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A Gainesville record label is trying to empower independent artists

Chants of “FARO! FARO! FARO! FARO!” rang through the crowd on a Saturday night in January at Simon’s Nightclub.

On a stage in front of them, the person whose name the fans yell with fervor raps over an experimental hip-hop beat that stutters in the background. This is not his first show in Gainesville. And thanks to his label, he expects many more crowds like the one the night of Jan. 22.

But even though FARO, whose stage name stands for Forget All Regular Options, thinks the chanting is dope, he still has not gotten used to his nascent fame.

“I look at everybody that comes into the shows, and for me it’s hard to conceptualize what’s going on because everyone at the show is my friend,” he said.

FARO, whose real name is Jamari Boothe, is one of seven artists signed to Gainesville record label Dion Dia. Founded in March 2019, the label attracts forward-thinking artists who dabble in electronic, hip-hop and R&B music. The label won a 2021 Business Arts Award from the Gainesville-Alachua County Cultural Affairs Board on Jan. 31.

“[Winning the award] feels like a lot of progress to us after a long time of doing a bunch of little [things] that we didn’t know would finally pay off,” said Laila Fakhoury, co-owner of Dion Dia.

Dion Dia is co-owned and operated by Fakhoury and brothers Jahi and Khary Khalfani. Fakhoury and Khary Khalfani are also co-owners of The How Bazar, a new Gainesville market that acts as a hub for local businesses. The Khalfanis and Fakhoury knew plenty of talented musicians in the Gainesville area like Boothe, who Jahi Khalfani met in high school. Boothe now has 740 monthly listeners on Spotify as FARO and thousands of listens on some of his top songs. His debut album on the label, Dragonfruit, is set to be released Feb. 21.

“We have certain skill sets that lend themselves well to music and development of artists and shaping careers for musicians,” Jahi Khalfani said.

The three co-owners developed said skill sets by working with their parents as they grew up. The Khalfanis hail from Archer, where their parents ran an online tutoring nonprofit called Archer Community Access Center. They learned video editing, photography and web development.

“We learned how to conduct ourselves professionally and create brand identity,” Khary Khalfani said. “That’s where I learned I wanted to be a creative entrepreneur.”

Fakhoury also had community-oriented parents. Coming from Ocala, her parents sat on the boards of local, national and international nonprofits like United Way and Helping Hands.

The three co-owners view Dion Dia as an extension of the nonprofit work they participated in at an early age. Jahi Khalfani said the label has the capacity to bring people together in a way that regular nonprofit work does not; it can influence people’s perceptions of each other in a music-oriented context.

To promote the label and its artists, Dion Dia hosts events all over town at venues like Simon’s, the Backyard at Boca Fiesta & Palomino and the Civic Media Center. Its first event, a silent disco in September 2019, paved the way for more discos and, eventually, concerts curated by the label. At its pre-pandemic peak, the label hosted 400 attendees at its 2020 Valentine’s Day Civic Media Center silent disco. Unlike major labels, it does not just stick to online promotion. It employs physical guerrilla marketing tactics, such as extensive flyers, banner drops and sidewalk chalk art.

But Dion Dia was founded to be more than just a platform for up-and-coming Gainesville musicians. Its dabbling in multimedia projects includes holding spoken word performances at the Hippodrome and skateboarding contests alongside Samurai Skateshop.

“They’re the type of people where they really do put on cultural affairs events,” said Billy Rohan, owner of Samurai Skateshop. “The city could learn a lot from them. They bring all sorts of people together.”

Dion Dia brings in independent artists and showcases how they make their art. Israel Jones, the newest addition to Dion Dia, began recording his rap music in closets between high school football practices and games. He has found that the in-studio process between him and his producers has become easier since signing to the label.

“They put me in great positions to open for other artists, to host shows,” Jones said.

Rakhu, another artist and in-house producer on the label, got his start making music in middle school by pirating loops on Limewire and assembling them in creative ways. He learned everything from how to build speakers to recording bands in-studio at The Institute of Audio Research in New York City. He got involved with Dion Dia in March 2021 after moving to Gainesville. He sees the label as an outlet to better express himself and build a culture among creatives.

“When you think of record labels, you have a very negative connotation toward them,” Rakhu said. “Most of the things we’re doing are unconventional. It’s much more a family-oriented thing.”

Other artists share this sentiment. Boothe jokes that he hates his labelmates, but quickly follows his jibe with praise for Rakhu’s self-sufficiency.

“I strive to be more like Rakhu as an artist,” Boothe said. “Anything you want to achieve musically he can get it done.”

Dion Dia is now working on producing vinyl. The team has also set its sights on recruiting artists from Miami to the label, starting with inviting them to Gainesville for concerts. This is a part of its longer term goal to set a second base up in Miami.

The label’s owners said they fear over-commercializing the brand and losing the label’s nonprofit background as it continues to expand. All three co-owners expressed that they’d likely discontinue the business if it reached that point.

“If things start to shift, we’d create another project that is community-focused because that’s really the foundation of it,” Fakhoury said. “I think we can do that anywhere, even with expansion.”

Thomas is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.