Obscurity Points // Omar Souleyman
Syria has always existed in my mind as a really, really bad place. A place of government oppression, Islamic fundamentalism, and just plain old bad news. I’ve never thought of it as a place where people live, eat, sleep, make music, care about daily matters. But the truth is that it is a place with all those things (it has to be right?). Regardless of how terrible the place you live in is, life goes on, art goes on, sex goes on, etc.
Omar Souleyman is a Syrian musician who plays Arabic music with maybe a weird kind of pop influence – it’s exciting, it’s got weird synths, it sounds tradition and pseudo-traditional at the same time. All in all, pretty interesting stuff. The guy is actually what we would call a wedding singer, but he’s a legit artist, not the kind of shmucks we have here who just play crappy old covers and Black Eyed Peas songs. Most of his recordings are actually just recordings made of his performances at weddings – they’d sell cassettes of them later at kiosks.
In recent years his stuff has been reissued in the West by the record label Sublime Frequencies and he’s toured around North America, including a stop in Toronto’s Wrongbar just this Saturday. He’s worked with Bjork and Damon Albarn, and Caribou selected him to play ATP in England last December. Not bad for a Syrian wedding singer.
Now, I don’t know if his stuff is so insane as to shake the foundations of the world and inspire us all to put aside our differences and just get along – I don’t even know what the hell he’s singing about (hopefully it’s all politically correct…) – but musically it’s pretty solid, not inaccessible to Western ears, and still definitely fits the kind of exotic orientalist archetypal sounds we expect from an Arab musician. I’ve been listening to one of the compilations that’s come out more recently, Jazeera Nights, so if you’re looking for somewhere to start, that’s the album I’d recommend.