All hands on decks

Haneef Al Raisi, the Emirati founder and CEO of Dubai label Raisani Records, whose signings include Grammy-nominated Jay-J, talks to Vision about his fast-growing music empire

Ever since 2002, and the decree allowing foreign nationals to buy property freehold in designated areas of the city, known to residents as ‘New Dubai’, it is the UAE’s property sector that has been stealing headlines around the world. While the future of this sector is as yet undecided, new ones are all the time emerging, thanks to a determined population of young entrepreneurs who are stepping into industries untapped by their predecessors. Haneef Al Raisi, 29-year-old founder of Dubai’s first house music record label, Raisani Records, is one of them.

Al Raisi’s label has gone from strength to strength in the last few years. After quitting his job with Virgin in 2005, Al Raisi dedicated all of his energy to his own business, something he’d been working on since 2003, and emerged with Raisani Records in 2006. To date he has signed more than 100 producers and spawned a second, sister label, Deeper Sounds of Raisani, which focuses on supporting artists who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to release their music.

“It was in 2006 that things blew up for Raisani. The first big record we signed was by Roland Clark, and this guy has produced tracks for Armand Van Helden, Prince, Fatboy Slim...” recalls Al Raisi, as he discusses the label’s foundations.

While summer in Dubai is traditionally a time when business slows down due to Ramadan [the month of fasting] and, consequently, the closure of the city’s clubs – not to mention the holiday season, as people seek refuge from the sizzling 50°C heat – it is not the same for the international music scene. It was a busy period for Al Raisi, who spent the season building up his presence in Europe through a series of high-profile club nights and music events, under the ever-expanding Raisani umbrella.

“I was basically packing and unpacking every three days. I had such a hectic 10-week tour in Europe – I’ve taken over 50 flights since February this year,” he relates during one of his return trips to the UAE.

“I’m part of my brand, so I’ve been going around Europe doing our parties, meeting 
club promoters and owners, and generally looking out for other business opportunities,” he continues. And it doesn’t stop here: as if it were possible, Al Raisi’s schedule looks set to get even more hectic in the next few months.

“We are rollin’ like a snowball. We have taken the brand to Ibiza, Mykonos, Athens, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Budapest, Geneva, Koln, Milan, and in four weeks we will be back in Eastern Europe for a few more dates,” he says. “Then we are off to South America and Asia until March, then back to the US from March 2011.”

“Dubai is probably one of the easiest places on earth to make good money. First of all, we don’t have to pay 50 per cent of our earnings to the government for taxes, so that’s a relief and a lot of saving,” he explains.

Though he acknowledges and is thankful for the support extended to Emiratis by their rulers, he notes it can also be a hindrance as far as encouraging entrepreneurial spirit is concerned,

“The thing is, Emiratis get very well-paid jobs in the government sector, so they prefer to have a stable job in the government which they will never lose. So this doesn’t motivate many to switch to other, artistic occupations. Particularly, it’s not really accepted in the culture for an Emirati to be a DJ, performing in nightclubs,” he explains, “in contrast with a traditional Arabic singer performing at a live concert. It’s just how they’re seen in society.”

On the other hand, Al Raisi’s ideas, which include launching a third label later in the year, probably wouldn’t sound out of place in the boardroom of someone like Richard Branson – a man he thinks has all the right ideas – and it seems building a multi-faceted business empire on a dime is something to which he’s been giving a lot of thought.

“For the last few years I’ve been trying to do events which are smaller, a little more intimate, where you can talk to your friends and listen to good music. We’re doing parties in smaller places now, but where we attract more high-end customers who like to spend money,” he explains.

“We want to get our brand inside the heads of these people, because later, when we launch the clothing brand or anything else, these are the people that we want buying our various products. Everything is connected.” Yes, there’s going to be a clothing line. And that’s not all he has planned.

“I’m now working on my dream project, the Raisani Boutique Hotel, which will open its doors in Abu Dhabi,” he continues. “There are a lot of great opportunities, and I have actually submitted my plans for the hotel to the Sheikh Khalifa Fund. I’m praying it gets approved.”

From music to clothes to hotels, with every revelation he’s beginning to sound more and more like Dubai’s answer to P Diddy – minus the naff cologne ads.

“I love the fashion industry, so we are in the planning stage for beauty salons for men and women, with our own products,” he says, which goes hand-in-hand with the next big job.

But while the variety of businesses in which he’s dabbling continues to expand at a phenomenal rate, Al Raisi hasn’t forgotten the music, his first love and the driving force which set him on this path.

“I’m also launching my third record label, either at the end of this year or early next year, which will be focused more on big room sounds for the 3am dance floor-burning crowd.”

So what does it feel like to be the first and only house label in the UAE?

“It feels like royalty. The feeling you get when you know you are the only one, you get goosebumps and everyone is talking about you. I feel blessed, and now, no matter what happens tomorrow, everyone will remember me when I’m gone,” he says, revelling in his position. “I’m on top of the world!”

While things are clearly going well for Raisani Records, with over 100 signingsand artists including Roland Clark, Alix Alvarez and Grammy-nominated DJ Jay-J on the books, Deeper Sounds is also attracting more and more artists, coming from far and wide.

“We’ve signed a bunch of new materials. We signed a new duo from South Africa – I absolutely love their work – who go by the name Marv Peterson & Edgaro. Their work is absolute genius,” Al Raisi reveals.

So what’s next for this energetic entrepreneur?

“My goal for Raisani is simple: to be an Emirati brand; to penetrate all the good markets around the world; and keep the standard of our products high”

According to Al Raisi, there are a few key ingredients to bear in mind when shooting for the stars: “Perseverance, passion, a belief in yourself, and good contacts. These are all things that will help you become a successful entrepreneur, at least, according to the experts – the entrepreneurs themselves.”