Bollywood composer Salim Merchant talks Dubai gig, launches record label and pays tribute to Bappi Lahiri in London’s West End

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Salim Merchant has certainly ignored the COVID-19 blues that have plagued Bollywood for the past two years. The rest of his 2022 is filled with stage performances, a popular musical movement with some of India’s biggest names and somewhere in between he’s composing for a London-based theater production called ‘Disco Dancer’ and drops a collaboration with the late Sidhu Moosewala.

And amid his jet-setting lifestyle, Salim will also find time to sneak into a game or three at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in November to defend his favorite team.

The talented artist, who is half of Salim-Sulaiman Merchant’s musical duo, is a Bollywood powerhouse with a repertoire of popular songs that include behemoths such as ‘Ainvayi Ainvayi’ from ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’, ‘Haule Haule ‘ from ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’, ‘Shukran Allah’ from ‘Kurbaan’.

With a career that spans nearly 25 years in the Hindi film industry, the brothers have achieved milestones that few could have dreamed of in their lives. A Daytime Emmy nomination for the American television show “The Wonder Pets”, collaborations with Lady Gaga and Enrique Iglesias, composing the music for the Hollywood film “Sold”, an official FIFA song (arising from their love pour le foot), a staging that tasted success in London’s West End… the list seems truly endless.

Yet such milestones seem meaningless to the brothers if they’re unable to do what they do best, putting on a live show for their fans. With that in mind, Salim and Sulaiman will return to the Dubai stage on July 16, performing live at the Coca-Cola Arena in an event organized by Portofolio Management Events (PME).

Ahead of their Dubai date, Salim took a break from his Mumbai-based recording studio to speak candidly with Gulf News about their gig, launch their label and create a special ode to the late Bappi Lahiri in this upcoming London stage. musical.

Back in Dubai for a live performance:

Sulaiman and Salim Merchant
Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

I know Dubai had some amazing concerts, but they haven’t had a Salim-Sulaiman concert in a while. And this combination of Salman Ali (winner of “Indian Idol”), with Bhoomi Trivedi and Raj Pandit is very special. Dubai is going to feast. We plan to play all of our best songs, from Bollywood numbers to Sufi Qawwali. The timing is perfect. So many cities and countries are celebrating this post COVID-19 euphoria that everyone is just in the spirit of being outside and enjoying some great music.

Beat the COVID-19 blues:

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Merchant Salim and Sulaiman
Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Honestly, we haven’t been silent during COVID. We started our own label called Merchant Records and we made great music, not just us, but also with different artists. They are independent artists, people who wanted to experiment with music and not just stick to a formula, who now have a creative umbrella for themselves in the form of our work.

Everything about their music label, Merchant Records:

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Sulaiman and Salim Merchant perform in Dubai
Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

I’ve always promoted good music and pushed creatives to release their stuff without any limits, without any kind of limitations or expectations. And, and we created this wonderful label called Merchant Records. And the last two years have been crazy for us. We started out releasing two songs a month, and now we’re at eight songs a month. So you can imagine how many songs will be released throughout the year.

Promote independent music via their label or otherwise:

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Salim Merchant with the late singer Sidhy Moosewala
Image credit: Instagram.com/salimmerchant

We have always been making independent music, since 2012 when ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ was released. Even then, I had the confidence to make music that was off the beaten track. “Ainvayi Ainvayi” became a huge hit and it gave me the confidence to do more, but do you know that the director [Maneesh Sharma] you didn’t like the song? We pushed very hard, and we made him believe.

He hesitated because it was his first film, it was Ranveer’s [Singh, lead actor] first movie. It was Anushka’s [Sharma, lead actress] second movie. And they weren’t sure about the song; they wanted a very formulaic wedding song. I’ve always been clear that I want to create music that doesn’t play at weddings, but at after parties and that experience really worked for us.

Bring this independent music to their label:

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Sulaiman Merchant, Sonu Nigam and Salim Merchant performing together
Image credit: Instagram.com/salimmerchant

From 2011 itself, we started thinking about making independent music, which was outside of our domain. The planning had started, but it took us eight years to really structure it. It’s because we needed time, we needed this space, and COVID gave it to us when suddenly everything shut down. And we were like, okay, well, let’s get to work and our music label was born.

From Bollywood trends to TikTok trends, how musical compositions have changed in 25 years:

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Salim Merchant performing with folk singers from Rajasthan
Image credit: Instagram.com/salimmerchant

It’s a bit strange. People who make indie music try to make it sound like film music. And film music sounds like independent music. The lines are very blurry now. But none of that should matter, as long as good music catches on, whether through Reels or TikTok.

I just think musicians should make music for the art itself, not for viral trends because when you start making this kind of music, there’s a certain type of approach you take, which only seems to work in the short music format.

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Salim Merchant
Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

But then the real listeners are those who listen to songs on different streaming platforms, who like to listen to the whole song that ends up in a playlist.

It’s important for musicians to focus on the artistry, to focus on creating pure and good music and not on what will become sensational on different platforms. Its very important.

On the constraints of Bollywood music:

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Salim Merchant with his brother Sulaiman Merchant
Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

There are movies that give you a lot of freedom and there are movies, like period dramas, that need to reflect the story and the characters. It depends a lot on the filmmakers. Like we had a very strict limit for ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ and ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’, but with ‘Fashion’ director Madhur Bhandarkar gave us a lot of freedom. The same with ‘Kurbaan’.

Sometimes it’s important to break all your boundaries and release some great music. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on movies or making indie music, you always want the song to work. When it comes to me and Sulaiman, we really do what our hearts tell us. And we were very lucky to have good filmmakers with us who believed in us, in our music and were able to give us a lot of freedom to create good music.

Taking the next step after collaborations with Lady Gaga, Enrique Iglesias, a Hollywood production and a 2010 FIFA World Cup anthem:

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Late music composer-singer Bappi Lahiri with Salim Merchant
Image credit: Instagram.com/salimmerchant

I’m working on ‘Disco Dancer’, a new musical to be staged in London’s West End [theatre district]. This is a sensationally beautiful story based on the most famous disco dancer story of the 1980s, that of Mithun da [Bollywood veteran actor Mithun Chakraborty]. We’re bringing the music of the late Bappi Lahiri back to life in October and it’s going to be phenomenal.

Then a few years ago we did ‘Umrao Jaan [Ada]’ and we’ll be bringing that musical back next year as well.

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Sunidhi Chauhan with Salim Merchant
Image credit: Instagram.com/salimmerchant

And then in October we have Bhoomi 2022. Every year we do Bhoomi, this music movement project [a fusion of classical and electronica]and this year we will be featuring Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal, Harshdeep Kaur, Kashmiri folk singer Noor Mohammed and a fantastic artist from the United Arab Emirates called Aisha Abduallah who is 16 years old.

Loving football after their FIFA World Cup anthem in 2010:

I am seriously considering visiting Qatar for FIFA, not for the whole season, but I will surely catch the quarter-finals of the semi-finals. My favorite team has always been Brazil. And even if I also really like Portugal for its team spirit, it has always been Brazil for me.

Don’t miss it!

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Merchant Salim and Sulaiman
Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Salim and Sulaiman Merchant will perform live at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai on July 16, alongside “Indian Idol” winner Salman Ali, Bhoomi Trivedi and Raj Pandit. Organized by PME Event, the concert will be a three-hour show filled with their greatest Bollywood hits. Tickets start at Dh149 and are available online at platinumlist.net, coca-cola-arena.com, bookmyshow.ae and ticketmaster.ae.

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