The Weeknd, Doja Cat, Ty Dolla $ign, Brandy, Bebe Rexha, Nav, Bryson Tiller, French Montana — that’s not the top of a 2020 singles or albums chart. Those are just a few of the artists handled by the rapidly growing Salxco, the management-and-more concern founded by Wassim “Sal” Slaiby. The company, which has a partnership with Live Nation, also manages producers (Metro Boomin, London on Da Track, DaHeala) and houses the Weeknd’s XO label under its umbrella.

“Our company has grown fast,” says the 41-year-old Slaiby. “But we’ve been grinding for almost 20 years.”

His journey began in Lebanon, which was torn by civil war at the time. His father died when Slaiby was just 10; he convinced his mother to help him emigrate to Canada when he was 15. “The war took a lot out of me, and I couldn’t live in Lebanon anymore,” he says. “It was really hard to leave everyone I knew and loved behind, but I think it made me the tough person I am today.”

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Courtesy of Kathryn Frazier

Slaiby with Brandy (center) and Doja Cat (right)

Slaiby worked in restaurants and other odd jobs while attending college, and began his music industry career after seeing a young fellow immigrant freestyle rapping on an Ottawa street — Ahmad Balshe, aka Belly, who remains a key member of the Salxco “family” to this day. “I got into the business because of him saying, ‘Why don’t you manage us?’” Slaiby recalls. “At first I was like, ‘Uhh, what do I do?’ But I guess he saw that I was very determined and serious, even though we were very young.”

Within six years the company they formed, CP Music Group, had become the dominant independent hip-hop and R&B label in Canada, and scored Belly his first gold record and Juno Award (the country’s Grammy equivalent). But Slaiby had set his sights higher. He sold the company and shifted his focus to management shortly before he met an ambitious 19-year-old musician named Abel Tesfaye, who called himself The Weeknd.

“My experience was very focused on the Canadian market, and at the time it was difficult to be taken seriously in the U.S.,” Slaiby says. “But when we started working with Abel, we cracked that code — and crashed through the door!”

While Slaiby first came onto the U.S. industry’s radar when The Weeknd’s debut mixtape, “House of Balloons,” blew up in 2011 — and led to a lucrative joint-venture with Republic — the experience he’d gained in Canada enabled him to grow with the artist, whose career has bounded forward every year. The Weeknd has since become one of the world’s biggest acts — next set to headline the biggest stage for a musician, the Super Bowl halftime show. Yet “he’s the same fucking guy that he was when I met him, can you believe it?” Slaiby says of his client and friend. “Remember, I’m older than him, so I’ve always looked at him as a younger brother. But since he was 19 years old, he’s always made the right decisions for his life and his career. It blows my mind. He’s the best of his generation and has a vision like no one I’ve ever seen, and that makes me execute at the highest level.”

The compliments run both ways. “One thing I love about Sal is his honesty,” Tesfaye told Variety during interviews for his cover story earlier this year. “The problem with a lot of managers is they think they know everything. If Sal doesn’t know something, he’ll say so and find a way to learn. Plus, he’s very family-oriented and I’m like that, and I trust him like a family member. We actually knew each other when I was with someone else’s management and wasn’t in a great position. I think he sensed that, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. We learn from each other; it’s a real partnership.”

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Courtesy of Sal Slaiby

Slaiby with The Weeknd

Monte Lipman, co-founder and CEO of Republic, is unsparing in his praise of Slaiby. “If you’re ever stuck in the middle of the sea without food or water, Sal is the person you want in the boat with you,” he says. “His positive energy, resourcefulness and determination to overcome adversity remain his greatest strength. In addition to being a beautiful person and devoted family man, it’s been amazing to watch his trajectory into a leading figure in our business. Sal’s focus, tenacity, and fierce support of the artist community is of historic proportions.”

That leadership extends far beyond the music business. In August, when a massive explosion in Beirut killed more than 200 people and caused more than $15 billion in damage, Slaiby and his wife Rima, who is also Lebanese, immediately sprang into action.

“We couldn’t do nothing,” he says. “We partnered up with Global Citizen and raised $1.2 million in ten days,” he says. “All the money went to the Red Cross, first responders and the Children’s Cancer Center that was destroyed by the explosion. Abel donated $300,000 as soon as he heard.”

Even as Salxco has grown, Slaiby has remained focused on keeping a family vibe — a term he uses almost as many times as his cell phone buzzes during an hour-long conversation. “We’re at fifty or sixty people now, but to be honest with you, I never count how many staff members we have,” he says. “We built our business on family values. I don’t believe in managers because I don’t believe one person is capable of managing an artist’s entire career — I believe in management teams, and that’s been key to our success.”

Indeed, Salxco itself is a rainbow coalition of personalities and nationalities. “This company is built on diversity, and that’s another reason why we’re successful,” says Slaiby. “We want to be an inspiration to immigrants and the Black community and people who come from nothing. That’s what I have in common with a lot of my clients, and the next step for us is to take those voices and elevate them — and keep impacting the culture.”

Yet as much as the company and its influence has grown, the partnership between The Weeknd and Slaiby remains at its center. “When first Abel signed with me, he made me promise him two things,” Slaiby recalls. “Number one was, ‘You can never become a yes-man — you’re always honest with me, and I love that. And the other is, never make me a wedding singer.’ I said, ‘Okay, no problem.’

“A few years later,” he continues, “I’m getting ready to go to Lebanon to prepare for my wedding. I go to see Abel before I leave, and I’m telling him about the wedding: the Gipsy Kings are gonna perform and there’s all these other surprises. He goes, ‘Do you want me to sing at your wedding?’ And I’m remembering what he made me promise — is he testing our friendship? I say, ‘What do you mean, bro?’ He says, ‘Do you want me to sing?’ I’m like, ‘Uh, I’m not sure?’ He says, ‘What? Are you joking?’ And I finally say, ‘You told me never to make you a wedding singer!’

“He laughs and says, ‘Are you crazy? You’re my brother!’ He flew in his whole band and production team and put on his best show ever.” Slaiby smiles at the memory. “It meant the world to me.”

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