News Column

Salim and Sulaiman: Merchants of music

July 30, 2014

Manjari Saxena, Deputy Editor tabloid!

With hits such as Shukran Allah (Kurbaan), Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Band Baaja Baraat under their belts, brothers Salim and Sulaiman Merchant are popular music composers in the Indian film industry. And this weekend they are bringing those hits and more to Dubai World Trade Centre, with their first public concert in the UAE.

"We have so much stuff, from our biggest hits Band Baaja Baarat, Kurbaan, Fashion and Rab Ne Banadi Jodi to our timeless hits Tauba Tauba, O Re Piya and, in keeping with the spirit of the festival, Bismillah and Maula Ali," Salim told tabloid! recently. "We have something for everyone with a concentration on Sufi".

Salim and Sulaiman made a mark with their 2003 release, Bhoot, and have produced music for movies such as Neal Ân' Nikki, Chak De! India and Fashion. But it was Karan Johar who gave them their first break with Kaal. They are also behind the lilting background music of several Bollywood films. In an industry overflowing with popular music makers, Salim and Sulaiman don't feel threatened.

"The industry is big enough for all of us, with the right kind of competitiveness to drive us," Salim explained. "There's so much consumption of music, there are so many [of us] creating it, and not just for films. There's so many singers, so many different genres of movies being made. So there's a lot of music [for everyone to work on]. It's all good. In fact, Sulaiman and I cannot work on more than four movies a year we just can't. Four movies is like 20 songs. Apart from that we are doing our concerts and other products. It can get a bit much. Basically, there's something for everybody".

Dream come true

Apart from their Bollywood hits, the brothers have made their presence felt on the international music scene too, collaborating with names such as Lady Gaga and Enrique Iglesias. And it was a dream come true for Salim, an avid football fan, when they composed the 2010 Fifa World Cup song.

"When we collaborated with Gaga, did the Fifa 2010 song, I realised how big Indian music is outside India," said Salim. "There are a billion Indians just in India so every seventh guy on the planet is Indian, if you look at statistics. So the kind of music made in India and consumed in India and performed is just massive and I'm not even counting Indians living outside of India, in places such as Dubai, US, UK. Therefore Indian culture, Indian music is huge outside India, of course we don't realise that.

"When we started working on Fifa with the artists we were collaborating with [South African] singers Loyiso Bala and [Kenyan] Eric Wainaina, we were quite amazed they knew Shukran Allah [Kurbaan] very well. In fact, if you google Shukran Allah Fifa, you'll find a performance of mine with Loyiso and Eric where Loyiso sings the song in English, me in Hindi and Eric in Swahili. They know our songs and they sing it not just in our language but in theirs.

"When we started working with Lady Gaga's management they wanted us to do a Bollywood song on Born This Way which was number one in 21 countries. I was surprised they wanted us to make a Bollywood version? It was because Born This Way had not hit the charts in India. They wanted it to because, for them, India is huge and they love Bollywood music. Gaga just loves all the dhols [Indian drums] and Indian folk stuff and she wanted a very folky treatment for the song. In short, there's so much love for Indian, Bollywood music, Indian culture, that it makes our job very easy. There's so much connection, it's no trouble penetrating those markets".


Yet, Salim feels the Indian film industry is the place where music is concerned. Over time we've seen the Indian film industry following a similar pattern, each decade marked with a particular style of music, with a handful of composers on the scene. But today, there are so many music makers on the scene, they almost balance the number of filmmakers.

"You see, India and southeast Asian community tends to typecast. I know filmmakers who've made thrillers, emotional films and family dramas. We have done a variety of films, from horror Bhoot to romantic Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, to social drama Fashion, to a sports film with a patriotic sideline Chak De! India, to a wedding film Band Baaja Baarat to an action thriller Ab Tak Chhapan and Kurbaan. We've dabbled with all genres of music in our movies. Bollywood is a vast canvas to paint, it's not just one-sided. It has a lot of variety and versatility. We've done Coke Studio, we've collaborated with Lady Gaga, with Enrique, we've even done a Hollywood film called Sold. But Indian film music still remains a very big thing because it actually pushes you to do all kinds of stuff. It's quite difficult and challenging to be a film composer honestly".

The other brother speaks

Sulaiman, the other half of the dandy Salim-Sulaiman duo, talks about how they've left sibling rivalry in the past and the music scene in Bollywood.

"There's been no sibling rivalry between us. We lost that in our teens. It's great to be working together because you hardly see brothers in the same profession, forget them working together. Music to me is all about expressing your passion and we have enough for everyone in the industry. Salim and I studied music together, first the piano then classical Indian. He played the harmonium and learnt the ragas the melody side of music. I took up percussions, learned to play tabla. I also play an instrument called zendrum which is easy to take anywhere. It's a digital instrument so all you need to do is plug it in.

"Being inspired is one thing but I can say for us we don't believe in copying. I've on occasion congratulated colleagues on a beautiful composition only to realise it's played or been a hit in another place. We've collaborated with international stars and India's music industry is so big outside, I don't believe we need to do it".


Salim Merchant: "I've lost out on a lot of work during the Fifa World Cup days because I'm a huge football fan. Fortunately most matches started late in the night but some were at 9pm and I've missed out on a few things because I was glued to the TV".

Dandy duo

In 2007 Salim and Sulaiman won the Best Dressed Music Composers an unusual award for music makers at the FHM (magazine) Awards.

"Well we do pay attention to how we look," laughed Sulaiman. "We've got that from our parents. They always told us to dress well and colleagues have also commented. So, I guess, somebody noticed enough to give us an award for it".

Don't miss it

Salim-Sulaiman Eid Mubarak Concert will be held at Dubai World Trade Centre, Hall 2, on Thursday, July 31, from 9pm. Tickets start from Dh145, call organisers ADSS on 04-3692128 and 055-9100468.

For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel

Source: Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)

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