Music is an essential component of filmmaking and Indian cinema. The last few years in Bollywood have seen the rise of many new music directors. While some formerly popular composers have taken a step back from their musical careers, others continue to share their timeless music with listeners around the world.
We had the opportunity to interview Salim and Sulaiman Merchant, two musical geniuses of the Bollywood music industry. Check out our exclusive chat with the brothers below!
What inspired you to work together as a brother duo in music composition?
We studied music together and listened to so many artists from Michael Jackson to Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan. Every artist, every record was our inspiration. We idolized our father in our early years as he was a huge influence on us.
Talk a bit about your journey through music, how music composition found both of you, and what meaning it has for you in your lives.
We started learning at a very young age. I was learning piano and harmonium and Sulaiman tabla 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.
Your most recent album is Jai Gangaajal. After Satyagraha, how was the experience working again with director Prakash Jha?
It’s really a treat to work with Prakash Jha. In today’s time, composers have huge pressures to create ‘hits’ for movies which we absolutely don’t in his movies. The goal is to always make a good song which weaves through the storyline beautifully. The comfort and ease we experience with Jha’s movies allows us to always push the creative boundaries.
Tell us a bit about your upcoming Hollywood project Sold, which is produced by Jeffrey Brown.
It’s a very powerful film based on human trafficking. Very intense story of a young girl who’s forced into prostitution. We’ve done 2 songs for the film.
Salim bhai, you will be seen acting onscreen in the Y Films production Love Shots. Tell us a bit about what it was like being in front of the camera for your acting debut.
It was very exciting. I’m in a good space after working on so many films as a composer and understanding the medium of cinema. It was a great story and an intense role for me to take on as a challenge and I enjoyed it.
What is the first thing you do when you sit down to make a song? Is there any particular element that comes first (i.e. beat, melody, specific instruments, etc.)?
Really no rules! It could be a beat or lyrics or even a devotional phrase.
How does the music production process change when the song genre changes?
The song directs the direction. Most of the time the story and the placement of the song in the movie inspires and dictates the production.
Naturally, both of you have worked with many talented playback singers over the course of your career as music composers, through both music composition for films and musical ventures like MTV Coke Studio. Is there any one singer with whom you’ve worked in the past or recently that you enjoyed recording and collaborating with?
Arijit Singh! He is blessed.
Is there any playback singer, musician, or artist you have not worked with thus far but would like to in the future?
Wadali brothers and Abeeda Parveen.
If there is one director or production house (Bollywood or Hollywood) you dream of composing music for, who would it be and why?
Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I love the way he films. His musical sense is intense!
What are sources of inspiration for your musical creativity?
From all the music we’ve heard to all the musicians and artists we meet, we never go by what is popular, but we go by what we like listening to.
When composing background score for scenes in films, how do you decide when to introduce orchestration vs. maintain silence and achieve balance between the two?
Silence is also music! When you understand the importance of silence, you realize that it actually plays as important a role as music. It all comes with experience.
All the best to Salim and Sulaiman for their upcoming musical endeavors. Here’s to hearing more of their melodious tunes in the many years to come!
For latest updates on Salim-Sulaiman’s music, check out their YouTube channel!