Salim Merchant, who is about to begin his US tour, talks to GIN.
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By Isha Roy
Emmy-nominated musicians Salim Merchant and Sulaiman Merchant were inspired by their father, Sadruddin Merchant, who was a composer in the film industry. They have composed music for major Bollywood productions including "Chak De India" and "Aaja Nachle", and among other blockbusters. The duo emerged as internationally recognized talents with the song Africa, you are a star during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. In an interview with Isha Roy, Salim Merchant speaks about his career, his upcoming U.S. concert tour, and his future plans, which include collaboration with international artists. Here are the excerpts:
You are coming from a very musically talented family. Tell us how you and your brother developed your career as composers and what would you say was your first major break?
This actually happened couple of decades ago. I was learning piano and my brother was learning tabla and drums, and we realized that we had something great going on. I was doing the melodic stuff and he was doing the drums. My dad was really supportive because he came from a musical background in the movies. He always coached us and so that was always half the battle won. The first movie that really got us on the map was "Bhoot", followed by "Kaal". "Chak De India" was a big milestone, along with "Aaja Nachle". Apart from the Bollywood stuff, we did some television in the U.S. [for] which we received an Emmy nomination. We also performed at the FIFA World Cup Opening Ceremony, which was a big moment.
You have produced a number of memorable compositions for Bollywood and the international stage. What has been the most rewarding or most fulfilling project or experience to date?
The most satisfying composition to date was "Chak De India". The song almost became the sports anthem of the country, especially after India won the Cricket World Cup. It was no longer our song but the country's song. That gave us a lot of pride and it was a great moment. In terms of performances, the FIFA opening ceremony really tops it all, with 90,000 people in the audience and millions of people watching us live around the world. It was the biggest thrill.
You and your brother have received many awards and accolades for your work in various films and projects. What do you consider has been the biggest award so far or the most prestigious recognition of your career?"
I can't pinpoint one award. Every time I won an award, I was thrilled. It's a very human thing to keep growing. The awards get bigger and bigger. Actually I will say that my judging on Indian Idol has been the most satisfying experience because of the way I reached out to people. Everybody had heard my music at that time but seeing me on Idol made my connection to people stronger. I could feel the love in people's eyes, as I went from city to city. That really humbles me. An award is always gratifying but to get the love from human beings, from people who love your music and love you for who you are is priceless.
You have collaborated with some of the greatest musical geniuses from India and the international scene. Is there one collaboration that really stands out? Who would you like to work with someday that you haven't yet and why?
Recently we worked with Lady Gaga on an album called Born This Way, and that was something I never expected. It gave us a lot of mileage, and a lot of people read about us, and really liked our work on that album, and we received great reviews. I am very inspired by Seal and would love to do something with him. I would love to write a song for him or work with him on some capacity. Collaborating with him has been on my mind for a long time and apart from that, I want to do some collaboration with some orchestras. Our tour in the U.S. is actually with an 8-piece symphony orchestra from Houston, and I would like to continue working with orchestras, and make that a goal in the future.
Reality music shows are so popular in the U.S. and India. They provide opportunities for people who otherwise might not have the chance to showcase their talent. You have been a judge on Indian Idol and X Factor. What are your thoughts on these reality shows in terms of producing lasting talent?
I think it's a great platform. Back in the day, there was no medium for young artists to show their talent, especially from small cities and villages. It's a great thing that talent comes from all around the country and represents itself, and we find many great singers who are very talented and that's very special. It's very meaningful for the viewers and the artists.
You are about to launch a major U.S. tour through multiple cities. Tell us about this tour and what can your fans expect from this concert?
A lot of our songs are so much loved by people that they are no longer our songs. They are their songs, and I would love to perform for them. We have re-arranged some of the songs and presenting the songs in a little different kind of orchestration. We also have a nice bunch of singers and good talent singing our songs. Of course we have the most incredible band. My brother is the backbone of all the electronics and percussion. We have an incredible team including musicians who played for the original recording we had done. And of course there is the orchestra backing vocals. It's all about making the audience feel our music in its live raw form all over again.
Most people associate modern Bollywood music as a fusion of many styles and it is gaining more and more popularity in the Western world, as well. Why do you think it is so popular in the West, and where do you see Bollywood music heading in the next five years in the international scene?
I think Bollywood music is going to be considered popular music [worldwide] and [it's] just a matter of time before it really becomes known in the international scene. I think that Indian artists will collaborate with other big pop singers from around the world. It will happen very soon. As India is getting more and more urbanized, the world is becoming a smaller place for everyone here in India. A lot of producers out there want this kind of sound, and a lot of good music is coming out of here that are internationally loved.
I believe you are working on the music for one of this year's most anticipated films, Heroine. Tell us about the work you are doing for Heroine and what are some of your upcoming projects for 2012?
I am really proud of the work I have done for Heroine. We have done three songs and have not finished them yet. Apart from that, there are a couple more releases coming out. There is one movie called Rabba Mein Kya Karoon, and it just got titled couple of days ago. I am excited about working on new projects and different stories. (Global India Newswire)