Composers Salim-Sulaiman–brothers in music

Music is about people and should be real.  
By SumanBajpai
Salim-Sulaimanare the famed sibling composer team, who have spawned some of Bollywood’s iconic hits and are today two of the industry’s most prolific music directors. After cornering the jingles market, Bollywood came to them, with director Sanjay Gupta enlisting the young talents to score the music for the 1997 Kajol and Saif Ali Khan starrer Hameshaa. They went on to create timeless hits for countless films including MadhurBhandarker’s Fashion and Shah Rukh Khan’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi as well as producing albums for the likes of Adnan Sami, Voodoo Rapper, Style Bhai and ShwetaShetty.
Composers Salim-Sulaiman–brothers in music
Multiple collaborations and a decade of passionate and soulful music but the musical duo Salim-Sulaiman still assert that their journey has just begun. Be it the chart-popping numbers of Rab ne Banadi Jodi (2008) or soul-stirring Maula Mere LeleMeriJaan (Chak de India, 2007), they have done it all. “We kept our feet on the ground and head in the right place and worked really hard,” asserts Salim.

These days more than their Bollywood work, the duo is recognised for their regional and international collaborations. They have also had a successful start in Hollywood, composing music for Jeffery D. Brown’s Sold (2014). Their passion for music gets reflected in using music as a tool for activism and emotions alike. Their notable compositions Broken World in collaboration with VishalDadlani have always been widely appreciated.
What is interesting is Salim-Sulaiman’s fascination for technology and their emphasis on soulful timeless compositions. Sulaiman points out that they use technology to complement the music than to create it. Once they are done with the digital track, they make sure that they record the sequences and instruments live. Their motivation is derived from a belief that music is about people and should be real, and not synthetic.

 Excerpts from the interview:

What inspired you to work together as a brother duo in music composition?
Salim: We studied music together and listened to so many artists from Michael Jackson to UstadGhulam Ali Khan. Every artiste, every record was our inspiration. We idolised our father in our early years as he was a huge influence on us. We started learning at a very young age. I was learning piano and harmonium and Sulaimantabla and drums. Our choices were made! We were meant to complete each other with rhythm and melody and without us knowing, from playing and arranging we started composing for movies.

Do you ever have disagreements? Does anyone pull rank?

Sulaiman: No sibling rivalry here. We’ve been working together for more than 25 years now. When we initially started we started as a team. And we’ve been making music ever since. Now we understand what our fortes are and where we’re lacking so we compensate for one another and we complement each other. It’s a beautiful way the synergy works between us. We hardly fight. It’s more a discussion and it’s always about the music. It’s always a disagreement for the sake of the music and the best way is to resolve it musically. We just do two versions and see which one is better.

We divide how we work. Salim does all the musical elements, I do all the rhythmic elements, the rhythmic percussions, and then Salim records the vocals behind what you hear. Then I sit down and mix and that’s how we have a product.

 You both have contrasting tastes do how do you balance?

Salim: Yes we have contrasting tastes but fortunately, what has happened is we play different instruments…We both do different things, therefore it is natural for us to come together. Each time we sit to make a melody, I sit on the keyboard, writing base lines and do the ‘raga-based stuff’ while Sulaiman does the drums, base line and electronica. Then when we sit on the mix, it is me who sits with singers and collaborates. So this is how we balance.

 Do you think that music reflects a situation?

Sulaiman: True. Music has always reflected the behaviour or situations of a particular country. Like for example in good times we get to hear songs which have that happy element, in war situations we always hear songs which have the patriotic feeling and songs which reflect the spirit of the freedom movement. So be it agitation or any other form of emotion, music is always reflective of the kind of environment that a country is going through.

 How did you first come to be involved with Beyond Bollywood, both as composers and co-producers of the show?

Salim: It came about when Rajeev Goswami approached us about it. He came to us with a script and of course we had all our questions. The story was finally laid out and we spotted the songs that would be the highlights of the musical and that’s how we started. We wanted to use certain folk tracks and popular tracks because we wanted to make it meaningful and entertaining for the audience and for ourselves.

Sulaiman: There’s lots of amazing, big dancing numbers which keep the energy going. And of course the story is amazing. It’s because we all put in so much love into it right from the word go that it’s reached where it has.

Composers Salim-Sulaiman–brothers in music

This production (Beyond Bollywood) is described as being educational as well as entertaining. What was the underlining objective in staging the musical?

Sulaiman: We want the perception of India to change. Dispel the idea that things are half-baked or shoddy. We want to set a new standard. We made sure that we could bring out all the elements of India. First thing you think of when you think of India is Bollywood and curry. But there’s so much more. We found all these beautiful exotic dances, the way the bihu dance is done, the kathak and the Kalbaliya. They have so much expression. This show would really help to promote India and Indian art. There’s great music of other cultures but you will never see traditional folk music of India anywhere else in the world. So we’ve tried to give that music some kind of recognition and make it accessible for everyone to hear in terms of sonic quality.

Salim: What people haven’t heard before is the actual true essence and spirit of India. The music that comes from the heartlands and the stories behind them. That’s what makes the story engaging to the audience. It’s entertaining and there is meaning. There’s depth to it. Knowledge is power and not only are you entertained, you feel educated after the show.

 Did you enjoy doing Beyond Bollywood?

Sulaiman: We truly enjoyed working on the music as it covers a vast range from classical,folk to pop music. Beyond Bollywood is an amalgamation of the folk culture with Bollywood and we have tried to portray the essence of rich Indian culture through this musical extravaganza.

 What is your take on the new-age popular Bollywood numbers?

Salim: The new-age Bollywood numbers are doing what they are supposed to do. They are attracting the audience’s attention to a particular film, but will never have a shelf life. Of course, there are popular dance numbers that will always have a recall value. But Honey Singh is a smart artiste. He has given power to the people to sing. The regular people, who cannot sing, will be able to hum his numbers, because there are three to four notes.

Tell us about your latest album.

Salim: We are composing for Poorna. It is the biopic on MalavathPoorna, the youngest girl to climb the Mt Everest.

 What are the sources of inspiration for your musical creativity?

Salim: I can say you, I mean every person we meet is our inspiration. From all the music we’ve heard to all the musicians and artistes we meet, are our source of inpiration.