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How To Succeed In Music Was Only One Challenge; Overcoming Cancer Was Another

Fabian Alsultany inspirational story

How Networking Matters In The Music Industry.

Fabian Alsultany is the music industry’s true renaissance man. Fabian was an NYC club kid in the late 1980s. Since then, DJ Alsultany AKA Sultan 32 has performed at many major festivals, world-class nightclubs and venues, conferences, and yoga and retreat centers throughout Europe, Africa, India, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.

He was named, “World Music Impresario” by Billboard magazine. He’s worked side-by-side with Palm Pictures’ Chris Blackwell, he has created and produced many events and music festivals, albums, remixes, and compilations, and tours the globe as a ssuccessful DJ, performer, event promoter, and entrepreneur.

…and if that’s not inspiring enough, Fabian is also a cancer survivor who kept a running blog of his experience with chemotherapy that you can still read online. It’s literally chilling. We remember it, because it stuck with us, even more than seven years later.

We have so many questions to ask you, but first, for all the aspiring music people we have listening…Please share with us how you got STARTED in the music industry. How did you get your FIRST break that set you on this road?

I was the guy in high school that DJ’ed the school dances, played keyboards in a bunch of bands, and kept moving forward from there. I was in a popular band in New York City called 32 Tribes in the 90’s. We gained a following by performing regularly at clubs like CBGB’s and Wetlands.

We had our share of opportunities to sign with several record labels but somehow managed to sabotage them all through sheer arrogance or drug abuse. Life would have turned out very different if we had gotten it right. I went on from 32 Tribes to playing keys with the band John Brown’s Body, who is still touring today. Later, by the grace of God, I became the keyboard player in a “supergroup” called Tabla Beat Science with Zakir Hussien, Bill Laswell and Karsh Kale.

We performed around the world, and this was a dream come true. Back when I started, I was the guy in the band not only consumed with songwriting, but I also booked the shows, negotiated deals, marketed the shows, managed the finances, and hung out in the club until the sun came up. I was very passionate about music from an early age. I still am.

And what would you advise young aspiring DJs and promoters to do to get started on this road and to get that BREAK to become successful? How can they develop the relationships to become successful–because the old adage–it’s not what you know, it’s who you know…

The “break” is so different today than what it used to be. For those that create music, it always starts with the song, and then it’s about creating great digital content and hope that people will “like” you. And for promoters, it’s similar. It’s curating content into a venue; that’s bands, DJ’s, visual artists, and building something that gets people to want to open their wallet and buy a ticket.

So much of it is has always been about “being a part of” and creating a scene. It doesn’t matter what genre. There is always a scene to tap into.

Building an e-mail list and providing content on the various social media platforms for events that you hope people will dig is a key piece. Then it’s about engagement. It’s all about the follow-up, building a relationship with the attendees or fans that bought a ticket, and always thanking the people who worked to put on the show.

I used to send thank-you letters and postcards to the people I did business with back in the 90’s. This was before everyone was on e-mail. I remember crisscrossing across the US with John Brown’s Body (www.johnbrownsbody.com) and sending thank-you letters to promoters that took a risk on booking us.

You never know where your break is going to come from. While you’re building your career, focus on delivering great music and staging great events, and remember to say “thank you” to everyone along the way. You don’t know where the people you meet today will be tomorrow.

Fabian Alsultany music success

Any other advice on how to succeed in the music industry?

Success can be measured in many different ways. For one, it can be selling a thousand tickets per major market, or being big overseas. For another, it can be playing a monthly local gig for a hundred friends, or for another, it can be getting on the radio.

Whatever it is; identify it, write it down, and develop a plan. How am I going to get from point A to point B to point C? What are the steps? Visualize it. Map it out. Write it down and set due dates. Then, start checking things off the list.

Need an updated bio? Add it to the list. Need a video? Add it to the list. There are basic pieces of marketing collateral that all artists need. For example, a bio, photo, songs, material on SoundCloud and YouTube. Success means different things to different people. Define what it is for you and work towards that goal.

Becoming a superstar in the music business is like winning the lottery; the odds are something like 1 out of 100 million. Getting your digital assets in place and doing the basic marketing is like buying the lottery ticket. You can not expect to win, but buying the tickets, or in this case, having your collateral in place, puts you in the game.

Okay, my next question is about you being a “connector,” for lack of a better term. I know that you have always connected people with each other, introduced people to each other. How important is that your success, and how do you think people can become better at that skill?

Like I said earlier, I’ve always been the dude to build a tribe. When I was a kid, I was putting together the school talent shows and the dances. I was always bringing people together. It’s always been a natural instinct for me to do that. Even after today, when we were doing the Wanderlust Festival, I was bringing in all of these musicians from all over the world, literally people flying in from all over the world and putting them onstage together, and allowing for this idea of a tribe to grow and expand.

I think the idea of building tribe in building community is a huge part of what I bring to the world. And a lot of the professional opportunities that have been brought to me is because I’ve been the networker and the connector because of all the people that I know, and I have a pretty keen sense on how to match make people both professionally–and especially musically and artistically.

