Magazine article The New Yorker

The Wedding Singer

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Wedding Singer

Article excerpt

The Wedding Singer

Omar Souleyman electrifies Syrian traditions for curious ears.

The celebrated Syrian vocalist Omar Souleyman performs at Brooklyn Bowl on Sept. 1.

"Wenu Wenu" starts with a splatter of synth hits that one might hear if a game-show contestant finally uttered the secret bonus word. A fuzzy keyboard mimics an oud melody, sprinting through notes with the abandon of a black-metal guitar solo, while drums and hand claps bang out a pulsing dancehall backbeat. "Where is she? Where is she? / The one whom I loved, where is she?" Omar Souleyman sings in Arabic, with an aching tone that sounds both longing and venerating.

Souleyman has performed at wedding ceremonies throughout Syria for more than two decades, but his take on the traditional dabke sound has made him a star beyond the region, and has been pegged by world-music explorers as the crown sound of the Middle East. In 2013, the British electronic musician Four Tet, who has collaborated with Souleyman, declared "Wenu Wenu" "the dance album of the year."

Influences from the Middle East and South Asia have appeared regularly across Western pop history, from sitar-spiked sixties psychedelia, courtesy of Ravi Shankar, to the Arabic samples pawed over by rap producers and dance d. …

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