Sultan of Swing


Paul Mcloughlin


Shereena Lootah


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In his latest video, Sultan is dressed in an urban style – a heavy hood covers much of his face and what remains is mostly hidden by sunglasses and a short, preened beard. As can also be deciphered from his lyrics, Sultan is not your average Gulf-based musician. ‘We need a new order that is championed by the masses,’ he says.


Through his music and a social initiative he started called en.v, Sultan has issued a visionary statement to tackle current conditions and issues people face in the Middle East.


The en.v enterprise is a practical way of confronting environmental or social concerns in the region. Sultan says en.v works on the premise that social responsibility is the shared and collective duty of all. ‘Through its various mediums, en.v has always strived to raise awareness for the key issues facing and hindering our development as a region. More recently, with the establishment of our programmes, social progress within en.v’s own capacity can now be advanced with a more hands-on and direct approach.’


The en.v website offers a forum for ideas and opinions, with articles bravely touching upon issues often considered taboo or rarely mentioned in Middle Eastern countries. In turn, the group works collaboratively with public, private and civil institutions to put these ideas into practice. Sultan says, ‘en.v seeks out like-minded organisations in need of financial or other assistance, and creates programmes and areas of co-operation between these bodies for the betterment of the wider community.’


One such example is REUSE, a project under the en.v umbrella that works to help the people of the Middle East rethink their approach to their environment. This is achieved through an annual exposition enabling NGOs, public and private sector bodies and creative talent to highlight achievements made in social responsibility and sustainability, through artistic exhibitions that interact with the public.


It comes through in his music too. ‘My strategic blueprint as an up-and-coming Arab musician is to deconstruct what is essentially a corrupt and archaic industry. Then, through a meticulous reconstruction process, I aim to piece it back together into a successful 360-degree format that I can offer back to aspiring musicians to pave their own paths.’ He points out that the record industry in the region has for too long worked at replicating rather than regenerating music and this is something he is seeking to change.


What he describes as ‘measurable successes’ are down to a careful process of research and learning; trial and error. He adds, ‘I have been fortunate enough to develop a sound that is inherently my own and carve a niche for myself that does not exist in the global music marketplace today.’


When questioned on his own successes, Sultan says he prefers to celebrate the small memorable moments of his career, such as chancing upon a tweet from a fan inspired by his music, rather than dwelling on major achievements.


Global recognition could be just in reach for Sultan who is busy preparing for a world tour to coincide with the launch of his debut album, Hi Fear, Lo Love. The gigs will comprise of 60-minute electronic and instrumental sets that will rework the songs of the album, accompanied by choreographed visual displays that mirror its themes.


‘I will be releasing a new music video in August for a song entitled Like This (ha-ka-tha). The music video is a homage to the social frustrations that plagued the MENA region, pre-Arab Spring and is a call to its people to stand in unity with a sense of civic pride,’ he says.


Outside of his music and his environmental work, Sultan also heads El Boutique, a consultancy and visual communication agency that advises companies in the field of social development. He has also represented Kuwait on the World Bank’s strategic MENA panel for youth showing that Sultan and youth in general, are now considered to be important components to the region’s future.


Sultan adds, ‘Reflecting on my journey to date, I perceive every experience I’ve had to be an integral piece of a complex puzzle that is starting to take shape. It has equipped me with much needed multidisciplinary skills along the way.’ These are skills he hopes to pass onto future generations in the Middle East. Thinking of the future, Sultan admits, ‘I have a profound respect for the creative process, in all its wondrous and interactive forms. If am able to inspire others while doing so, then I know I’m onto something big.’


Photography: Shereena Lootah