Up Close & Personal With Sultan

From the desert heat of his country of origin to the winter rigours of Canada, Sultan has travelled a road in his image - out of the ordinary. After living in Kuwait, Cyprus and Egypt Sultan moved to Montreal, Canada in 1996 to persue an education in Mechanical Engineering and Business.

Inspired by the vitality of the nightlife and his passion for music, he quickly immersed himself into the house scene of his adoptive city by discovering, amongst other things, the power of events such as Cream and the Hang the DJ Tour. Little by little, his interest for structures irrepressibly shifted from engineering to music.

In the wake of his DJ successes, Sultan created his own studio in the summer of 2001 in order to unleash his talent as a producer. Once again, the results were tremendous. His first-ever production, "Primal Instinct," was signed to Chug Records that same year and garnered much appraise. The door was open. He lept over the threshold with obvious pleasure and multiplied releases on various labels - including Deep Dish's Yoshitoshi label and John Digweed's Bedrock Breaks Label. During the winter of 2001, he notably entered a studio collaboration with colleague Tone Depth (The Greek). Further to regularly calling on the vocal talent of singer Stephanie Vézina, Sultan now has more than 25 titles under his belt including releases under the aliases of Soul Tan and Jiva (Sultan and Nesha).

I am who I am because of all the good times and the hard times that come with moving and relocating and making new friends and getting adjusted to all the different environments.
Boglarka Liptak: You mentioned many times that you were born in Middle Estern, and most of the important musically influances came from your childhood! Tell me more about your childhood? Where you were actually born?

Sultan: I was actually born in Kuwait; however, I have never identified myself as being of Kuwaiti origin. The reason being is that any foreigner that is born in Kuwait unfortunately is not entitled to a Kuwaiti citizenship or passport. My parents are both originally from Jordan and therefore I grew up with a Jordanian passport and nationality. I lived in Kuwait for eleven years and then during the Gulf War in 1990, my family was forced to move to Cyprus where I lived for a year and a half. I then moved to Egypt since my father had a sub branch of his company there. I lived in Egypt for six years then moved to Montreal, Canada to pursue an education in mechanical engineering while at the same time applying for the Canadian Citizenship. I have always been asked where I am from and till today its one of those questions that always has a long complicated answer cause I feel like I don't necessarily have one specific place I call home. I guess the simplest answer is Middle Eastern-Canadian.

Having moved from place to place as a child has definitely had a great impact in my life. I am who I am because of all the good times and the hard times that come with moving and relocating and making new friends and getting adjusted to all the different environments. Even the simple things like the days of the week were hard to get adjusted to. In Kuwait weekends were Thursday and Friday, in Cyprus they were Saturday and Sunday and in Egypt they were Friday and Saturday and in every place different cultures and ways of life differed drastically. That all said, I wouldn't change a thing from my past and my upbringing.

B.L.: What kind of cultural enviroment did you grow up in?

S.: Having been raised in the middle east, I grew up surrounded by an Arabic culture. However, I did attend international American schools all my life so the western culture played a very big role in my life. At home, my parents watched Arabic movies, plays and TV shows, at school I studied in English, sang music in English and was surrounded by friends from all parts of the world. Some times I would hear Arabic music at home, other times my sisters would be blasting their stereos with Madonna or INXS, and still other times my close friends would be singing in Spanish, French and Italian. So I would have to say it was a very diverse multicultural environment.

B.L.: How did this cultural environment inform and influence your musical taste? Why was so important in your musically development?

S.: Being surrounded by all these different nationalities and cultures, I was fortunate to hear music form all parts of the world. The different rhythms, the different instruments and the different beat structures. When I was younger my sisters would always bring back music from the States where they were attending university so I would have the latest pop tunes. My close friends influenced me into Heavy Metal and living in the Middle East you always hear Arabic music playing somewhere whether in a restaurant, car and even people singing in the streets. Because of all these factors my curiosity about music was constantly fueled and has played a big part in my musical taste and expression. When you are exposed to all kinds of music and I find especially when you are able to visualize the music by watching people dance to the different styles, your ears break free and your musical horizons expand.

B.L.: Do you have any mentor?

S.: I would have to say I've had several mentors however these mentors are not necessarily people. Throughout my life I have always listened to music as a guide. Every new cd I bought and every vinyl I played taught me something and by listening to the music and analyzing the production, I learnt to better my own production. When I first entered the house scene four years ago, I learnt by going out and watching Djs play and by getting a few tips from friends of mine who were also learning to spin records at the time. As for production, I would have to say my mentors were my band members from my rock band. In the seven years that we worked together as a family, I learned to feel and play all styles of music and grooves. And after recording three albums with the band, I had acquired a bit of knowledge about production by being in studios for long periods of time watching the producers work.

B.L.: When and why did you choose to relocate to Canada?

