In conversation with one of Pakistan’s most underrated musicians.
rom performing with the music industry’s biggest names to working in the studio with prominent artists and working on film and TV music, it seems that Saad Sultan can do nearly everything within the music realm. He also has a band that he jams with.
But the most striking factor is that Saad Sultan’s association with music goes beyond a decade, yet he remains one of the most underrated names.
Talking to Instep in a Zoom conversation from Lahore, Saad admitted that being under the radar wasn’t necessarily a choice but a result of how circumstances unfolded in the many years he has spent in the music arena.
What drew Saad towards music over other aspects of performing arts was the fact that he had a sense for it. Recalls Saad: “I remember I was in class three and there was a choir, and I discovered that if you sing in some other song in some other key and if one person singing in the choir gets it wrong, the whole choir will go out. I guess I had some understanding.”
Discussing musicians who have influenced and inspired him musically, Saad counts Junoon (the original version) and A.R. Rahman as his inspirations.
Saad is also the music producer for Sarmad Khoosat’s upcoming film Kamli. But his tryst with film music is not restricted to the one film. For the upcoming movie, he has worked with artists as prominent as Atif Aslam and Zeb Bangash among others. His experience also includes modern folk songs, like ‘Mahi Mera’ by Ali Sethi featuring Jamaldin, and independent music.
Differentiating film music from other components within music and other genres, Saad tells Instep how he plays these roles.
“It’s not so different. Mostly people have a vision for what the songs should entail. The fun part for me is to get them to deviate from what they’re asking for.”
Why, I ask the polite musician who just got back from the doctor but is still focused on answering a multitude of questions.
Saad, expressing his point of view, reveals: “Film music is what inspired me to become a musician. So, when you’re making music for a film, you’re orchestrating a story throughout the songs. I love doing that. And it’s something I wanted to do all my life.”
His work in the upcoming Saba Qamar film, with an ensemble cast akin to a casting coup by Sarmad Khoosat, has a particular narrative. But it also involves musicians as prominent as Atif Aslam or a Zeb Bangash in addition to other voices. The question, thus, is about Saad’s experience. He has nothing but kind words for the artists involved.
“This film has been a very interesting project for me. It’s the first time someone said to me ‘do whatever you want’. I’m looking for songs that sit with the film.
“All the songs we made had to do with the film and all the scenarios within the film were very different. It was important to make them different as well because you can’t make the same song in repetitive fashion.”
Looking at the larger framework of the film industry, Saad spoke about how - without meaning to offend anyone - a lot of the film music sounds the same. “It was challenging, therefore, when it came to Kamli. I do have an understanding of desi classical music but I realized this film required a lot of knowledge I needed to acquire.”
Saad admits that he is grateful to the people who helped him learn “a lot”.
“I’m glad it shows as well,” he says, pointing towards Kamli.
Describing his equation on working with the country’s biggest musical name, Atif Aslam, Saad notes that he has worked with the singer on multiple occasions and this film is one example. What he does find curious and compelling about Atif is how he’s invested in giving his best.
“What I like about Atif is that he is very popular and still very dedicated. A lot of people - after success and hitting the mark of 15 or 20 years - lose interest. But Atif is very keen and always says after every session that ‘in case you need anything, I’ll come and do it’. He’s done that as well.”
Saad finds Atif’s work ethic inspiring.
Similarly working with an award-winning artist like Zeb Bangash on more than one occasion is also something Saad cherishes. “It’s always fun working with Zeb. She, too, is like Atif in terms of dedication.”
Recalling a specific story regarding Zeb, Saad notes, “I remember Zeb also said ‘in case you need anything, please let me know’ after a song was done and she hadn’t heard it. It is great to work with such people who are so dedicated.”
Saad finds inspiration in such dedication and admits it motivates him to work harder.
Having worked with Zeb on film music, TV music, Saad notes that she surprises him every time. “The way she becomes a part of the song is something I haven't seen in anyone else.”
As for the Reshma song on the OST of Kamli, Saad says that it was something Sarmad wanted to do. “He possibly wanted more songs with different singers but we had a discussion and this one made the cut. It was pressurizing to work on that track as well because the vocals I received were from a long time ago when technology was not this advanced. It was processed and I couldn’t do a lot with it and to make it sound modern while keeping that sound of Reshma jee intact. It was a very big thing for me so I don’t even know how to articulate it properly.”
Working on the upcoming Sarmad Khoosat film was both challenging and exciting for Saad. Luckily enough, he’s delivered one of the best film soundtracks for the year 2022.
As for Saad Sultan’s future, he will continue to play multiple roles in music, no matter how challenging. It is something that is akin to a greater calling for him, and something he understood at a very young age.