Talk about prolific: Syrian artist Omar Souleyman has amassed more than 500 studio and live albums since 1994. Most of those releases were recorded at weddings and – in a move perhaps not inkeeping with the sacrosanct nature of the events in question – were copied and sold locally in north-eastern Syria. ‘Highway to Hassake’, a 2006 compilation released by Seattle label Sublime Frequencies, lit the sparks of Souleyman’s career outside his home country. His 2011 Glastonbury slot is the stuff of legend.
He burst further onto the cultural spotlight largely through his work with acclaimed producer Four Tet on ‘Wenu Wenu’ and again on the 2015 release ‘Bahdeni Nami’. His latest studio release, ‘Shlon’, kicks in right from the start with pure, unbridled shoulder-shaking joy that cascades through the rest of the project. Released on Diplo’s Mad Decent imprint, the record fuses Souleyman’s blend of techno, dabke and baladi. It’s wholly distinctive, a project only he could make.
Each of the six songs on the album feature Souelyman singing; often, it’s to subtle handclaps beneath him as most of the instruments recede ever so slightly. Here, he recites love poetry written by his longtime collaborator Moussa Al Mardood, who wrote it all in one sitting during the recording session.
Azad Salih, a young Syrian man living in Turkey, accompanies on Saz, a Turkish stringed instrument. But it’s the work of keyboardist Hasan Alo that shines throughout. He keeps a consistent, complex techno arrangement layer underneath all the songs, and the hi-speed mixture of dabke and baladi on each track owes much to his work. Each song could feel equally at home at a Syrian wedding and an east London nightclub.
‘Shlon’ allows Souleyman to lift the curtain into his culture, showing his artistry and why exactly he’s one of the most sought-after producers in the world. To pigeonhole him as a wedding singer is reductive. His ear for contrasting sounds, and his ability to bring joy, allows us to escape into his work. He shines a light on happiness – something we desperately need in today’s world. Here’s to another 500 records, eh?
- Release date: November 22
- Record label: Mad Decent