Coffee with Y talks to an Omani rapper who, after working with some big names, aims to add his voice to the sounds of the Sultanate.
Musician by birth, rapper by choice. Salim Ghalib, 34, has become a household name and an inspiration for the youth of Oman – at least for those among the hip-hop-loving crowd here in the Sultanate.
A tough clan to please, the audience for hip-hop here has long been known to accept Western music but has rather dismissed local artists. This rings true when you draw up the very short list of Omani rappers.
Countable on one hand, there’s not much competition to fret about either. But, Salim isn’t letting the lack of locally-brewed music – or even criticism – dilute his one and true love: music.
His songs, ‘Pony’, ‘Shine’, ‘Hot Like Fire’, and ‘Taking Over’ are staples at Omani clubs and have gained him recognition internationally.
Perhaps it’s his persistence that has led to him becoming the first Omani-British rapper with a music video, and with many chart-toppers still banging within the walls of clubs in Europe and the GCC.
Here’s an excerpt from our conversation with the musician.
Q) Can you walk us through your early days of music – what motivated you and how you made the decision to get into music?
A) Wow! It’s almost amazing when I think that my music career clocks over a decade now. I come from a musical family: my dad was a musician and they had a band themselves. The kind of music that they were doing was different but it was he who gave me my first microphone.
I grew up listening to the likes of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and I would start by just imitating their styles. Years passed, and in school we – my cousins and I – came up with a small group and started recording other artists’ songs – such as Nas, Jay-Z, 2Pac, and Dr. Dre. We were influenced by their sounds and music, and would record on their beats on cassettes. Our friends, some of them, were inspired. Though, at that stage they were laughing at us, to be honest. Now they’ve turned into fans and supporters.
Back then, I wasn’t too serious. I was just 14 or 15 years’ old and was focusing more on my studies at that point. But, it was in the second semester of college, in 2003, when I built up a small studio at home and created a group called the ‘DK’ (denoting “Drama Killers”) with my brother, my cousins, and a few friends.
Whatever we did had a mix of R&B and rap and was aimed at catering to a wider crowd. All through this while, I was studying IT in the Higher College of Technology and was doing the recordings on the side.
So, when I had any free time, I would sit and write lyrics. I’d pen down things that I would experience in my daily life and make a song out of it. That’s how things started off.
Q) When did you first gain recognition as an artist and which song paved the way for your success?
A) It was at an event during Eid in Oman and we had been asked to perform our song ‘Pony’ in front of an audience – and that’s when we started gaining recognition. Streaming services didn’t exist then so everything was through word of mouth or parties and events such as this.
The motivation behind that song was the music that was out then. R Kelly was a huge influence on one of our members, and we just decided to go with that flow and vibe, while keeping the lyrics and the beats original.
This song was absolutely huge, even by the early 2000s. So, the song was played on the radio, in clubs, parties, events, and everywhere you could think of in the Middle East region. But, we have friends who tell us that the song was also a smash in the West, where some clubs would jam with the song.
Q) How has your style of music changed since you took over the rap game in Oman – and how can you compare it with the international beats?
A) This is a very good question. There was a time when rap had a meaning. So, people would say that rap was from the heart. Today, there’s something called mumble rap – and you could be saying nonsense on the track. These songs rarely make sense, as it’s all about blending great beats and flow with average lyrics. But don’t get me wrong: I listen to these guys and I
As an artist, I didn’t want to accept that in the beginning. But one thing I’ve learnt is that not everything is about me. So, yes, it’s out there but I won’t be adapting to that style. I like to keep my lyrics a bit more meaningful so that I can connect with the people and the beats fresh and free-flowing.
Q) What would you consider your greatest achievement to date?
A) I’m still growing as an artist and am learning so much every day. But, if you ask me to put my finger on some of my greatest moments in the music industry, it’d be doing the opening acts for Flo Rida (in Dubai) in 2010, Shaggy in 2011, Sean Paul in 2012, and Akon in 2013.
These guys are all established singers and rappers, and I was only up- and-coming then. So, it was big for me; being able to interact and work with these talented guys.
Also, being able to shoot a music video for my song ‘Shine’ that was conceptualised and shot in the span of two weeks was a great success.
The music video has been doing well on YouTube, but even so, it’s the recognition from the clubs and the local DJs that have made the song the success that it is.
Q) Have you found the aggression associated with your genre of music to be restrictive in the Omani market?
A) Not really. It is true that rappers objectify women and cuss in their songs but I’m away from all that. When I create music, I want it to be up there in the market for a long time. And if I cannot look back at my songs 10 years from now and appreciate them, I wouldn’t put them out in the first place.
Therefore, I do not cuss or have explicit content in my music and its videos. It’s all family-friendly. Maybe it’s because of that, but I have several young fans – some of whom are in school – listening to my music.
Q) How hard is it to become a successful singer in the Sultanate?
A) Very difficult. Oman is accepting of great music and it has superb tastes. But, when it comes to local musicians of any genres, you don’t see one making it to great heights like they do from the West, or from India and so on.
If you think about it, there’s really no one who has broken beyond a certain point and become an international star from Oman.
It will take some time to change this current mindset and I can’t see a change overnight.
My love for creating music comes from straight passion and nothing else. Even our group ‘DK’ parted ways a long time ago, and I’ve since had to collaborate with different producers for some solo music.
But, I still hold a full-time job in the oil and gas industry. So, the way I operate is that I either record on weekdays after work and on weekends when I’m finally ready to spit some bars at the microphone.
Q) What are your forthcoming projects?
A) I’ll be dropping an album later this year, the name for which I am keeping secret for a while. And the greatest fact there is that it’ll be all about my experiences and some cool beats by different producers. I’ll also be featuring some really insightful young singers in the music. So, stay tuned for that.