OMAR SOULEYMAN-BAHDERI NAMI.

OMAR SOULEYMAN-BAHDERI NAMI.

It’s safe to say that Omar Souleyman is Syria’s most successful musical export. He has released over 550 albums. Granted some of these albums feature Omar Souleyman singing at weddings. They’re sold in kiosks in Omar’s native Syria. That’s where his nickname the Wedding Singer comes from. Despite Omar’s prolificacy, and nearly twenty years in the music industry, he only released his debut album Wenu, Wenu in October 2013.

By then, Omar Souleyman was enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim in America and Europe. Omar was the first Syrian artist to make a breakthrough in the West. He was already playing at some of the biggest festivals in Europe and America. This included Glastonbury in 2011, where Omar took the festival by storm. His barnstorming set at Glastonbury resulted in artists queuing up to collaborate with Omar. His star was definitely in the ascendancy.

So it was no surprise that in October 2013, Omar Souleyman released his debut studio album Wenu, Wenu. It was released to widespread critical acclaim. Critics and cultural commentators were won over by Omar Souleyman’s unique and irresistible sound. His songs were played on radio and remixed for the dance-floor. Suddenly, Omar Souleyman was well onto his way to becoming a musical phenomenon. 

Just over two years later, and Omar Souleyman recently released Bahderi Nami, his second studio album. Bahderi Nami, which was released on Monkeytown Records, 27th July 2015. This is fitting, as it was forty years ago in 1975, that Omar Souleyman made his first professional appearance. Since then, Omar Souleyman’s life has revolved around music.

Omar Souleyman was born in 1968 and when he was just seven years old, he sang at his first wedding. That day, The Wedding Singer was born. 

Soon, he was performing almost daily with his band, which included Rizan Sa’id. Then as technology improved, Omar incorporated a Korg synth into his band. This was able to replicate the traditional Dabke band. Omar continued to play at weddings right up until 2000. He was the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a Dabke band.

With their mesmeric, joyous, stomping beat, dabke music is infectious and truly irresistible. Listen to a tape of his band live, and you’ll realise why he’s a hero to fellow Syrians. Despite this, he continued to work as a labourer. However, cassettes of his band were sold at kiosks throughout northeaster Syria. Then as the new millennia unfolded, Omar’s popularity grew.

Gradually, Omar Souleyman’s found the wider audience it so richly deserved. From being just a Syrian phenomenon. Seattle-based Sublime Frequencies, a label that releases an eclectic selection of folk, pop and urban music. Sublime Frequencies released Highway To Hassake (Folk and Pop Sounds Of Syria in 2007. This was the first in the Folk and Pop Sounds Of Syria series. Dabke 2020 followed in 2009, with Jazeera Nights released in 2010. By then, Omar Souleyman’s profile was in the ascendancy. He was playing at high profile events in America. This was down to Omar hooking up with Sublime Frequencies. Soon, the name Omar Souleyman was known much further afield.

Now Omar Souleyman was the first Syrian singer to enjoy commercial success and critical acclaim in America. Quickly, his reputation spread to Europe. He released Leh Jani in 2011, for the Sham Palace label. His popularity was soaring. The usual hipsters and bandwagon jumpers were suddenly “fans” of his music. Omar was appearing at some of the biggest festivals in Europe and America, including Glastonbury in 2011. Well known artists wanted to work with him. So did Bjork and Gorillaz. DJs were remixing his music, making it dance-floor friendly. The only thing Omar still had to do, was release a studio album. This he did in 2013.

Wenu Wenu featured just seven songs which were written by Omar Souleyman. He and Rizan Sa’id play on Wenu Wenu, which was recorded at Studio G, New York. Producing Wenu Wenu was Kieran Hedben. Once Wenu Wenu was finished, it was released on Ribbon Music. So after a lifetime of releasing live albums Omar Souleyman somewhat belatedly, released his debut studio Wenu Wenu. 

It was well worth the wait. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of Wenu Wenu on its release in October 2013. Omar Souleyman’s unique and irresistible music quickly won over everyone from critics, cultural commentators, DJs and record buyers. In Britain, Europe and America Omar Souleyman was no longer one of music’s best kept secrets. Instead, his star was in the ascendancy. He’s also one of the best live acts. 

Ask anyone who has been fortunate to see Omar Souleyman live. From the moment he and his band play the first couple of bars, it’s a wild, but joyous dance party. Night after night, week after week, month after month, Omar Souleyman continues to take this musical dance party on the road. It makes its way to the four corners of the globe. From the Glastonbury Festival and SXSW to rock clubs and even the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, Omar Souleyman’s guaranteed to get the party started. No wonder. He’s been doing this since for forty years.

