Omar Souleyman

Bahdeni Nami

Despite playing his brand of wild, effervescent party anthems across several continents, Omar Souleyman is a strange anomaly in the Arab world. He’s not necessarily representative of the Middle Eastern musical zeitgeist, nor does he have any peers in the region as such. But he has garnered respect – in spite of the dubious honour of being one of the NME’s Cool List alumni – to Western onlookers in the last few years.

Following on from his releases on Sublime Frequencies and Domino that acted as a window for Europe and North America to peer into Syrian wedding music, Bahdeni Nami – now on Monkeytown – has made Souleyman new friends and admirers in the form of producers such as Four Tet, returning after working with Omar on his previous Wenu Wenu LP on Domino, Gilles Peterson, Modeselektor and Legowelt, courtesy of a remix.

The album was recorded in Istanbul with the above producers, and Souleyman was also reunited with his favorite poet, Ahmad Alsamer, who penned his hits ‘Kaset Hanzel’, ‘Khattaba’, and ‘Shift –al Mani’. As ever, his backing band come courtesy of Rizan Said on keyboards and another long time collaborator from his hometown, Khaled Youssef. Lyrically, the songs themselves are for the most part poignant – falling in and out of love, and feelings of disconsolate heartache. All backed by four-to-the-floor party numbers. That would be familiar territory for Omar then. Though there are seven tracks on LP it might feel like a swift open and exit record, but it’s not that case at all.

You’d think that a tried and tested method of the same old thing would have a shelf life that its novelty would wear off. But when the buzzsaw, ear-piercing keyboards and thumps of the drum machine hit your eardrums, all rationale is rendered futile. In terms of production, Bahdeni Nami goes for clean, slick bursts of high tempo intensity wedding songs, sure-fire catalysts to get any party started.

But it’s not before a brief introduction of something to warm up proceedings. ‘Mawwal Menzal (Home Song)’ is a song that despite its two minute length, shows the virtuosic talents of each member of the group. It’s a slow dancer – if you can call it that. Rizan on keys plinks through them hopping between notes at such a speed. As for Omar, you can almost believe he’s going through the emotions in a literal sense throughout the album, as his voice is plaintive and melancholy, in spite of this being wedding music.

The Four Tet-produced, ‘Bahdeni Nami’ is where the party really begins. Lyrically, Souleyman sings of his loved one to sleep in his arms and stay with him. That frenetic club music so influenced by Choubi, Dabke and other Middle Eastern styles is omnipresent in this song and indeed the album. As mentioned above, two things on this record are especially prevalent: chirping high-end keys and low-end thumps that keep chugging along the LP, almost carrying on where 2012’s Wenu Wenu left off.

Omar Souleyman shows yet again that where his music is concerned, politics don’t matter. These are songs of love and peace, aimed to put down our differences and conflicts between factions. Though these songs are in a very Syrian dialect of Arabic, the language barrier isn’t a stumbling block, even amongst Arabs. Souleyman only ever wanted to spread harmony among his fellow men and he seems to do that pretty well, both on a musical and spiritual level.

<div class="fb-comments" data-href="” data-width="550">

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today