Saloon Dubai's youngest production duo.
Dubai's youngest production duo The Dubai-based hip-hop production duo of Amaar Baz, 18, and Jason Zaman, 19, are rhapsodising about the future successes of their as-of-yet nonexistent entertainment company; they'll begin, they say, by establishing themselves as world-class beat-makers for rappers and R&B singers, then they'll start investing more widely. Eventually they'll get into film. The key, they tell me, is marketing. "I'm not really a fan of his music, but I like Soulja Boy's marketing tactics," says Baz, referencing the critically reviled upstart rapper whose road to success began on music-sharing sites. "He gets 15 cents for every comment posted on his YouTube videos. It's all about exploiting the internet now, not about record stores or platinum plaques."
Windows in the pair's recording studio - which doubles as Baz's bedroom in his family's 18th-floor apartment in the Dubai Marina - frame views of the haphazard expanse of desert, industrial plants and unfinished luxury apartments that begins where the marina ends. "We'll be living the dream, driving a Bentley," Baz says, half joking. "Maybe I'm materialistic, but the whole world's materialistic, so..."
Baz and Zaman met while attending Wellington International School in Dubai after Baz moved here from the UK almost two years ago. Most of the school's students are European, and the boys ended up hanging out in the same group of Pakistanis, then bonding over a shared interest in music, if not overlapping tastes. "I grew up listening to all the songs you weren't allowed to - Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Tupac - anything that had an parental advisory sticker," says Baz, a Pakistani-British native of Birmingham. "I listened to a lot of pop - Backstreet Boys, Boyzone, and older stuff - Jim Reeves, Cliff Richards, Air Supply," says Zaman, a Pakistani citizen who was born and raised in Dubai. Not long after they met, the pair began making beats with Baz's keyboard and GarageBand software; soon they were bringing their creations to school and playing them for friends.
"We saw a gap in the market here for this kind of music after people started asking us for beats at school," says Zaman. "Then we started getting the word out on Dubizzle and Facebook." Charismatic Flow Music Productions, as the two call themselves, has actually already tasted a measure of global success. Baz, who first began experimenting with beats during a recording studio internship in Birmingham when he was 16, has had a track he produced played on BBC Radio's Asian Network. They have also sold a few tracks to local R&B singers and rappers, and are currently collaborating with Leeza, a Cypriot singer based in England.
Baz - who, with his sharply lined fade, silver chain and cuffed jeans, looks more Brooklyn Navy Yards than Dubai Marina - has an archetypal hip-hop lineage. An early love of music informed by his father's collection of Motown soul, R&B and disco records intertwined with an adolescence in South Asian Birmingham where hip-hop was the default medium of self-expression. "My dadi said: 'You should make something I can listen to.' But all the Asian boys listen to rap and they all want to be either a rapper or producer. So I'd be in the kitchen making this music while my mum was making salan."
Zaman was raised in a more traditional musical family. His grandfather was a noted Ghazal singer in Pakistan, everyone - grandparents, parents and children - played at least one instrument. "My mom made me start learning the piano when I was six. I learnt how to sing in the school choir and then when I was 14 or 15 I learnt the guitar and started composing music. I'd record 20 second chunks on my cell phone."
Baz's father, who claims proprietary responsibility for his son's talent ("He got it all from me"), has been instrumental to the duo's embryonic career in other ways. "Before [my parents] didn't give money," Baz recalls. "But then my dad heard a song and his head automatically started nodding. He helped buy software, equipment. He sold cars to a big producer [in Birmingham] and would play my songs for him. Then the producer gave my CD to a DJ, and that's how it got played in clubs."
Charismatic Flow's ascendancy might have to be paused with Baz's recent relocation this week to Birmingham, where he'll finish his A levels, with plans to study sound engineering at university. But both Baz and Zaman are confident the distance won't keep them apart and they say they will collaborate via the internet. Zaman, who is studying business administration, says: "With his music knowledge and my business knowledge, we can go pretty far."
A sampling of their catalogue, played at room-vibrating volume, reveals a synth-heavy, of-the-moment sound. At the beginning of one track, Autotune wraps the voice of Leeza, their current collaborator, in robotic modulation, but thankfully only for a few bars - unadorned, it's beautiful. Another track featured Zaman himself singing a flirtatious appreciation to a generous lady friend. Vaguely lascivious lyrics may be part of any successful bid for young hip-hop fans - but what do the boy's parents think about their precocious themes? "I've got songs with swears in them, but my mum has to get used to it," laughs Baz. "It's starting to get into her head that I'm 18 and there's nothing she can do about it."
"My parents think of it this way," explains Zaman. "As long as you're God-fearing, it's all good."