Synths, Not Sarin
Mother always said it’s important to try new things. Interested in something new and strange that you’ve never heard before? Something that will provoke glances of intrigue and confusion from anyone within earshot? Say hello to Omar Souleyman. This Syrian musician is said to have 500 albums and live recordings to his name, the majority of which are taped from wedding performances. He’s also made appearances at a number of international festivals and is making a name for himself far beyond the wedding reception scene. Wenu Wenu, his latest release, is pure studio fun.
Most Westerners imagine Syria as that war-torn nation under the rule of an iron fist, not a country with its own thriving pop culture. Wenu Wenu should dispel this notion quickly. Souleyman is pushing a bright and energetic pop sound that would be right at home in many dance-halls in the west.
Wenu Wenu has a kind of post-disco air about it that brings up strangely familiar images of Michael Jackson’s iconic Thriller in spite of its many differences. There’s a big focus on the wandering minor chord arpeggios that many have come to associate with surf rock and metal, but this happens to be the real root of that sound. Artists from the Pixies to the Flower Travellin’ Band borrowed pieces of this strange melody from the Middle East that artists like Souleyman still revel in.
Lay those badass grooves over the quickest and catchiest syncopated rhythms imaginable and you have the crux of Wenu Wenu’s sound. The tempo drops a little bit on “Mawal Jamar” towards the close of the album, but Souleyman routinely keeps the energy high in his music– must be why he’s so popular on the Syrian wedding party circuit. From, “Ya Mumma” to “Yagbuni,” this is music made for dancing.
Music like this is important because it illuminates a side of the world that many people never see. It’s also great listening because it’s so unique and endlessly catchy. The keyboard-work is practically heart-attack inducing and the rhythms beg your feet to move. You may not know how to dance to it, but you’ll certainly want to.