Published Jul 22, 2015There is a certain cool-as-fuck mystique around Syrian singer Omar Souleyman. From an auspicious start as a frequently requested wedding singer, to larger Western prominence (and festival mainstay) as dabke disseminator, the eclectic 49-year-old father of nine who plies his trade in traditional party music (dabke) and who is never seen without his dark shades and traditional keffiyeh with jellabiya, is set to launch his new album to much anticipation.
Souleyman tells Exclaim! that forthcoming album Bahdeni Nami, out July 24 on Monkeytown, continues his collaboration with producer Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet), and that his trademark synth-heavy dance sound features a bit of a more traditional flavour this time around. Recording for the album started in Istanbul last August, Souleyman says, where he worked on compositions with poet Ahmad Alsamer, keyboardist Rizan Said and saz player Khaled Youssef.
"I am very pleased with how the album ended up," Souleyman says. "It's so much talent and love of my music from other musicians [that] it is very humbling. I am pleased with the sound, with the poetry, with everything. I am very proud to be able to share it with everyone."
Bahdeni Nami — the title and the song — best represents the overall sound for this project — frenetic, controlled and a bit more introspective this time around. It literally means "after sleep" and is about lovers and longing, says Souleyman, adding that all seven songs on the record are love songs, save for "Mawal Menzal."
The album features a wide array of collaborators, including Gilles Peterson, Modeselektor, Legowelt and Cole Alexander of the Black Lips. It also sees him working with Four Tet again — they last collaborated on breakout album Wenu Wenu in 2013 — and working together was simply due to the strong chemistry and collaboration they shared.
"There are many more people producing and working on the record besides Keiran, but he has been so important for my music since the last album and he understands it so well. Why would I not work with him again? He is the best!"
While Souleyman declined to delve into the political issues and strife that presently exist in his native Syria — citing that it's not really his field of expertise — he noted that any misconception North American people have about his music and country could be chalked up to a lack of awareness.
"I don't know what their opinions are," he says. "I am not sure if they have misconceptions. But sometimes it seems to me they are scared. But this could be only because they do not really know a lot about us."
That said, he has a love for Canada and plans to return soon on tour. "I have been to Canada now five times. I love Canada and the people there. I have a lot of friends in Montreal especially and my audience there is very special."
With the album set to launch, the coolest dabke singer on the planet isn't resting on his laurels; he is recording new material for future projects. "There are a lot of interesting collaborations coming up, and you should look out for them."