The Story Of Souleyman: The Arab Who’s Shaking Up Dance Music
No it is not a joke. And actually far from one. This February the former Syrian wedding musician, Omar Souleyman, is taking over the main stage at Amsterdam’s Melgweg. So it won’t be hard any more to come up with a good reason to explain why you’re listening to a Sunni wedding musician, looking like young Yasser Arafat, rocking his Schwarzenegger sunglasses. The man has had our full attention ever since we saw his 2011 performance at Glastonbury.
Who else, if not a Syrian refugee musician himself, one could rightfully ask, would aid his own people in flight from Syrian war by holding shows around Europe. “Our Heart Aches for Syria continues… Syria was heaven on earth to all of us not so long ago and there is no reason it shouldn’t be the same way again soon. In this small meantime we all must help each other as much as we can and point the world to history and understanding the true cause of all the suffering that happens now.”, says Omar pitching for support for the cause through his show.
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But not only for the social cause this musician is worth to be seen. Many might have not yet heard of Souleyman, some might have even thought this is a joke. But the past years the Arab electronic artist has been kind of smuggling his music to the outside world, and it hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. Indeed, this man’s stage presence is part of his appeal, but mainly it is his ways of blending raucous Arabic electronica that became a novelty to the most profound ears.
Omar’s first collaborations started quite ambitious already. Being discovered on YouTube by art-pop child Björk, it was to be the beginning of his path to further appreciation within the Western dance industry. As she commented to NPR in 2009: “What’s refreshing about [Souleyman] is the party,” she said. “It’s really alive and very urgent. And he’s not above using synths, electronics, drum machines and YouTube. He’s really eager to make something that’s vibrant.”
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Later on, came more collaborations, his tracks being played by Ricardo Villalobos on big stages back in 2012, and even Modeselektor described Souleyman as “the coolest man on the planet,”. The collaboration with Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) is Omar’s track ‘Warni Warni’, which means “Come to me come to me”, where Kieran worked as a producer, though Four Tet has said he barely put his hands on it and let Omar do his thing. The track, amped up with a crazy video, produced by australian-born director Cali Thornhill DeWitt is total refreshment for the eyes and the ears.
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Gernot Bronsert (Modeselektor) who took Souleyman’s latest album Bahdeni Nami undel his Monkeytown imprint once refused to call him a ‘world music’ musician, he calls Omar a dance music artist and his music “a cultural exchange, but on a sensitive and almost invisible level.”
As many war refugees, Omar expresses his longing to his country prior to war: “if things return to normal and calm down in Syria, I’d go back to my wedding performances. They remind me of the old days, before the war, and they’re very important for my social life. Now my friends and family are spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Europe. It was good to see weddings bringing people together. If I could do them again, I would.” – explained the musician to Guardian.
So is Amsterdam going to dig it? We will see. What is clear, whether led by curiosity of the strange or to hear the sound of cheerful Syria, the Dutch audience should get ready for an Arabian night to remember.