Meet the Sultan of blues

Dan Sultan
Dan Sultan

WHEN a female fan sidled up to Dan Sultan at a music festival a few months back, he was not unnaturally taken aback when she proceeded to lick his face.

But then Sultan has the kind of velvet voice, smouldering blue eyes and shimmying stage hips that can render a woman making an innocent request for an autograph powerless to control herself. After all, this is someone whom the gorgeous Clare Bowditch called, ‘the black Elvis’ - a play on Sultan’s Aboriginal heritage.

Sultan’s Indigenous roots gave birth to his passion for performance – he spent time as a small child in his mother’s country – with the Eastern Arrernte and Gurindji clans of Central Australia. His earliest memories are of sitting around a fire with the Warlpiri elders.

He is also a descendant of Vincent Lingiari, the Wave Hill stockman who uttered the words ‘this Gurindji land,’ which helped to spark off the Aboriginal Land Rights movement.

Sultan took his experiences in the desert back to the Melbourne suburb of Williamstown, where he grew up. He first picked up the guitar at the age of four, penned his first song at age 10, and then proceeded to explode onto the Australian music scene after being plucked from relative obscurity by Paul Kelly to perform at a series of tribute performances for Indigenous songwriter, Kev Carmody.

Sultan’s star rose quickly after John Butler recognised his talent for blues-infused soul rock – helping to finance Sultan’s first album, Homemade Biscuits.

Now all eyes are on Sultan as he takes his seven-piece band on their first national tour in support of their Number 1 album, Get Out While You Can, (Australian Independent Record Labels Association charts November 09).

Sultan and band will stop off at the Hotel Great Northern, Byron Bay next week. However, music fans prone to face-licking should be aware that Sultan is not a great fan of such earthy familiarities.

“It’s all happening now,” Sultan says when asked how he is handling fame.

“The whole thing is a bit new to me, having fans and a following but most people are really polite,” he says. “Mind you, a couple of weird things have happened. It was at a festival in Victoria when the woman came up to me and wanted an autograph and her photo taken with me. She stood next to me and licked me up the side of my face. I was taken aback and said no photo for you!”

However, it’s not just Sultan’s sex appeal that sees his concerts sell out. An example was his blistering performances of haunting acoustic ballads and big band soul rock at Bluesfest this year.

It’s in Sultan’s live performances where the musical influences of his teen years are apparent – he listened to the likes of Sam Cooke and the Warumpi Band. Their sound seeps through in songs like Roslyn, Sultan’s heart-rending tribute to his mother.

“My mother is from the Stolen Generation,” Sultan reflects. “She was taken from her mother as a child and told she was dead. It affected my family and it affected me. I don’t lose sight of that, what happened to my people. That’s why it was amazing to receive the Deadly Award (2007). It was great to be recognised by my people and by the music industry.”

If you want see what makes women swoon you can catch Dan Sultan at the Great Northern Hotel, Byron Bay, on Friday, May 14. Tickets $20.50 from oztix.com.au. Doors open at 9pm.

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