Omar Souleyman is a Tell Tamer, Syria-born, Istanbul, Turkey-based Sunni Arab vocalist, whose music career started in earnest back in 1994 when began as a part-time wedding singer. His overall sound has largely been influenced by the incredibly diverse milieu of Northeastern Syria — and as a result, Souleyman and a rotating cast of musicians and producers he has worked with since his early days have found a way to draw from and mesh the sounds and themes of the Kurdish, the Ashuris, the Turks, the Iraqis and the larger Arabic world in a way that’s both familiar and novel. Since then, Souleyman has become the region’s pioneer of dance floor friendly wedding music.
Amazingly since 1994, Souleyman has managed to be wildly prolific, releasing well over 500 studio and live albums with about 80% of those releases made at weddings. Most of those recordings were first presented to the newlywed couple, and then later copied and sold at local kiosks. Now, as you may recall Souleyman has released four compilation albums and three full-length albums of original material: 2006’s Highway to Hassake, 2009’s Dabke 2020, 2010’s Jazeera Nights, 2011’s Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts and 2011’s Leh Jani, 2013’s Wenu Wenu, 2015’s Bahdeni Nami and 2017’s To Syria, with Love — and all of those albums have not only brought the sounds and grooves of the Middle East to the West, his recorded output has helped to expand the Tell Tamer-born, Istanbul-based vocalist’s profile internationally.
Adding to a rapidly rising international profile, Souleyman has played sets at some of the world’s biggest festivals, including Paredes de Coura, a Caribou co-curated ATP Festival, ATP Nightmare Before Christmas, Bonnaroo, Roskilde Festival, Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival, Pukkelpop Festival, Electric Picnic, Treefort Music Festival — and oddly enough, one of the strangest House of Vans bills I’ve ever seen, in which he opened for Future Islands. And before I forget, he’s also collaborated with Bjork, contributing vocals for three remixes, which appear on an Biophilia.
Deriving its title for the Arabic word “how” or more literally “which color,” Shlon, which is slated for a November 22, 2019 release through Mad Decent/Because Music is the first batch of new material from Souleyman in a couple of years. The forthcoming album featres double keyboard work from Hasan Alo, a fellow native of the Hasaka region of Northeastern Syria, who has recently been active in Dubai’s vibrant nightlife scene, a well as saz work from Azad Salih, a fellow Syrian, who currently resides in Mardin, Turkey. The album also finds the Tell Tamer-born, Istanbul-based vocalist continuing his longtime collaboration with Syrian-born, Turkish-based lyricst Moussa Al Mardood, who the wrote most of the album’s lyrics spontaneously during the recording sessions.
Unsurprisingly, his fourth album is vintage Omar Souleyman — 6 songs which mesh the dabke and baladi music of music beloved by the Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians, the Kurdish and Iraqis with thumping, synth-led techno — but at its core, the material is comprised of swooning tales of devotion, adoration and love. Now, as you may recall Shlon’s first single was the propulsive, club banging “Layle,” which was centered around Alo’s dexterous and dense layers of synth arpeggios, tweeter and woofer rocking polyrhythmic beats and Souleyman’s imitable vocals. But at its core, the song is a slick synthesis of classically-inspired poetry and modern production. The album’s second and latest single “Shi Tirdin,” which translates into English as “What Do You Wish For?” is a high energy, club banger featuring mesmerizing layers of synth arpeggios and thumping beats and fluttering synths. And while continuing the album’s overall vibe of meshing techno and dabke music, the track is a swooning declaration of devotion, in which the song’s narrator readily offers his love anything she wishes for.