The king of Syrian techno music is returning to Montreal. Omar Souleyman is making a stop at La Sala Rossa on June 18 to share his electronic blend of traditional dabke dance music and synth-driven trance music with Montrealers once again, this time as part of the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival.
Souleyman began his career as a wedding musician in Syria, which allowed him to explore and update traditional dabke music. Weddings in Syria are said to be important for both the preservation of Syrian musical heritage as well as the experimentation with new sounds and innovations. After building a reputation as an invigorating performer in Syria and throughout the Middle East, Souleyman’s presence grew through bootleg recordings and Youtube videos. He has since developed a large following in the West and has been a frequent performer at festivals and various venues across the U.S. and Canada.
Although his career has spanned 20 years and his catalogue of recordings is in the mid-triple-digits, Souleyman only recently recorded his first studio album, 2013’s Wenu Wenu on Ribbon Music. The record was produced by Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) and encapsulates Souleyman’s musical DNA. It is a fiery, visceral blend of traditional Syrian musical elements and propulsive, four-on-the-floor dance beats. The album also captures the irresistible energy of Souleyman’s live performances.
Souleyman performs with his longtime musical partner, keyboardist and composer Rizan Sa’id, and together with just voice, drumbeats, and keyboards, they create full-bodied songs that would surely catch the attention of most bystanders. Souleyman performs in Arabic and Kurdish and the lyrics focus on themes of love, though certainly not in the Western traditional sense. His songs range in focus from a groom asking God to be with his bride instead of being accepted to heaven to a woman telling her mother she would rather marry her lover than her cousin, a frequent occurrence in Northeast Syria.
All of these elements help explain why Omar Souleyman has been captivating audiences around the globe for over 20 years. His presence on stage is stoic and almost imposing with his signature body-length jelllabiya, keffiyeh, and dark sunglasses, but he is always inviting. His music gives the listener an insatiable urge to move. This show is not to be missed.
Omar Souleyman performs Wednesday, June 18 at 8:30 p.m. at La Sala Rossa. Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased in advance via Suoni per il Popolo.