River Sultan: "Crying is the most healing thing you can do."
River Sultan remembers his arrival in San Diego even more vividly than most folks. “July 19, 2000,” he nails it down. “I was 10 years old. I remember the date because I had a small birthday ceremony on the plane,” said the singer, whose single “Falling Out of Time” dropped in October.
He’s spent his life moving around three different places — San Diego, naturally, but also long stretches in both Egypt and Jordan. “Egypt is an older country with a much higher population,” he muses. “Very crowded with lots of energy. Jordan has been quite calm until the recent years after the influx of refugees from neighboring countries. San Diego [has] better street and city structure.”
Music-wise, he owes a great deal to his father, although not in the way most musical folks might. “I was listening to Linkin Park, and my dad said ‘that’s not real music!’ So he drove me to Fry’s and he got me a Dark Side of the Moon CD. We drove around for the rest of the evening listening to it. When the guitar solo in ‘Time’ started playing, I knew that I could do that, I just needed a guitar. I really believed in myself.”
“I didn’t have many friends growing up,” Sultan continues, “so I spent about seven hours [each day] after school watching guitar videos and playing guitar. As a child I used to listen to Chopin, close my eyes, and imagine I was performing that music in front of an audience. It felt really good to do that.”
Asked about influences, he brings up quite a bit of classic rock and descendants. “Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Björk. Thom Yorke’s angst, Radiohead’s variety of genre and experimentation. Björk’s freedom of expression. Suicide’s artistry and [their] innovation in not giving a damn about what anyone thinks. David Bowie’s versatility and tenacity in pursuing his dreams.”
He stirs in stars not widely known in America. “I like Fairuz’s flowery morning music, it’s helped me embrace my feminine side comfortably. I’m quite effeminate and proud of that. Farid al-Atrash has a very unique signature way of singing that helped me find my own sound and feeling that I can sing however I want with no worry. Mohamed Abdel Wahab composed for all the greats. Very introspective and mysterious. He was able to combine Western influences into his compositions in the subtlest way to create some of the most extraordinary pieces I’ve ever heard.”
“Umm Kulthum owns the night. A powerful female singer whose sound can fill up an entire theater without using a microphone. Abdel Halim Hafez has a song called ‘Qareat el Fengan’ that was the first song I ever liked.”
He’s used music, including his own, to heal from sexual abuse, and to get his mentally-ill brother through some tough times. “It’s the language of the soul,” he explains. “It soothes like nothing else can. I also don’t think about anything while making music, so it’s a nice break or detachment from reality to give my mind a break.”
“Making music opens up my heart and I cry often while making music. Crying is the most healing thing you can do in my opinion.”
He allows that he’s never actually played live in San Diego, but hopes to change that as soon as he can. “I am going to release a few more singles followed by an album. In the meantime, I’ll be doing live shows online, then start performing at live venues around Southern California once it is safe to do so.”