Interview with Omar Souleyman

Not to be confused with the recent vice president of Egypt, Omar Souleyman is a Syrian party machine, a wedding singer with over 500 releases (mostly on cassette and only available in Syria). His music is truly unique, a fusion of regional folkloric music and banging electronics over which Souleyman MC’s, his distinctive smokey drawl, occasionally punctuated by some hi energy wailing. It’s strange uplifting music, hand drums keep the tempo, as frantic Arabic synth, weaves in and out.

Despite being a pop icon in his native country over the last 15 years, it’s music that was unlikely to ever find it’s way to the west. That is if it wasn’t for one of the weirdest world music labels currently in existence Sublime Frequencies.

“It was a surprise to me. It was really strange that an American company would come looking for me and I would go to America and sing for the Western audience,” offers Souleyman via his translator. “They actually really loved my music and my songs over there and they were actually very very receiving. I would like to thank them and give them my regards.”

In fact Souleyman, who mostly performs at weddings in his homeland recently completed his second tour of the States.

“The audience was really pleased with my music and the type of folk music that I sing,” he offers. “The type of folk music that I sing is usually Jazeera. It consists of four sub types. One of them is Turkish, one of the is Kurdish, one of them is shwarmi and one of them is Jazouli.”

It’s this fusion of musical styles that makes his music so unique,

“I actually really try to variate my music. I do lots of varieties of folk music. I do the Turkish part, the Iraqi part, chewali part, the shwarmi, the choubi. I do a mixture or variation of all these parts of music that people will love and I don’t think anyone else would actually do a mixture of all these parts together.”

This mix is due to the fact that his town Ras Al Ain in the rural north east of Syria is actually closer to Turkey and Iraq than Damascus.

“I was originally from right on the border of Syria and Turkey. The Jezwali border. The Turkish style of music is very loved all over the world, the Iraqi also is very popular. The Jezwali part is just starting to get popular now. From this triangle where I come from I try to build on my music and try to develop the music of my origin.”

Whilst the music is incredibly striking, his lyrics tackle aged old themes.

“The lyrics are very sentimental. Very romantic. It’s very virtuous. It talks about love. I would love if the audience understood these lyrics. I know that the audience love my music and they love the tempo of my music. My music is very different to the western music and I think that’s why they are drawn to it. And I always actually variate the music that I sing, sometimes even in the same party I might have a verse of foreign language song that the audience can understand. But I truly do wish that the audience could understand the lyrics of my songs because its beautiful lyrics.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of Souleyman’s live show is the presence of a poet composing lyrics for Souleyman to sing.

“When the poet is with me and I’m on stage I’m usually singing for people that who are attending the event that I’m singing at,” he explains. “So if you were at the event then I would sing for your name and your fiances name. I would sing something that would suit you both, that would be something between you both and would be nice for you.”

Omar Souleyman Australian tour
6th of March Melbourne – Northcote Social Club
9th of March Brisbane – The Hi-Fi
11 of March Adelaide – WOMADelaide at Botanic Park
12th of March Sydney – Annandale Hotel

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