I think people can become better at that by just following your instinct. When I see a list of artists that I’m working with for a festival, and I get a hint of inspiration to see if putting them together on stage will work [or] not work, it’s just the power of duration and essentially using music and other people’s creativity as an extension of my own paintbrush.

I like the way you put that, Fabian. Can you tell us how you overcame some of the struggles you had in your music career? I think it would be helpful for us to learn how you recovered from those setbacks, because we are all about the recovery…

I believe in the old saying when one door closes, another one opens, and I really believe that everything we do today is leading up to what’s going to happen tomorrow; and that all the steps I took in the past are still woven into my present and future. I remember when 32 Tribes ended, I immediately segued into joining the band John Brown’s Body, and [during] while I was…, it also led to me getting my first real job in the music industry, becoming the talent buyer over at SOBs (a nightclub in Manhattan).

I haven’t had any lulls in my career. I feel like I’ve been going full speed ahead, and when something ends within the next couple of months, I am back in a new space where I am creating something that is sustainable.

And on recovering, what have you found that helps the most?

Go into your Jedi training. When things fall apart in my life and there is a career change or relationship change or whatever it is, when something falls apart, the first instinct for me is to go back into my training. Working out, meditation, fasting, juicing, everything that I already do, but when the reset button is being pushed, it’s really about fueling every cell in my being with the highest goodness that I can pull into it, through fueling my body with the juices and exercising, and all those things I’ve done that helps to attract one I’m calling in my life.

And if one is has a setback and decides to cover that up with drugs and alcohol, it numbs everything naturally, which is why people will go there, and it naturally matches why people go there, but it also shuts off the energetic power, the field of noor, the light! When it’s working, things happen, miracles happen, and I think it’s when things fall apart, that’s the time to go back into Jedi training and magnetize all of that.

There is a time to grieve and to lick your wounds, and to have a collapse, and then there is a time to build it back up, and allow for the space to take place. When calamity hits for me, I’ve taken that feeling and allow myself to be uncomfortable with that feeling and then begin the process to move through it, and the moving through it comes with practice and especially ramping up and amping up the practices.

Thank you for that. So you’ve been involved in so many different aspects of the industry: as a musician, a DJ, and an industry executive for over 25 years. What are you doing today?

I still exist in both worlds as business guy and artist. I work for a company called Wanderlust (www.wanderlust.com) as their director of programming for our festivals. This year, I booked over 80 musical acts and over 100 speakers that span over seven festivals in places like O’ahu, Lake Tahoe, and Whistler. The Wanderlust events are focused on the yoga, health, and wellness lifestyle market.

Most of the artists I bring in to perform fit into the scene around that lifestyle. Outside of Wanderlust, I spend a lot of time on the piano and in the studio working towards completing my first album under the name Imperial Highness (www.imperialhighness.com), and I DJ under the name Sultan32 (www.soundcloud.com/djalsultany).

Colon Cancer Recovery

Now moving on to a different subject. Specifically, the incredible recovery from illness that you had. Can you please share with us the story of how you became a cancer survivor? How were you able to keep positive while you were going through this experience?

I believe it was July 13th of 2009 when I tumbled down that rabbit hole. That morning, I woke up in a lot of stomach pain. I felt like I was dying. I thought I had food poisoning from an empanada I ate in the park. When I got to my doctor, he took my blood pressure and sent me to the emergency room.

There they did an MRI and said something had perforated my colon, and they needed to do surgery immediately. I remember waking up from surgery with a number of tubes coming in and out of every part of my body. I remember thinking I had done everything I ever wanted to do in life, except for release my own music and to raise a family.

Anyway, a few days after the procedure, they informed me I had Colon Cancer 2B, meaning that a tumor had perforated my colon.

I did a lot of research on alternative treatments and ultimately started full-on chemo in September of that year.

It was not easy. Every two weeks I had to go into the hospital to receive a 48-hour drip of chemo. My reality was existing in a two-week cycle of death and rebirth. I experienced every side effect in the book: extreme nausea, neuropathy, dizziness, loss of appetite, hair loss, inability to hold any food in…you get the point: it was miserable. I was fortunate to have my family and friends around me through it all.

There were a few things that I did through those six months of chemo that kept me together. Top of the list was playing my piano and composing a lot of music. This kept my heart alive. Writing music–that was my fuel. It kept me going. In the mix of it, I did a lot to counter the effects of the chemo: consuming plenty of supplements, drinking green juices, and hitting the Russian baths helped–as well as yoga, meditation, prayer, and visualization…

Moving through chemo was a full-time job. One week I was in the valley of death, and the following week it was all about the recovery…I will add that drinking plenty of red wine helped to counter the metallic taste of the platinum that came along with the chemo. I believe those things, along with the love of the people around me, allowed me to remain positive through the agony of that experience.

Yes, I read your blog, where you kept a running blog on what you are experiencing at the time as you are experiencing it. It was harrowing just reading about what you were going through. So through this horrible experience of falling down seven times and rising up eight, if you were to look back and speak to your younger self, what would you tell him about this difficult journey of recovery that he had ahead of himself?

