Dabs and Wedding Dances: Omar Souleyman Strikes Again

Omar Souleyman for Prime Minister of Syria
By    April 7, 2015

Art by Pedro A. Pina

Peter Holslin demands a honeymoon in Paris and a Benz

When Omar Souleyman plays live in the United States, his shows run a predictably exciting course. First the Syrian singer will goad on the crowd, getting everybody chanting “O-mar! O-mar!” with plaintive cries about aching hearts and wedding dowries. Then he’ll stand around and look cool in his red-and-white checked kaffiyeh and 70s spy-movie shades, issuing the occasional verse while his bandmate Rizan Sa’id goes buck wild on his Korg keyboard with nasal synth psychedelics and syncopated four-to-the-floor beats.

I’ve seen Souleyman play a couple times, and that’s pretty much how things went. The beats banged, the exhortations excited, a good time was had by all. But I also wondered—what if the guy stretched out a bit? Maybe he could throw in backup dancers and extra instrumentation? Set up the stage with lavish wedding-party décor? Ride in on a parade of camels, as he does in the video for his Middle Eastern hit “Khataba” from 2004?

His tours don’t bring in Beyoncé-level profits, so a prince’s engagement might be too much to ask. But Souleyman & Co. certainly expand their scope on his new single, “Enssa El Atab.” Produced by German duo Modeselektor, the nine-and-a-half minute jam retains a club-friendly finish but still gets raw with percussion ornamentations and delirious shredding from Khaled Youssef, who plays a long-necked lute called the saz.

The track comes off Souleyman’s forthcoming album, Bahdeni Nami (out July 28 via Monkeytown Records), and I like how it balances the more Western-friendly sound of his 2013 album Wenu Wenu—produced expressly for an international crowd—with the stripped-down style of his 90s and 2000s cassette recordings, which first got wide release through Sublime Frequencies. Though Souleyman’s Hassake-bred dance music is still relatively foreign to some ears, with this approach we might all soon enough be busting kicks and stomping feet in the traditional dabke circle dance.

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