Interviews

Guitar hero Zul Sultan takes his rightful place under the spotlight

By Anjali RaguramanEvents - 07 November 2013 12:00 AM | Updated 15 November 2013

Guitar hero Zul Sultan takes his rightful place under the spotlight

Zul Sultan is the genuine article. With his raspy, bluesy voice and effortless guitar-playing, he is easily considered one of the legends of rock ‘n’ roll in Singapore.

His upcoming show on 29 November at The Esplanade is billed as one that will "replay the soundtrack of your life".  

Yes, coming from a man who has played classic rock ‘n’ roll music for the last 40 years, that is no exaggeration. 

For decades, the guitar maestro honed his skills working the pub circuit and playing late nights.

He stepped into the music industry “by default”. He explained: “Nowadays, kids want to play games. In those days, we didn’t have all those. So we played guitar, lah. That was the other alternative.”

As a self-taught guitarist, it was apparent from the start that he wasn’t going to go the conventional route. “I tried one or two lessons, but it never lasted. I always thought I knew more than other people,” he said.

Zul Tania
Veteran guitarist Zul Sultan from the band Tania 

His influences include Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Dire Straits, and even musicals such as ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Camelot’.

THE LONG ROUTE

“You pick up a bit along the way. My whole life has been a musical education. A good 40 years. Instead of people going to school for 10 or 15 years, I took 40 years. I took the long route,” he said.

The man dubs the pubs and clubs on and around Orchard Road, Tanglin Road and Orange Grove Road as "the Orchard Road triangle". That is his playground.

He has played in places that do not exist anymore, pubs such as Talk of the Town, Pebbles and Anywhere. “I can go out of the country and feel comfortable as well. But that’s my home area, lah, that small little triangle,” he said.

“In 1976, I formed this group called Tania. We had a lot of success very early. The group still exists till this day.”

Tania is now the resident band at Harry’s Orchard Towers, where they play five nights a week. Zul is so tied to the band that it earned him the moniker, Zul Tania.  

GOING SOLO

This November, he is staging a solo show. It has taken four decades for him to get a full-fledged solo gig at a venue as prestigious The Esplanade, but true to his personality, he said that people can expect “a f***ing good show” in the intimate recital studio.

“I keep people entertained. That’s my job. Entertain, lah! You made your bed, lie in it,” he said matter-of-factly.

It won’t be his first time going solo, though. “I started off solo, a one-man show. This was at Talk of the Town, 1974. I knew about 10 chords and 20 songs.”

Best known for doing covers, Zul's repertoire has since grown considerably. He plays everything from Santana to Dire Straits, Pink Floyd to The Beatles. When asked how he built his bank of music, he quietened before saying, “day, by day, by day”, the weight of all his years’ experience emphasised with each word.

As a solo artist, he feels he is able to adorn songs. “I might do the same songs, but it’s done differently and with more embellishment. I might strip it down to an acoustic level.”

Fellow music legend Ramli Sarip will be one of his special guests that night. 

It will be a night of rock tunes, singalong numbers and a good time all round. You’ll never know where the night might take you.

Late Nite @ Esplanade: One Night Only Zul Tania | Date: 29 Nov | Time: 9.30pm | Venue: Esplanade Recital Studio| Tickets: $25 from Sistic