Omar Souleyman is a Tell Tamer, Syria-born, Istanbul, Turkey-based Sunni Arab vocalist, who can trace the origins of his music career back to 1994, when he was a part-time wedding singer, whose sound has been largely influenced from the incredibly diverse milieu of Northeastern Syria — and a result, Souleyman and a rotating cast of musicians and producers, he has worked with since his early days, draws from and meshes the Kurdish, the Ashuris, the Turks, the Iraqis and Arabic sounds and themes in a way that’s both familiar and absolutely novel; in fact, Souleyman is largely considered the region’s pioneer of dance music/wedding music as his sound is primarily based around, keys and enormous beats.
Amazingly around 500 studio and live albums have been released under his name with about 80% of those releases being made at weddings, presented to the newlywed couple, and then copied and sold at local kiosks. Within the last few years, Souleyman has received international attention, performing at some of the world’s biggest stages and 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. Adding to a growing international profile, Souleyman has collaborated with Bjork, contributing vocals for three remixes, which appear on an Biophilia.
Along with that, Souleyman has released four compilations 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 and three full-length albums to the West, 2013’s incredible Wenu Wenu, 2015’s Bahdeni Nami and this year’s To Syria, with Love, all of which have brought the sounds and grooves of his region to the Western World. Interestingly, To Syria, with Love reportedly finds Souleyman and his collaborators adopting elements of Western techno and electronic production to his sound, as well as much more intricate keyboard work.
“Es-Samra,” To Syria, with Love’s latest single is a swooning love letter to his new hometown of Istanbul that features Souleyman’s coolly delivered vocals over a slick and swaggering production consisting of enormous, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, dense layers of arpeggiated keyboard chords, razor sharp and infectious hooks and handclaps to create one of most effortlessly straightforward club bangers I’ve heard in several months.
While furthering his reputation for paring his sounds with DIY-like visuals, the recently released video for “Es-Samra” captures and evokes daily life in and around his adopted hometown’s waterways but with a trippy, mind melting visual effect. And as New Yorker, there’s something warmly familiar in seeing fisherman near a pier, of commuters rushing back and forth by ferry, car, bus and truck; but more important, it shows Istanbul as one of the world’s most glorious sights.