S.: I decided to move to Canada for several reasons. Initially I was actually going to the States to attend university. A week before heading to the states to go to university, my family received the Canadian immigration. This meant that if I lived in Canada for three years I would become a Canadian citizen. It was a great opportunity for the family and so my parents suggested that instead of going to the states for university, why not go to Canada. Fortunately I had already applied for university in Canada as well while I was applying for the states and had gotten accepted to McGill University in Montreal. So I decided it would be worth seeing Montreal and the university. So I came here and actually by chance met up with my best friend who I was raised with in Kuwait but we hadn't been together since the Gulf War. With a little encouragement and lots of talk about starting a rock band cause we both played guitar, I decided to switch and come to university in Canada. I've been here since 1996 and it was definitely the best decision I have ever made.

B.L.: You graduated as an engineer? What kind of engineer? And did you plan that you will use this professional knowledge in the future?

S.: For five years I studied mechanical engineering and business. And finally when I graduated, I decided engineering wasn't for me. During those years I worked for Mercedes Benz during summers and did internships at UBS bank in Switzerland. But when it was all over, I felt I had to pursue my musical career and my passion. Engineering and business have definitely played a big role in my music life. My work ethic, my understanding of equipment amongst other things eased the way into music production. I think I will definitely use this professional knowledge in the future but I think more with the business degree rather than the mechanical engineering but hey you never know what the future has in store for you.

Features Archive


Up Close & Personal With Sultan

July 14, 2005 at 12:47 PM CEST


Boglarka Liptak @ DYA GO Magazin

B.L.: What was your parent's opinion that you wanted to be a DJ and not a normal common engineer? Did they support you in your improvement?

S.: From a young age I feel in some ways I was brain washed to become an engineer by my family. My father was an engineer, three of my uncles were engineers, and a few of my cousins are engineers so it was a big profession in the family. So somehow when I was younger I always recall saying "when I get older, I'm going to be an engineer" And well I can say that I am engineer now..hehe.

When I was 18 my father passed away. It was a big turning point in my life and it was right after my first year of university. That summer I knew engineering was not for me and was going to discuss it with the family; unfortunately I never got the chance. After a loss in the family, the last thing I could even think about was changing careers let alone focusing on studies. So I stuck with engineering knowing in the back of my head that it's a great degree to have as a background even if I decided to pursue something else. So when I graduated and at the same time having been involved with a rock band for the past four years, it seemed alright that I might take a few months off to focus on music before going out in to the job market. My mother and sisters have always supported me with my musical endeavors and so they felt it would be all right to try music for six months before looking for engineering or business jobs. Those six months I dedicated to the band and I actually had just gotten started with djing. Somehow the focus changed from rock to dance and from the band to djing. I kept working hard and the family believed in me so they supported me for another six months. At some points, my sisters questioned my path and I always faced opposition from my relatives cause to them no one in the entire history of the family had ever taken on music as a living. I'm here now and support from all the family is stronger than ever. When you prove yourself and support yourself, no one can say anything or even begin to lecture you or question you. I'd like to think it comes from caring and love; your family always wants to know that you are going to be ok and not struggling every day. And when you do that and show them that you are strong on your feet, they will always support you. Sometimes I wonder if I would still be in music if my father were alive today.

B.L.: You were working with Ned Shepard from Digital Witchcraft and Tone depth. And now you collaborate with Mannel. How did you Mannel come to meet? What do you think, can we expect anything more from this collaboration?

S.: Mannel is an amazing guy and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to meet him. His energy is so great to be around. I met Mannel in December through TommyBoy while playing in Budapest. The plan was for me to come to Budapest and spend a week with Tommy in the studio to work on collaboration. And that's exactly what happened. I spent most of time with Tommy and Mannel during that week and the result is the latest release on Yoshitoshi: Sultan & TommyBoy – You Make Me Feel (Extacy). This time around I will also be spending a week in Budapest to work on another collaboration with Tommy and Mannel. When you work with great guys you know something amazing is going to come out of it.

B.L.: Which five tracks would you say had the greatest impact on you?

S.: Oooh this is a toughie. When you're surrounded by all styles of music, in one way or anther music tends to capture a moment in your life and whenever you hear a certain song you identify it with a moment or time in your life whether happy or sad. If I were to chose five songs that are not dance tunes they would have to be:

1) Maxi Priest – I just want to be close to you
2) U2 – One
3) Pearl Jam – Ten
4) Portishead – Roads
5) Massive Attack – Protection

If I were to choose five dance songs they would have to be:

1) Underworld – Born Slippy
2) Gus Gus – Believe (16B Remix)
3) Rain Cry – God Within
4) Face the Phase – Face the Phase
5) Deep Dish – Stay Gold

B.L.: What would you identify as the single most important element in your

S.: As unoriginal as this sounds, I would have to say the most important element in my life is Music and all the experiences, emotions and memories that accompany it. Music not only identifies me as an individual but it is also the language I speak. Alongside music, friendship and love are crucial in my life. Without these elements, I would be invisible.

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