken to so many groups within the different cultures, we continuously learn the numerous differences that each nation holds so proud.

In this first phase, we have attempted to capture the common spirit of Arabs: fun-loving, family-oriented, frequently used phrases. Our next package is Celebration and slowly we hope to tailor the content towards each region. There will be a monthly pack that hits new regions and categories, but also general packs that almost everyone can relate to.

(Image supplied)

(Image supplied)

Many argue that we already engage in less “real” communication and do more digitally (less words, more pictures). This app certainly invites more of that, so how would you respond to your critics in that regard?
If anything, we feel that emojis are a much better way to describe an emotion. With text, you’re limited to tone-less words, whereas an emoji emits a feeling or emotion that really takes the conversation to a whole new level of interesting.

We already have sayings, hand gestures, looks, etc., that we exchange on a regular basis. Why not capture those in an actual image versus words that can’t express what you would see face-to-face? An emoji brings us closer to what that person feels/looks like in that moment. If that’s not real talk, we’re not sure what is.

And of course, there’s the argument that emojis are already here, they exist. Why not cater to them, make them relevant and enhance the experience?

How many people have already downloaded the app? How have the reviews been?
We’re hoping to hit the 10k mark soon. We are so overwhelmed with the positive reviews and realise that creating something so relevant to this culture was necessary.

Generally, our feedback has been about how fun it is to be able to communicate something that resonates as well as how well represented the characters are. The sayings we’ve included in the emojis also have people laughing and engaging with friends.

(Image supplied)

(Image supplied)

Tell us more about “Wain Waleed”. When can we expect a release? Can you share a little more about how you are pulling off the creation of the “first AR game made for the Khaleej in the Khaleej”?

Wain Waleed takes our emoji app to the next level. Using the same characters and emojis, Wain Waleed is all about finding Waleed in your everyday environment with small clues hidden around you. Again, we felt that there was a need to fill a social and cultural gap in the market with Wain Waleed by allowing people to relate to the characters of the game.

We hope to make all of this relevant through interactions in different markets and industries within the Khaleej, but we don’t want to give away too much just yet. Our first release will be at our launch party on February 22 at Al Serkal. We’ve also attached a demo video for you to get a better idea of what the game has to offer.


Hind Mustafa
By Hind Mustafa
Hind Mustafa specializes on the business of luxury in the region; she also covers hospitality and technology sectors. With more than four years' experience, she brings depth and clarity to the region's business news and views.