I would tell my younger self exactly what I told myself during the moments while battling cancer: “It’s not going to be easy, but it will all work out fine.”

Did you learn something from the experience–something that you learned for yourself–that you can share with us?

I learned that no matter how difficult a situation, to be thankful that it’s not worse, because it can always get worse. I had many moments during that experience that ingrained that message in me. I remember one particular memory: that I had vomited so much that the acid had burned my esophagus. My throat was raw and in such pain that I could hardly speak. I had lost the ability to swallow and was unable to eat or drink anything.

I had to be hospitalized and fed intravenously. I recall even then, with the extreme burning in my throat, being grateful, because I had such a deep knowing that everything would be all right. Having an attitude of gratitude no matter how dire the consequences allows for the inner light to stay on.

Can you please share with us how you were able to keep that feeling of gratitude through all of this, when some people would ask, “why me?” and be hateful. How can you remain grateful instead of hateful? I think this is an important question because it seems to have been the key to your recovery, and yet it is so difficult for so many. How did you “know” that things would be all right? Was this something that you were brought up with from an early age or something that you learned at some point?

When I look back at that time and I look back on my life, I feel like I had already lost so much in my life leading up to that point. When I lost my mom when I was 9 years old, I learned the lesson that life keeps going afterwards, and [when] I was going through all the chemo and the cancer…I knew that I was going to be fine at the end of it all. I don’t know where that came from beyond prayer and meditation and yoga and all the various practices that maintain an internal positive outlook on my being. I don’t know what else to attribute that to. I think that as I went through it, I was very clear that I wasn’t going to be a victim.

I remember about two years prior to the cancer, I had a fire in my house, and it burnt down my apartment. I was in the city having breakfast with my wife at the time, and I got a call from my uncle and he says, “There is a fire in your house; get over here.” I remember seeing a big plume of smoke on the expressway coming from our apartment; we were able to see it miles away, finally getting there and everyone from our building was outside in their pajamas in the dead of winter, with four fire trucks there putting out the fire, and I remember thinking, “this can either be a crutch or this can be something you move through.”

I just went into to that mode and took care of it and faced it, and I think that throughout my life, it was kind of built into my DNA that when shit goes down, something turns on in me to just move through it, as difficult as it is. I will always move through it. I think most people would turn tragedy into victimhood, and I’ve never allowed myself to be the victim.

Last question before you go: I have several empowering personal rituals that I do when I don’t feel my best that allow me to be the best that I can be, and I’d like to ask you, if I may: do you have an empowering personal ritual that you do to get yourself to feel great that you can share with us?

I have a pretty comprehensive daily morning ritual that starts with a gratitude practice that happens before I get out of bed, followed by prayer, meditation, and some very light yoga to open up my body. It sets the foundation for my day. When I’m not centered, yoga, playing the piano, biking, and free writing help me center. If I don’t have access to all of that, and I’m stressed out in my car, “breath of fire” and singing to a favorite song help me release and return to my heart. The core of it is returning to things that make me feel good and can move energy. Things that open the heart, accelerate blood flow, and create sweat help to release tension.

And how can people reach you?

You can follow me on Facebook, on twitter, and on Instagram.

And if anyone is dealing with cancer in their life, I maintained a blog documenting the experience: http://alsultany32.blogspot.com/2009/08/eve-of-my-first-initiation-into-chemo.html. Thanks for having me.


We think the interview speaks for itself. we are not sure what else to add, except for the fact that this common thread keeps running through all of our interviews here at RiseUpEight, and that is that everything we go through in life only makes us stronger to be able to withstand other challenges that come up for us later in life. Life is hard, and as long as you live long enough, you will undoubtedly experience that hardness over and over again, but each time it makes you a little stronger and harder yourself  to withstand all of those blows. It’s almost like training for a prizefight. You keep getting hit, and you just have to withstand those blows and fight back as best as you can, and the training prepares you for an even greater challenge at some point. This is the resilience that we have as human beings…This is the human condition.


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5 thoughts on “How To Succeed In Music Was Only One Challenge; Overcoming Cancer Was Another”

  1. Wow Fabian! Very inspirational. I’ve known you since SOBs days and always loved your vibe but this piece filled in the parts that I didn’t know which added a whole new dimension. Maximum respect.

    • Hey George, thanks for taking the time to read it! Since the SOB’s days means we are approaching 20-years! That’s some history!

      • Likewise Fabian.. Great Blog helped me get to know you better.
        I bet you know Andrew Blanco of King Chango. I think he is currently going thru the same type cancer and is having a rough time. Check his Facebook. Perhaps some encouragement from you would help.
        facebook.com/zuzuku Jose Andres Blanco
        Peace gm

  2. In a word: beautiful! This interview is so inspiring. I checked out his log and wow he went through a lot. Wonderful job by both of you. I’m a fan!

  3. What a brilliant interview on both parts. I am grateful for the very fine questions as well as being appreciative of your answers. And what answers! I was delighted to get to know you at WOMEX in Rotterdam and am always very proud of all that I see you do in all matters, especially your approach to things. Blessings


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