In the early days, things were very different. Back then, Omar sung at weddings. Soon, he was being booked for birthdays, Christenings and later, corporate parties. For around twenty-six years, Omar Souleyman honed his sound, before leaving his homeland. Now aged forty-seven, and Omar Souleyman is a much loved and respected musician. His name is known the world over. That’s why some well known producers and remixers wanted to work with Omar Souleyman on his sophomore studio album  Bahderi Nami.

Whereas Wenu, Wenu was recorded in New York, Bahderi Nami was recorded in Istanbul. This made sense, as it’s closer to Omar’s native Syria. The other advantage of recording in Istanbul, was some old friends could join Omar. This included Omar’s favourite poet Ahmad Alsamer. They go back a long time, to way before Omar started touring the West. Ahmad Alsamer wrote a number of hit  singles for Omar, including 

Kaset Hanzel, Khattaba, and Shift al Mani. On Bahderi Nami adds claps and wails of encouragement. Joining Omar and Ahmad on Bahderi Nami, are Khaled Youssef on bağlama. He’s from Omar’s hometown, and the pair are longtime collaborators. Keyboardist Rizan Said has been a part of Omar’s band for more years than they care to remember. Rizan’s ability to improvise brings a new dimension to the songs on Bahderi Nami.

On Bahderi Nami, Omar revisits familiar subject matters. This includes eternal love, consoling the broken hearted and pleas to spend a lover to spend the rest of their lives together. These lyrics form the basis for an introductory mawal, four dance tracks and an Arabian ballad. These six tracks in Istanbul.

With the six tracks that became Bahdeni Nami recorded in Istanbul, the opening track Mawal Menzal and Darb El Hawa were left untouched. The other four tracks were handed over to three producers. 

Kieran Hebden who produced Wenu Wenu in 2013, produced just the one track this time round. It was the title-track Bahdeni Nami. He produced it using his Four Tet alias. Berlin based electronic duo Modeselektor produced two tracks, Leil El Bareh and Enssa El Aatab. DJ Gilles Peterson ‘produces’ Tawwalt El Gheba. The title track Bahdeni Nami, was given a  a four to the floor makeover by Dutch producer Legowelt. Once the productions and remix was complete, Bahdeni Nami was ready for release in late July 2015. How would Bahdeni Nami compare with Wenu, Wenu?

Mawal Menzal opens Bahdeni Nami. Straight away, strings sweep and swirl, adding an element of drama and theatre. By then, a crystalline guitar and bağlama combine to create an almost hypnotic backdrop. Especially, when combined with the strings. Omar’s vocal is heartfelt and heartachingly beautiful on this mawal. If the rest of Bahdeni Nami is as good as then it’s going to be a joy to behold. 

Compared to the opening track, Bahdeni Nami is way louder. It literally bursts into life, grabbing your attention in the process. The drums sound as if they’r clipping. Thankfully, they’re soon reigned in. By then, Four Tet has the listener’s attention. They’re enthralled by this myriad of mesmeric musical delights. Omar and his band combine a myriad of traditional Arabian and Western instruments. This includes the bağlama. Meanwhile, there’s a sense of urgency in Omar’s vocal. Behind him, poet Ahmad Alsamer adds wails and handclaps. So is percussion and keyboards. They come courtesy of Omar’s longtime collaborator Rizan Sa’id. Just like Ahmad Alsamer, Rizan Sa’id aids and abets Omar on this mesmeric and irresistible dance track.

Tawwalt El Gheba was ‘produced’ by DJ Gilles Peterson. He gives the track a dance-floor makeover. The basis for this makeover are four to the floor beats. They literally pogo along. Above the arrangement, Omar and his band give another masterful performance. Omar’s vocal oozes emotion. Along with his band, he transports the listener to the blistering heat of Syria. One can imagine Omar and his band performing in a tent, at a wedding or festival. There the thunderous drums that have been added to the mix wouldn’t be present. Instead, it would just be Omar and his  band, sans those thunderous drums.

Berlin based electronic production duo were given the task of producing Leil El Bareh. The drums they deploy are more in keeping with the track. They’ve a subtlety as the track draws the listener in. Soon, a breathtaking journey, destination dance-floor unfolds. Pounding, hypnotic beats accompany percussion, drums, keyboards and a myriad of traditional instruments. They provide the backdrop for Omar’s urgent, heartfelt vocal. When it drops out, the journey continues apace. Then it’s as of the bağlama is signalling the return of Omar. He combines emotion, energy and enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Modeselektor continue on their journey with Omar Souleyman, one whose ultimate destination is dance-floors worldwide.  

