TCA - SS PIC511-1657788286351
Sulaiman Merchant and Salim Merchant Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Salim Merchant has certainly shrugged off the COVID-19 blues that had plagued Bollywood these past two years. The rest of his 2022 is packed with live stage performances, a grassroots musical movement with some of the biggest names in India and somewhere in between, he’s composing for a London-based theatre production that goes by the name of ‘Disco Dancer’ and dropping a collaboration with the late Sidhu Moosewala.

And amid his jet-setting lifestyle, Salim will also find the time to squeeze in a match or three at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in November to champion his favourite team.

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

With a career that has spanned nearly 25 years in the Hindi film industry, the brothers have achieved milestones that few could have dreamed of in a lifetime. A Daytime Emmy nomination for the US TV show ‘The Wonder Pets’, collaborations with Lady Gaga and Enrique Iglesias, composing music for the Hollywood film ‘Sold’, an official song for FIFA (stemming from their love for footie), a stage production that’s tasted success at London’s West End… the list truly seems endless.

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

Ahead of their date with Dubai, Salim took a break from working at his Mumbai-based recording studio to get candid with Gulf News about their concert, launching their record label and putting together a special ode to the late Bappi Lahiri in that upcoming London stage musical.

On returning to Dubai for a live performance:

Salim Suleiman 21-1657788328358
Sulaiman and Salim Merchant Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

I know Dubai has had some amazing concerts, but they haven’t had a Salim-Sulaiman live in a while. And this combination of (‘Indian Idol’ winner) Salman Ali, along with Bhoomi Trivedi and Raj Pandit is very special. Dubai is in for a big treat. We plan to play all our top 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’s just in the spirit of being out and enjoying great music.

Beating the COVID-19 blues:

Salim Suleiman-1657788323816
Salim and Sulaiman Merchant Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Honestly, we’ve not been quiet through COVID. We started our own label called Merchant Records and we’ve made some great music, not just us, but with different artists as well. These 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 labour.

All about their music label, Merchant Records:

Sulaiman and Salim Merchant performing in Dubai Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

I was always promoting good music and pushing for creative people to release their stuff without any boundaries, without any sort of limitations or any kind of expectations. And, and we gave birth to this beautiful label called Merchant Records. And the last two years have been crazy for us. We started with releasing two songs a month, and we are now at eight songs a month. So you can imagine how many songs will release all the way all through the year.

Promoting independent music through their label or otherwise:

Salim Sidhu-1657788306096
Salim Merchant with late singer Sidhy Moosewala Image Credit:

We always made independent music, right from 2012 when ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ released. Even then, I had the confidence to do music that was out of the box. ‘Ainvayi Ainvayi’ went on to become a huge hit and that gave me the confidence to do more, but do you know that the director [Maneesh Sharma] didn’t like the song? We pushed very hard, and we made him believe.

He was hesitant because it was his first film, it was Ranveer’s [Singh, lead actor] first film. It was Anushka’s [Sharma, lead actress] second film. And they were not confident about the song; they wanted a very formula-based wedding song. I was always clear that I wanted to create music that didn’t play at weddings, but at the after parties and that experiment really worked for us.

Bringing that independent music to their label:

Salim Sulaiman with Sonu-1657788321347
Sulaiman Merchant, Sonu Nigam and Salim Merchant in concert together Image Credit:

From 2011 itself, we started thinking about making independent music, which was outside our realm. The planning had begun, but it took us eight years to actually structure it. That’s because we needed time, we needed that space, and COVID give us that when suddenly everything was shut down. And we were like, Okay, well, let’s get to work and our music label was born.

From Bollywood to TikTok trends, how music compositions have changed over 25 years:

Salim with Rajasthani folk singers-1657788330804
Salim Merchant performing with Rajasthani folk singers Image Credit:

It’s kind of weird. People who make independent music are trying to make it sound like film music. And film music is sounding like independent music. The lines are very blurred now. But none of this should matter, as long good music gets popular, whether it’s through Reels or TikTok.

I just feel musicians should make music for the sake the art itself, and not for viral trends because when you start making such kind of music, there is a certain kind of approach that you take, which only seems to work in the short music format.

Salim Merchant-1657788303907
Salim Merchant Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

But then the true listeners are those who listen to songs on different streaming platforms, who like to listen to the whole song that makes it to a playlist.

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

On the constraints of Bollywood music:

SALIM SULAIMAN - PIC311-1657788316398
Salim Merchant with brother Sulaiman Merchant Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

There are films that give you a lot of freedom and there are films, like period dramas, that have to be a reflection of the story and the characters. A lot depends on the filmmakers. Like we had a very strict boundary 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 through all your boundaries and bring out good music. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working on movies or making independent music, you always want the song to work. When it comes to me and Sulaiman, we really do what our heart tells us. And we were very fortunate that we had some good filmmakers with us who believed in us, in our music and were able to give us a lot of freedom to create great music.

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

Salim and Bappi da-1657788302019
Late music composer-singer Bappi Lahiri with Salim Merchant Image Credit:

I am working on ‘Disco Dancer’, a new musical that will be staged at London’s West End [theatre district]. It’s a beautiful, sensational story based on the most famous disco dancer story from the 1980s, that of Mithun da [Bollywood veteran actor Mithun Chakraborty]. We will bring the late Bappi Lahiri’s music to life again in October and it’s going to be phenomenal.

Then a couple of years ago, we did ‘Umrao Jaan [Ada]’ and we’re also bringing that stage musical back as well next year.

Salim with Sunidhi-1657788332594
Sunidhi Chauhan with Salim Merchant Image Credit:

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

Fawning over footie after their FIFA World Cup Anthem in 2010:

I am seriously considering visiting Qatar for FIFA, not for the whole season but I’ll surely catch the quarter finals of the semi-final game. My favourite team has always been Brazil. And while I also like Portugal a lot for their team spirit, it’s always been Brazil for me.

Don’t miss it!

SALIM SULAIMAN - PIC211-1657788313564
Salim and Sulaiman Merchant Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Salim and Sulaiman Merchant will perform live at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena on July 16, along with ‘Indian Idol’ winner Salman Ali, Bhoomi Trivedi and Raj Pandit. Organised by PME Event, the concert will be a three-hour-long spectacle filled with their biggest Bollywood hits. Tickets start at Dh149 and are available online on,, and