Omar Souleyman


Syria's number one wedding singer is back with his most cohesive album to date, finds Nick Roseblade

We’ve all been to weddings. We’ve all experienced a wedding singer. Now, can you imagine that guy from your brother’s wedding working with Four Tet or Björk? Probably not, but this is what has happened to Omar Souleyman, Syria’s top wedding singer. On his fourth full-length album Shlon – not counting the hundreds of bootleg albums and comp appearances – Souleyman has delivered his most cohesive record to date. Everything feels perfectly weighted from the Hasaka house productions, unfurling saz solos and wonky keyboards loops, this is the album that Souleyman has been hinting at since he emerged on the international scene with 2013’s Wenu Wenu.

‘Abou Zilf’ is the star of the show. Opening with hypnotic Persian melodies it makes you feel like you have wandered into smoke filled after-hours café just off a main Souk. The atmosphere is as thick as the smoke that lingers by the ceiling. As the band whips your senses Souleyman delivers his most focused performance on the album. Everything about it is understated, but you know he’s in charge. Souleyman knows when to come in and when to let the band do their thing. It’s the sign of a true veteran.

At its heart Shlon is an incredibly fun album. The six techno-meets-dabke tracks are crafted in such a way that the hypnotic traditional melodies are underpinned by raging breakneck breakbeats. Instead of a cacophonous sound clash the styles mesh ideally. But it isn’t all blistering techno. On ‘Mawwal’ things are slowed down and take on a more traditional vibe. Here Souleymen’s baritone vocals lament on love in an unexpected way. At first it takes you aback, as we are used to Arabic Acid, but once the song builds to the glorious peak, you realise that Souleyman is more than the Godfather of Syrian dance music.

And this is what makes Shlon such an intriguing listen. Just when you think you have it worked out, Souleyman changes the script, and tempo, and you’re back to square one. This is why Souleyman was so in demand for his day job and why, even after hundreds of albums we’re still scratching our heads trying to work him out whilst demanding more.

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