It would be unfair to make out Omar Souleyman as some kind of novelty turn, but moustachioed Syrian wedding singers don’t tend to break on the world stage terribly often, let alone stick around when they do. Nine years have passed since globetrotting American label Sublime Frequencies released ‘Highway To Hassake’, a compilation of Souleyman’s insanely catchy dabke disco that introduced him and his group to Western audiences. Since, the fortysomething bandleader has been feted by Damon Albarn and Björk and slayed crowds from Womad to Field Day, largely by playing exactly the same music that’s sold on cassette through kiosks in his native Syria.
Souleyman’s second studio album proper, ‘Bahdeni Nami’, can be seen as a sort of branching out. The constituent parts – mournfully emotive Arabic song, drum machines set at a mad prance and bright scrawls of saz (a Turkish stringed instrument) – are all present and correct, but joining up here are a number of guest producers who nudge his mash of folk tradition and electronic experimentation in new directions. Four Tet – who produced 2013’s ‘Wenu Wenu’ – treats ‘Bahdeni Nami’ with a bright, lustrous sheen. Dutch producer Legowelt laces the title track with sleazy, pulsating acid textures. Modeselektor turn the emphasis on the giddy, driving percussion on the album’s two longest and best tracks, ‘Leil El Bareh’ and ‘Enssa El Aatab’.
No-one disgraces themselves, and it’s worth mentioning that – title-track aside – nothing feels like a radical update of Souleyman’s formula. But the shifts in sound gives ‘Bahdeni Nami’ the slightly jumbled sense of a remix album, rather than a standalone body of work. Elsewhere, a self-produced number, ‘Darb El Hawa’, takes a more moody, downbeat tone. Some elegantly weepy saz plucks at the heartstrings, but ultimately it’s a reminder that Souleyman’s music is at its most thrilling when pumping out with wild abandon.
‘Bahdeni Nami’ isn’t a bad record, exactly, but it’s not quite the best place to crack into Souleyman’s catalogue (which, if you believe estimates, stretches to a mindboggling 500 recordings). Maybe we’re being greedy: Souleyman popped up with a sound like nothing else on the planet, and now we want him to innovate again? Still, he’s got the technology, and he’s got the collaborators. With some bolder moves, the world remains his for the taking.
- Director: Four Tet, Modeselektor, Legowelt, Gilles Peterson
- Record label: Monkeytown
- Release date: 24 Jul, 2015