Salim-Sulaiman: It is our best work in 15 years
Set to present their labour of love, Bhoomi, as part of their newly launched record label, Merchant brothers Salim, Sulaiman on creating music devoid of commercial tropes
A sense of agitation is making itself evident in the Bollywood music industry. It began with disregard for the trend of rehashing old ditties — with some original composers even threatening to take legal action against those meddling with their compositions — and extended to expressing disdain over creative calls being taken by the men in suits running record companies. However, the disquiet is paving the way for something great. Weeks after revered musician Amit Trivedi vowed to celebrate music that appeases his heart with his label, AT Azaad, composers Salim-Sulaiman have launched Merchant Records, which will also celebrate talent that is discredited by Bollywood.
"We have been making non-film music, and collaborating with artistes from India, America and UK for a while. We want to continue to do so; take the back-seat as composers and bring new talent [to the fore]," says Salim, adding that the label's first release, Mangi duaein will feature Raghav Chaitanya, who "didn't get a chance in the past due to the mafia labels".
Set to release today, the song will be followed by another Merchant Record-offering towards the close of the month, and successively, with a new single every 15 days. "The track at the end of July will be helmed by two incredible artistes who are more established. They've also come together for a song of ours in the past. Next month, another commercial Punjabi dance track will be out. It will feature a new singer. Then there are two more tracks that eye a September release," says the musician, who also hopes to collaborate with his favourites from the industry, including Mithoon, Clinton Cerejo, Ranjit Barot and Karsh Kale.
It is, however, another venture being presented by the label that particularly piques our interest. In a previous interaction with mid-day, the musician jumped to the edge of his seat when discussing his "most desirable, cherished and revered project". "It's the best thing we've done in the last 15 years," he had said of his upcoming album, Bhoomi, which was to initially release in April before the pandemic compelled them to defer it. "Twenty years ago, we had created an album by the same name, and got singers from across India for it. It had artistes from Kashmir and Bengal being featured in it, and language wasn't a barrier. Record labels said India wasn't ready for it. Then, we got busy with making film music, but continued to cherish that album. No one had created something of that kind before," Sulaiman said, as Salim added that the experience encouraged them to take things into their own hands.
The seven-track offering features artistes including Arijit Singh, Shreya Goshal, Jonita Gandhi, Nikita Gandhi, Salman Ali, Osman Mir, and Kaushiki Chakraborty, among an array of other musicians. "While most of these are our own compositions, we've revisited two classic thumris. We had wanted to give them a different touch and colour. While doing that, there is so much that I learnt about my own music [sensibilities]. I found a different way to [express] myself because we were not bound by the commitments of creating it around a story, or other commercial requirements. It was an effort to experiment with music, and the result has been magical. We will continue to [bring out such albums] each year."
Before the pandemic established a new normal, the composer duo would frequently log air miles as they travelled for live gigs across the globe. Cooped up at home, Salim finds himself busier than he has been as he breathes life into projects that were stuck in limbo owing to their busy schedule. "One of those is our merchandise brand," he says of the recently launched apparel line that features lines of their Bollywood songs.
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