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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

How Dubai-based Moh Flow, a former rapper, found his true voice as a singer-songwriter

Moh Flow’s introduction to music inevitably came from his older brother – but it took time for him to earn his stripes.
Dubai-based Syrian singer-songwriter Moh Flow, whose real name is Molham Homsi. Reem Mohammed / The National
Dubai-based Syrian singer-songwriter Moh Flow, whose real name is Molham Homsi. Reem Mohammed / The National

About two years ago, Moh Flow found his true voice. After years of spitting rhymes, the Syrian musician began singing them.

He stopped calling himself a rapper, instead choosing the title singer-songwriter. The youthful swagger of 2014’s EP Inspired gave way to the mellow, mature reflection of debut album This Is Yo(u).

Like much great art, the shadow of heartbreak looms over the LP, which emerged late last year and was recently showcased at the Step Music festival in Dubai.

“This record was the shift from Moh singing or rapping about the world, to singing and rapping about himself, his life, what’s he’s going through,” says the UAE-based artist, real name Molham Homsi, speaking about himself in the third person.

“A few years back, there was ­always a disconnect between my content and myself. This album is just me addressing myself – my flaws, my insecurities – as well as going through a very overwhelming love and heartbreak situation. It’s just a jam-pack of everything I’ve been going through in the past 16 to 18 months.”

Recorded entirely in the front room of Homsi’s Palm Jumeirah apartment, the album is a surprisingly accomplished statement from a UAE artist.

The considered collection of moody, minimal, bass-heavy R&B tunes betray his love for Frank Ocean, yet there are distinctly local touches at play.

The track All the Way, for example, name-checks Dubai, dubbed here “the DX”.

For this album, the 25-year-old songwriter once again ­collaborated with his older ­brother, Ayham.

An established producer in his own right, known as AY, his ­credits include work with last year’s X Factor Middle East winner Hamza Hawsawi.

Born in Syria, the brothers were raised in Saudi Arabia before ­settling as adults in the UAE, where they both now work for the family interior design business.

Five years the junior, Moh Flow’s introduction to music inevitably came from his older brother – but it took time for him to earn his stripes.

“I had to actually sharpen my skills a bit before he would take any interest in me,” says Homsi. “He was a lot further in his journey, sonically, and the way he hears music, so for me to catch up to that level was a challenge.”

This Is Yo(u) is clear proof he succeeded. While Ayham had contributed selected beats to earlier mixtapes, the brothers worked ­together on nearly every tune on the new album. Rather than an artist-producer relationship, Homsi describes the approach as “two producers, two artists”.

“When you only have one brother and you’re sort of already best friends, it works to the best when you make the art together,” he adds.

Crucially, unlike on previous releases, every note of music was home-produced and recorded – no samples – which allows greater and easier distribution via online sales and streaming services. It was also a disguised blessing, helping to create the album’s smart, smouldering sound.

“This time, if we wanted a guitar, we’d just reach out to someone we know and have him play a riff for us, instead of us going online and finding these things,” says ­Homsi.

“It’s about making everything crisp and clean, to stand out, and to compete with our competitors from abroad, from the West, the B-class artists.”

Homsi is not without ambition and self-belief but also sports a canny self-awareness and business mind. He frequently talks about his music as a “brand” and his fans as a “market”. What exactly did he mean by “B-class”?

“We like to be realistic,” he says. “I know that some people might view me as something more than – but I might be more realistic and understand that there’s a little bit [more] songwriting skill and overall savviness to get to that point.

“And we’re OK with that. We’re very in love with our journey, so we are very realistic about where we stand as artists. So we don’t mind working towards that level, and not having the ego to think we’re already there. Because then there’s really no progress on the horizon.”

rgarratt@thenational.ae