Socialist Worker

Euphoria as Omar Souleyman enthralls London

by Heathcote Ruthben
Issue No. 2203

Syrian music sensation Omar Souleyman—topping 500 studio albums—is THE aviator wearing, headscarf-bearing king of inept Syrian pop-folk.

Blending folk forms of Dabke and Sha’abi with panic attack keyboards and violently palpitating MIDI beats he conjures up—to my handicapped English ears—an image of a run-down corner shop selling only spicy mix, speed and funky, nauseating incense.

This sounds amazing. And Souleyman is a king.

But I can’t help but add my glee at the fact that, given the Islamophobia that has permeated our society, among the new icons Arabia introduced to us is a Mark E Smith style, proper rock star from the most sexed-up state in the East.

The tone for Souleyman’s gig at the Scala in Kings Cross was set by Drum Eyes. They walk the line between tasteless stoner post-rock and groundbreaking 8-bit saxophoned duelling drum genre attacks.

But it is Souleyman who is the highlight of the evening. Cool, quiet and controlled, he wanders the stage, beckoning the audience to go to him and his beautiful voice.

In interviews he says he started singing in his village when he was seven. His parents tried to stop him—but then he became famous, and now they are happy.

Souleyman is a 64kbps laptop speaker YouTube sensation. The audience did not seem ready to hear the full grandeur of this three piece’s basslines.

Decrepit lilting synths and El Chark solos under Souleyman’s cracking frantic yelps pumped out of such a loud and dynamic soundsystem.

If they were not before, judging by the shocked euphoria after, people are now ready for more.


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Tue 25 May 2010, 18:07 BST
Issue No. 2203
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