Middle Eastern Artist shows different side of Electronic Dance Music

Syrian musician Omar Souleyman released his newest album Wenu Wenu on Tuesday, ending the anticipation surrounding the release by the increasingly popular musician providing music festival dance floor staples.

Soul man · Syrian musician Omar Souleyman gained notoriety as a wedding singer before becoming a rapper. Souleyman’s career as a rapper got a big boost when he signed with U.S.-based record label Sublime Frequencies. - Photo courtesy of Sublime Frequencies

Soul man · Syrian musician Omar Souleyman gained notoriety as a wedding singer before becoming a rapper. Souleyman’s career as a rapper got a big boost when he signed with U.S.-based record label Sublime Frequencies. – Photo courtesy of Sublime Frequencies

One of the most exciting aspects of Souleyman’s album is the enlisted help of electronic musician Kieran Hebden, better known to the music community as Four Tet. Souleyman’s decision to work with one of the most popular electronic musicians today speaks to his growing profile in the indie music community.

“Wenu Wenu,” the first track on the album that was released as a single earlier this year, is destined to become a dance staple at house parties and DJ sets. Driving percussive beats, a sultry melodic line and catchy lyrics, even if they aren’t in English, are sure to make this single a crossover for the less adventurous world music listeners.

For the rest of Souleyman’s fanbase, the remainder of the album gives plenty of challenging material to work with.

Souleyman maintains the traditional sounds of dabke dance music, but infuses his music with electronic elements, adding a fresh new sound to his music. Hazy melodies and insistent, pulsating rhythms provide a psychedelic experience, verging at moments on the surreal.

Given that Souleyman sings in Arabic and Kurdish, the lack of English in the album challenges listeners to maintain their attention throughout the entire record. The undeniably addicting music, however, provides listeners with plenty of appeal to make the entire record an enjoyable sonic experience.

The last two tracks of the album, “Mawal Jamar” and “Yagbuni,” prove to be the most accessible for listeners new to the rhythms and tones of Middle Eastern music. Both of the tracks feature more melodic variations and mellow instrumentation, which is sure to draw in listeners interested in becoming more exposed to world music.

Souleyman’s trajectory as a musician is promising for other non-Western musicians looking to break into the American music scene. Souleyman, who began as a wedding singer, managed to reach U.S. audiences through his work with the American label Sublime Frequencies.

Though it was a stateside label that gave Souleyman the push to break into the U.S., it is his experimental strain that has allowed him to flourish among American listeners. Souleyman is indicative of the musical rewards that come with combing sounds of other cultures for fresh new music.

Souleyman’s success is an encouraging sign that young adult audiences are reaching out for sounds from all across the globe, a trend that is sure to produce an increasingly fascinating strain of musical fusion with different genres. Souleyman might be mixing old and the new, the traditional and the electronic, but there is no telling how his music will end up being interpreted by his contemporaries and future generations of musicians.

For listeners who share a cultural background similar to Souleyman’s, the first question that comes to mind is why Souleyman’s work is any different from the myriad Middle Eastern musicians from past decades or contemporary times.

The answer to that lies in Souleyman’s variability among his tracks and his astonishing work incorporating electronic music into his pieces in a way that is fresh and challenging and not mindlessly repetitive.

For listeners that grew up listening to music similar to Souleyman’s at birthdays and weddings, Wenu Wenu still provides a rich musical experience because of its experimental nature.

Listeners should not take Souleyman’s album to be indicative of the typical performance of Middle Eastern music. Souleyman’s sounds are meant to be heard in a group dance setting, and though the tracks are infectious, they do not speak to the improvisational energy that characterizes his live performances.

There is a reason why Souleyman’s live performances in the United States become massive dance parties, not passive listening experiences.

Though Souleyman has released an excellent record, his music verges on being relegated as a token world music performer at American music festivals. What listeners should take away from this album is the desire to move beyond a single record and explore the massive musical tradition that backs Souleyman and his work.

Souleyman’s influences are just a small section of the larger scope of Middle Eastern music. Listeners should take Wenu Wenu as a jumping off point for a rewarding exploration of the myriad beautiful and challenging music that comes out of non-Western musical traditions.

For fans and detractors of Souleyman’s work, Wenu Wenu serves as a gateway to a vast array of music that can become quite different from Souleyman’s style — music that offers the possibility of an exciting realm of fusion sounds.

Souleyman has staying power among American listeners. What he offers beyond his music is a chance for listeners to expand their understanding of what Middle Eastern music is, and how other musical traditions can offer a listening experience that is just as engaging as a Radiohead or Kendrick Lamar album.


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