Omar Souleyman Highway To Hassake: Folk And Pop Sounds Of Syria

Omar Souleyman is based in North-eastern Syria, where he creates some of the most strident and spellbinding dance music on this planet. Sublime Frequencies, which seems to be shifting its focus from radio collages to single artist compilations and field recordings, presents a mix of tunes culled from some 500 of his cassette-only releases since 1994. Souleyman’s music has rarely been heard outside the Syrian diaspora. It has never been packaged for export and presumably, has been overlooked by more conventional world music labels. His songs reveal that a wild techno party is happening in rural Syria. He cuts a striking figure in the album’s graphics — bedecked in a keffiyeh, he sports a police-issue moustache and Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses at all times, with a pokerfaced but intense expression. The first track, "Leh Jani,” drops all kinds of bombs over a fast, rudimentary soca-like snare pattern. One after another pitch bent keyboard and stringed instrument solos un-spool, all phase shifted to the very edge of cassette fidelity. Souleyman lets loose with controlled fury and a wash of delay kicked up with feedback. In an urgent chant he speaks of his beloved engaged to another man over 130 BPMs of anguish. This intensity is maintained for three more songs until "Atabat” slows things down to more mournful, almost narcotic style. "Jalsat Atabat” features an outstanding kemenche (Iranian violin) solo over basic percussion and a synth drone. Keyboardist Rizan Sa’id is brilliant throughout and the more techno-fied tracks are bound to make a strong impression on a North American dance floor somewhere. (Sublime Frequencies)