The Syrian courted by Damon and Björk heads to Brooklyn, ropes in producer Four Tet and makes some folk-techno bangers
Omar Souleyman is not the kind of guy you’d earmark for crossover fame. A moustachioed fortysomething gentleman in ever-present dark glasses and red and white kaffiyeh, Souleyman hails from a rural area of Syria near the Iraq border, and has spent most of his career playing weddings, his fame spreading across the region via a reported 500 releases recorded to cassette and passed around by hand or sold at local music kiosks.
How, then, is Souleyman signed to an imprint of Domino, rubbing shoulders with Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys? Well his music is a blast – a high-speed collision of folk tradition and electronic instrumentation that sees him chanting and singing sincere love poetry in his native tongue over breakneck dabke rhythms, keyboard stabs and blazing electric saz solos. Since his breakthrough in the west with a string of compilations on the Sublime Frequencies label, Souleyman has been courted by Björk and Damon Albarn and won over crowds at festivals from Womad to Field Day.
‘Wenu Wenu’ is Souleyman’s highest profile release yet. It’s also the first of his albums to be recorded outside of his homeland (currently the site of a bloody civil war). Instead, ‘Wenu Wenu’ came together in a Brooklyn studio with Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden as producer. There is undeniably a touch more polish to the music – a brighter sheen to the squirming saz solos of ‘Wenu Wenu’, a bit more percussive oomph to the haywire scales of ‘Ya Yumma’. But everyone’s job here appears to be dedicated to presenting Souleyman’s music in crystal clarity.
As ever, it’s not always easy to get exactly what Souleyman is singing about. Traditionally his songs focus on the topics of romantic longing and heartbreak. For those who can’t understand Souleyman’s mother tongue, his main role is as stern ringmaster, his barked commands pushing the music on to new levels of intensity. A couple of slower-paced moments, ‘Khattaba’ and ‘Mawal Jamar’, drag a little, but ‘Warni Warni’ is undoubtedly the best Syrian-folk techno banger you’ll hear this – or any other – year.
Record label: Ribbon Music
Release date: 21 Oct, 2013