Darb El Hawa was left untouched. What the listener hears, is the track as it was meant to be heard. It was produced by Omar. There’s no 4/4 drums. Instead, it’s more like the album opener, Mawal Menzal. Personally, I prefer this. This is the music Omar Souleyman would play live. His impassioned, pleading vocal is accompanied by swathes of strings, subtle drums, percussion and a bağlama. Poet Ahmad Alsamer adds handclaps and encouragement, while Rizan Sa’id plays keyboards. When all this is combined, the music is variously haunting, hypnotic and beautiful. It’s also a reminder of Omar Souleyman’s traditional sound, the sound that made him famous worldwide. 

Enssa El Aatab is the other track produced by Modeselektor. This time, their drums are like those on Bahdeni Nami. They sound as if they’re almost clipping. They’re gradually reigned in. Behind the drums, the bağlama and percussion combine. They’re joined by an unmistakable wailing sound. It transports the listener to the hot, dusty Saharan desert. Omar’s vocal is veers between joyous, emotive and heartfelt. His friend Ahmad Alsamer adds handclaps and encouragement. Meanwhile, pounding drums and keyboards drive the arrangement along. They match Omar every step of the way, as Modeselektor set about transforming Omar Souleyman to the King of the dance-floor.

Closing Bahderi Nami is the Legowelt Remix of Bahderi Nami. Straight away, it seems very little of the original track has been used. Pounding drums and a pulsating bass synth combine. It spews out beeps and squeaks. They’re reminiscent of early Acid House records, and the space invader games that influenced them. Filters and stabs of synths are deployed. Atop them sits Omar’s vocal. Sometimes, effects are added. Other times, the vocal is chopped up. Meanwhile, other parts of the arrangement are used. This includes the cries of encouragement from Ahmad Alsamer. However, mostly, the track has been remade. Despite this, it’s impossible to fault the quality of Legowelt remix, as he gives Bahderi Nami a pulsating, Acid House tinged, makeover. It’s guaranteed to fill a dance-floor. There lies a lesson.

Legowelt was asked to remix Bahderi Nami, and give the track a dance-floor friendly sound. That’s what he did, and did successfully. However, what were Four Tet, Gilles Peterson and Modeselektor’s instructions? 

Were they given free reign to do what they wanted; or were they meant to produce a track that stayed true to the original track? I would suggest that the three producers were given free reign to take the tracks in the direction they wanted. Granted, they were somewhat constrained by the tempo and the instruments used. However, each of the producers took the track in the same direction. The direction the tracks took was to the dance-floor. Much of that is down to the drums. They give the tracks a dance-floor friendly sound. As a result, the four tracks sound more like a remix than an original production. 

While that may broaden Omar Souleyman’s appeal, and transform him into the King of the dance-floor, it’s very different to the other tracks on Bahderi Nami, and indeed Wenu, Wenu.

Both Mawal Menzal and Darb El Hawa feature a much more traditional sound. That’s no bad thing. The two tracks are much more representative of Omar Souleyman’s music. They’re also much more like Wenu, Wenu, a gloriously eclectic, genre-melting album. However, strip away the pounding drums, and all those elements are still present on Bahderi Nami.

Over Bahderi Nami’s seven tracks Omar fuses everything from Arabic, dance, electronica, folk, funk and soul. The three producers and remixer add elements of Acid House, tech house, and techno. Somehow, this musical melting pot of disparate and eclectic sounds produces a tasty and tantalising dish, one that should be tasted be music lovers everywhere. Especially, if they’ve never been introduced to the delights of Omar Souleyman.

It’s impossible not to be captivated by Omar Souleyman’s voice. As he sings in Arabic, his rasping vocal veers beteen worldweary, lovelorn, heartfelt and heartbroken. This man of few words, Omar takes the music of Syria’s past and reinvents it. The result is Bahderi Nami, a delicious fusion of Arabian and Western music from Omar Souleyman. This marriage of Arabian and Western music is the result of a collaboration between musicians, DJs and remixers from two continents. They joined together to Omar Souleyman’s second studio album, Bahderi Nami. 

It’s the latest addition to Omar Souleyman’s discography. It includes over 550 live albums. However, Omar Souleyman has only released two studio albums, Wenu, Wenu, and Bahderi Nami. These two albums are the perfect introduction to the one time Wedding Singer, Omar Souleyman, who somewhat belatedly, is well on his way to becoming a musical phenomenon, forty years after he made his professional debut.

OMAR SOULEYMAN-BAHDERI NAMI.

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