Saturday, 6 July 2013 00:00
In a quest to change the Sri Lankan music industry, Dirk James and Azi Sheriff give insights into their career plans, music then and now and Payola in the country
By Rashika Fazali
These bad boys of electronic dance music are making more noise as each day passes. Recently there was a whole lot of noise from the public, clubbers and prominent DJs in the country on their latest single ‘Ryze,’ which features a new sultry vocalist, Shermaine Willis, who is the latest addition to the ever-growing Sherif family.
Their new single is quite different to what these guys usually produce and as we say different is good and this track will be featured on the Radio Express compilation CD some time soon.
The Sherifs – producers, songwriters, artistes and performers in their own way – have become a branded name today within two years of setting up their act. They were the only Sri Lankan producers to chart on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) charts at No. 42 for the album ‘Don’t Funk With Me’ produced for Alston Koch.
In an interview with the duo, Azi Sheriff who was the first Sri Lankan producer to get into Radio Express and Dirk James from The Sherifs, they revealed that they have ventured into video production, a part of their long-term goal of getting into the film industry.
Speaking on their start-up, Dirk said: “It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do. We’ve had a liking to be behind the lens of a camera and direct videos and we felt we had that creative edge in us, so we gave it a shot.”
Currently they are involved in a couple of movies and are also shooting a couple of videos for most of the artistes that they work with. Azi stated: “Our strategy is basically offering a product that is very efficient and also effective in the sense that we are offering cost effective production budgets to our clients, and at the same time giving them a product that doesn’t lose its quality and its value.
“We feel that overall in the industry here video production is so costly that there are so many great songs that don’t have visual support. Therefore, because they don’t have that visual support, we are trying to come in and offer this visual support to artistes who cannot offer the big budgets like big artistes can in this country.”
Being the flexible producers they are, The Sherifs are also venturing into producing gospel music. “This will probably be the first-of-its-kind in Sri Lanka where you will get commercialised renditions of gospel music like in the West. So once again, we are pioneering a few things,” stated Azi.
The Sherifs also have an artiste management company where they manage several noted artistes such as Stephanie Siriwardhana, Yes FM Super Star Season Two winner Dulani Ramanathan and Sri Lanka’s first all-girl band Storm, just to name a few. They are also involved with a whole lot of artistes where they not only write and produce songs for these artistes, but also help them with artiste and repertoire work. Natasha Rathnayake and Alston Koch are some of the artistes they have worked with in this regard.
The Sherifs have come a long way to get to where they are today. Azi revealed: “Since the time we started, it’s being a long and difficult process and time for us, but it’s also been a huge learning curve. The fruits of that effort, that label and all the hard times are now starting to pay dividends. We have started seeing a lot of people who we didn’t have ties with both in the local industry and overseas who are now jumping on the bandwagon and wanting to basically collaborate and do a lot of work which is not only opening our music to the local industry, but also bringing it up to the overseas industry that we didn’t have access to or sometimes didn’t know existed. As a result, it’s a really exciting time and journey as much as it has been tough and it’s what has really helped develop Sheriff Productions in terms of quality and in terms of our future goals and future vision.”
So what inspires them to write and produce hits such as ‘Pack It Up,’ ‘Soul Sounds,’ ‘Takin’ It Off,’ etc.? The geekier and the quiet one of The Sherifs, Dirk has influences coming from various backgrounds. He started off with a rock and roll band while in school and later shifted to hip hop and rap. Today his main influences are mainly electronic and dubstep – inspired by the likes of Tiesto, Skrillex, Hardwell, Swedish House Mafia, DJ Chuckie, Deadmau5 and Knife Party.
The louder and talkative one, Azi strives to be versatile in his skills and therefore he looks up to three different producers – Dr. Luke because he is a known hit maker who has generated some of the best songs in various genres for artistes such as Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Flo Rida, etc., Hans Zimmer for his dramatic and theatrical style of music and Ryan Tedder as far as song writing is concerned.
While the music industry in Sri Lanka is growing – finally – Dirk revealed that the growth seen is not enough. He stated: “Even though a lot of people say it’s gone far, it still has a long way more to go in terms of competing with the international market and that’s something that I guess will take some time for the people to realise and achieve, but we are starting with our own stuff. We are trying to build that bridge to compete with the international market and open up more and more avenues for local artistes to branch out internationally and give them a bit of exposure on that level, hopefully taking this local industry as they call it to greater heights.”
Azi has similar ideas, but compares the current music industry to Sri Lankan cricket back in the ’80s: “Lots of people do it as a pastime even though they have the talent and it’s still not got to the point where people are making millions or billions, for example like what the cricketers in this country make today. However, in the next 10 to 15 years, just like what happened with the 1996 World Cup which triggered off financial benefits, with renewed interest in the sport and professionalism in the industry, that same thing is waiting to happen in the music industry in Sri Lanka. It’s the responsibility of people like us and all the others who have been doing this for the past 10 to 15 years to do what the Arjuna Ranatungas and Aravinda De Silvas of cricket did for Sri Lanka.”
However, at the same time, The Sherifs added that certain changes should take place in the industry to help artistes get the stardom they deserve. These changes are tightening of the copyright laws and having supportive parents.
Speaking on this, he explained: “First of all, there needs to be a system where artistes get paid per radio play because that’s how most artistes – for example, Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones – made their money. In this country, it’s a scenario where certain radio stations actually ask the artiste for money – they work on a system of Payola. When Payola takes place overseas it’s fine, because as much as artistes pay radio stations to play their music, the artistes also receive a return every time their songs are played on air, whereas in this country Payola is a joke because you are paying for your song to get played, but you don’t get anything in return every time the song is played.”
He also noted that parents are less supportive of their kids getting into music. He added that if these laws are established, there would be solid revenue streams for artistes to make money and parents would also be supportive of their children’s career choice. By having these copyright laws in the country, the country could also benefit and it would be good revenue.