x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Man of the house

Profile The producer Haneef al Raisi talks about putting his stamp on dance music in the UAE.

Haneef al Raisi at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.
Haneef al Raisi at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.

With his recently released compilation, Raisani: 5 Golden Years, the music producer Haneef al Raisi is one of the UAE's rising talents. As the head of the UAE's first independent house-music label, Raisani Records, Raisi has played a significant role in bringing the genre to the UAE, which he began doing at the age of 19 as a buyer for Universal Music International. "I was a child of the Eighties; the soul-funk culture had a huge influence on me," he says. "I still find myself tapping my foot to James Brown and Michael Jackson."

Following his love of "danceable music", Raisi became a regional head buyer at Virgin Megastore when he was 21. There, he broadened the selection of labels the company distributed in the Middle East. "I loved my mainstream music, but there was so much more out there," he says. "So I decided to start bringing in those independent record labels that I loved - Ministry of Sound, Global Underground, Defected, Hed Kandi - everything that had a good beat." Raisi would go on to import more than 1,000 record labels; he would later bring some of their artists to play in Dubai. "Deep Dish was one act we used to promote," he says. "We originally distributed their label, Yoshitoshi, and then we brought them to play here. Shahram [Tayebi] is still a good friend of mine, and we give each other advice and feedback on each other's sound."

Raisi's sound is deep and soulful house, a combination of subgenres that employs classic Seventies elements with a heavy, driving bass. "I like to go back to the original tracks of house and put my signature on them," Raisi says. "A few months ago, we remixed a classic record from 1973 called Love Is the Message, which is right up there with On & On and all the other anthems that made house a movement."

He adds that the music carries more weight than simply a feel-good message. "House was a movement the way that disco was a movement. Disco became big in the US at a time of high racial tension and when Aids became a big scare. People wanted a place to lose themselves, to be equal with each other. House was a continuation of this desire." Raisi is also currently working with Tom Moulton, one of the masters of the Seventies, who discovered the remix, the breakdown section, and the 12-inch single vinyl. They are collaborating on In the Churches, a track on disc one of Raisi's new compilation. "It's a song that the French DJ Gregory del Piero mixed, with these gorgeous, deep vocals. It reminds me of Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer anthems."

Though Raisi looks to such classic names for inspiration, he says that at the moment he enjoys working with up-and-coming talent more than well-known artists. "I feel very good when I support the new kids. They see their releases on the charts and they begin to understand the process of what it's like to be an artist in the field. We also give them a lot of support, legal advice, or business advice - if they want to go on to another label and don't know how to negotiate for advances or remixes, for instance. We're there for them."

Early next year, Raisi plans on turning his attention to two other projects. The first is a lifestyle boutique in Jumeirah, which will feature a cafe, art gallery, bookstore and hair salon. The second is the Raisani Foundation, a charity organisation he created after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2005, an event that he says sparked his awareness of the need in the region. "Initially, I wanted to just help victims of natural disasters, but during that year I also travelled to Bangladesh and realised there is a lot of need in many developing countries. The children especially affected me. So my goal became to share the wealth."

The need to give back also stems from Raisi's Baluchi heritage, which he says goes beyond borders. "Though my family has been in the Emirates for 70 years, you never forget your roots. At the end of the day, we are all from the same place, the same region, and charity starts at home."