Chants of “FARO! FARO! FARO! FARO!” echoed through the crowd on a Saturday evening in January at Simon’s Nightclub.
In front of them, on a stage, the one whose name the fans are shouting fervently raps to an experimental hip-hop rhythm that stutters in the background. It’s not his first concert in Gainesville. And thanks to his label, he expects many more people like the one on the night of January 22.
But even though FARO, whose stage name stands for Forget All Regular Options, thinks the singing is dope, he still hasn’t gotten used to his burgeoning fame.
“I watch everyone who comes on the shows, and for me, it’s hard to conceptualize what’s going on because everyone on the show is my friend,” he said.
FARO, real name Jamari Boothe, is one of seven artists signed with Gainesville Record Label Dion Dia. Founded in March 2019, the label attracts avant-garde artists who mix electronic music, hip-hop and R&B. The label won a 2021 Commercial Arts Award from the Gainesville-Alachua County Board of Cultural Affairs on Jan. 31.
“[Winning the award] feels like a lot of progress for us after a long time of making a bunch of little [things] which we had no idea would eventually bear fruit,” said Laila Fakhoury, co-owner of Dion Dia.
Dion Dia is jointly 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 market in Gainesville that serves as a hub for local businesses. The Khalfanis and Fakhoury knew many talented musicians in the Gainesville area like Boothe, whom Jahi Khalfani met in high school. Boothe now has 740 monthly listeners on Spotify like FARO and thousands of plays on some of his best songs. His debut album on the label, Dragonfruit, is set for release February 21.
“We have certain skills that lend themselves well to music and artist development and shape musicians’ careers,” Jahi Khalfani said.
The three co-owners developed these skills by working with their parents as they grew up. The Khalfanis are 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 behave professionally and how to create a brand identity,” said Khary Khalfani. “That’s where I learned that I wanted to be a creative entrepreneur.”
Fakhoury also had community-oriented parents. Coming from Ocala, her parents have served on the boards of local, national and international non-profit organizations such as United Way and Helping Hands.
The three co-owners see Dion Dia as an extension of the non-profit work they were involved in from an early age. Jahi Khalfani said the label has the ability to bring people together in a way that regular non-profit work does not; it can influence people’s perceptions of each other in a music-focused context.
To promote the label and its artists, Dion Dia organizes events throughout the city at venues like Simon’s, the Backyard at Boca Fiesta & Palomino, and the Civic Media Center. His first event, a silent disco in September 2019, paved the way for other discotheques and, eventually, concerts organized by the label. At its pre-pandemic peak, the label hosted 400 attendees at its silent Civic Media Center Valentine’s Day 2020 disco. Unlike the majors, it doesn’t just stick to online promotion. It uses physical guerrilla marketing tactics, such as large flyers, banner drops, and sidewalk chalk paints.
But Dion Dia was founded to be more than just a platform for up-and-coming musicians in Gainesville. His involvement in multimedia projects includes holding spoken word shows at the Hippodrome and skateboarding contests alongside Samurai Skateshop.
“These are the kind of people who really organize cultural events,” said Billy Rohan, owner of Samurai Skateshop. “The city could learn a lot from them. They bring together all kinds of people.
Dion Dia brings in independent artists and shows how they make their art. Israel Jones, the newest addition to Dion Dia, began recording his rap music in closets between practices and high school football games. He has found that the studio process between himself 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 at the label, started making music in middle school by hacking loops off Limewire and putting them together creatively. He learned everything from building loudspeakers to recording bands in the studio at the Institute of Audio Research in New York. He became 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 towards them,” Rakhu said. “Most of the things we do are unconventional. It’s much more family oriented.
Other artists share this feeling. Boothe jokes that he hates his label mates, 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 do.”
Dion Dia is now working on vinyl production. The team also set their sights on recruiting Miami artists to the label, beginning by inviting them to Gainesville for gigs. It’s part of his longer-term goal of establishing a second base in Miami.
The label’s owners have said they fear over-commercializing the brand and losing the label’s non-profit background as it continues to grow. The three co-owners said they would likely end the business if it reached that point.
“If things start to change, we’ll create another community-focused project, because that’s really the foundation of this one,” Fakhoury said. “I think we can do it anywhere, even with expansion.”