Hibba al Kindi meets a talented duo with designs on the music world beyond the Middle East, all while keeping their ears to the ground and staying close to their roots.
Plenty of music superstars started out early; think Elvis (19), Stevie Wonder (12) or, ahem, Justin Bieber. So by the time a musician hits his mid-20s, there is little wonder he might start to ponder what it’s all about.
Oman’s own Firas Al Bakri has been producing music since he was 19, and now at 26, he is determined to prove that the Middle East’s musicians are well worth listening to.
And he is certainly making some waves on the Omani music scene, alongside 24-year-old singer Akram Masruri.
Together, they are known as AkramxViirgo, and the pair have become a well-known, up-and-coming R&B duo in the Sultanate and beyond.
Over the past year, they have released an album, called Avenoir, a few tracks (Bibi’s Lullaby, Hinda’s Exit, Reasons), and opened up for international artists such as Sean Paul while setting up a dedicated fan base.
However, they are also two individuals who took on the challenge of creating an album within a few days of meeting each other.
“I met him (Akram) at an EP listening party hosted by another Omani singer, Adam Nabeel,” says Viirgo.
“At the time I was with a band and I wanted to collaborate with an Omani artist. I just came back from Dubai after living there for five years and I did not know anyone.”
Originally, Viirgo was planning to feature a local artist on an album he was creating himself. However, after inviting Akram to his studio they decided to try and create an album together in three months.
The pair bonded over a shared work ethic and a respect for each other’s craft.
“With his beats, the inspiration would come to me easily,” says Akram.
“I wanted to reflect the beats that I was listening to. It was easy to write to,” he says.
“However, I still wanted to make sure that I pushed myself into writing the best I can.”
Viirgo, on the other hand, was impressed with Akram’s songwriting abilities and his commitment to his craft. He noted the challenges he faced previously while working with other artists, most notably the struggles of songwriting.
“We were able to finish two songs within a few days of meeting each other,” he says. “Whereas it would have taken other artists I have worked with before a month to finish one song.”
When it came to naming their album, the duo searched for terms that “reflect things you did not know had a name”.
After a long Google search, the term ‘avenoir’ resonated with the pair.
“It is the desire to relive the past and reminisce, which made sense because we treated the album as a therapy session,” says Akram.
And anyone who listens to the album can attest to that. Vulnerability is a major theme behind AkramxViirgo’s work.
Each track off the album tells a different story. The album showcases a wide range of emotions including heartbreak, grief and regret.
Both men think it is important to shatter gender stereotypes about men expressing their emotions.
Akram says: “We always take being vulnerable as a weakness and that you shouldn’t show your emotions, while Viirgo adds: “I see vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness.”
“As artists we tend to be very emotional and sensitive,” says Akram.
“Any creative has to be in touch with their feelings to be able to create. That’s why it’s important to be vulnerable.
“We live in this world where the music industry is like a facade,” says Viirgo.
“It’s like ‘yeah I got the bling… I got the money’ but there’s no relatability.”
The pair also stress the importance of what they call owning your truth and setting your own narrative.
“I always take the final scene of the 8 Mile movie where rapper Eminem just shares all his weaknesses and his opponent can’t use it against him,” says Viirgo.
“I feel like it allows you take the power back because I am putting myself out there, I have control over my narrative and what I have to say,” adds Akram.
Frank words, but does their almost disarming honesty have any bearing in both their everyday lives?
Both guys laugh, and as Viirgo is the duo’s lyricist, he takes up the mantel of answering the question.
“A lot of my close friends were freaking out when they heard the songs. [However] the names we used were not real names but were nicknames.
“It’s funny because some people were flattered and some were completely offended, but they eventually came around.”
The duo credits their environment and the local arts community as a huge influence for their album.
“While we were creating Avenoir, the environment we were in (Cure8) exposed us to many artists coming in and out,” says Akram.
Cure8 is an arthouse, and the location of AkramxViirgo’s studio. According to one of the studio’s founding members, Aysha Al Bakry, “it was mainly a space for artists to commune and share ideas and collaborate on projects”.
Akram says: “We were secluded in our studio but not really at the same time. Our album was heavily inspired by that artistic vibe and probably subconsciously influenced by all the artists we met coming in and out.
“One of those artists was Ali Al Sharji who listened to a couple of our tracks and wanted to be involved. He ended up helping us shoot our Hinda’s Exit music video.
“A lot of the local community wanted to be involved in our project. So that was very motivating for us.”
Both guys are clearly driven, and have goals that they are working towards, despite their previous talk of the ‘journey’.
“When we reach our end goal, the thing that we will look back at are our memories along the way,” says Viirgo.
“However, for me as a human being, my end goal is just leaving a legacy and helping other people and paving the way for other artists.”
As for Akram, he says: “It’s similar to what my vision is. For me, of course, I want to share our music on a global scale but also on a local scale, I really want us to open the door and break the taboo of what it means to be a musician in Oman and normalise it.”
To learn more you can find the duo on all social media platforms @akramviirgo.