Zahed Sultan is one of those people that you suspect of possessing some sort of time expanding device. The half Kuwaiti, half Indian, London-based multimedia artist/entrepreneur seems to produce work in more artistic mediums and take on more projects than an entire team could manage...but somehow, he manages.
As a musician, he creates a brand of alternative electronic music that blends analog and digital, incorporating a vast range of influences from Arabic rhythms to reggae, which has been licensed for television and film in the past. He has two studio albums, three EPs, and a number of singles under his belt, and also produces for other artists, including Saudi singer Tam Tam. He has produced, directed, co-edited or all of the above on a number of short films, music videos, and most recently a full-length documentary. He has started multi-media performance projects, collaborated with artists widely, and even introduced a music festival in Kuwait. Encountering creatives like Zahed (especially at this young an age) makes us wonder about what it takes to channel focus and organise time to achieve all of the things we want to.
Zahed Sultan recently returned from Jamaica, where he was making a film - Vibrations. It traces Sultan's steps embarking on a project of cultural exchange in Jamaica, emphasizing his grassroots method of working with social causes and music. "The film reveals my approach to re-imagining the folk music traditions of Kuwait and my journey to discover the roots of Jamaica's musical and societal heritage." Along the journey, he meets musicians and artists who help him realize the "unlikely bridges that exist between two seemingly disparate cultures - ties that remind me of our shared struggles as people and our ability to empower ourselves in a rapidly changing world." In addition to making the film, Sultan also recorded an EP with the musicians featured. He screened the film for the first time on May 3rd at Rich Mix, along with a short performance and talk. You can expect to see it in festivals across the UK, Europe and the US in 2018-2019.
...unlikely bridges [often] exist between two seemingly disparate cultures - ties that reminded me of our shared struggles as people and our ability to empower ourselves in a rapidly changing world.
Another one of Sultan's more unique and ambitious projects is Hiwar, which gives a contemporary reimagining to the heritage and music of the ancient pearl diving music of Kuwait, blending it with electronic music. For Sultan, the most interesting thing about the music, called fidjeri, is the "complexity yet simplicity of its form, the diversity of its themes and its structures."
Sultan describes himself as an "incessant collaborator," which in part comes down to his passion for so many mediums, and subsequent inability to master all of them entirely on his own in order to tell his story. In the beginning, when conceptualizing Hiwar, he struggled to develop an approach that bridges two unrelated musical styles and cultures. "In truth, I was experimenting. In time though, I developed a functional language and approach to build this bridge." Now, Sultan has built quite a project, with 15 people committed to the vision of the project.
Sultan's vision and passion for presenting music and art to the public has taken him as far as establishing a festival. He founded Kuwait Rising in early 2015, in collaboration with Red Bull Kuwait and the Red Bull Music Academy. "The intention was (and continues to be) to build a culture and community around experiencing live music by emerging artists from the region and beyond." The first few editions of Kuwait Rising focused on bringing in talent from both the Middle East and South Asia, however after time, Sultan realized that bringing in an act from Europe, the UK, or the US would round out the line-up.
Find your voice first and then experiment with multiple mediums second. Stay aware or conscientious that your medium(s) don't drown out your voice.
Kuwait Rising stands out among other events in the country. "My mission is to create a highly community-centric feel and experience is a constant, so all decision making supports this ethos." Luckily, live music is growing in Kuwait, partly thanks to the opening of an opera house along with some other venues, and a growing interest in different styles of music. In the past, Kuwait Rising hosted workshops and talks for local musicians, though this edition, which just took place at the end of April, focused on music. Joss Stone headlined this year with a stripped down acoustic set. She also did a performance with local pearl diving musicians.
Ever curious about (and envious of) the level of productivity that Sultan seems to harness, we asked him for insight and advice for aspiring artists who cannot seem to stick to one medium. His reply carries just about as much wisdom and tact as we would expect:
"Find your voice first and then experiment with multiple mediums second. Stay aware or conscientious that your medium(s) don't drown out your voice. At the end of the day, your stories are your imprint, everything else is just a tool to communicate it. Productivity on the other hand is a discipline. It stems from developing a methodology and refining it (always)."