Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Surrender to the Damascene wedding: Omar Souleyman live in London

18 March 2016, 12:03 | Written by Chris Shipman

It reads like a film script: word reaches a Seattle record exec of a Syrian wedding singer - and veteran of some 500 live and studio recordings - whose stellar live show fusing Arabic folk and western dance music has to be seen to be believed. The wedding singer signs a deal. His debut record in the West is engineered by a legendary producer (Four Tet) and his live shows send audiences wild from Manchester to Melbourne.

All the while, a tragic civil war rages in his home country and his home town comes under the control of militants, causing thousands to flee. The wedding singer is now in touring exile, packing clubs around the world, but unable to return home. Such is the story of Omar Souleyman, who tonight (16 March) returns to London at Koko with his amped-up Middle-Eastern turbo-folk.

Of course there's an element of theatre (and indeed questionable borderline-Orientalism) to Souleyman. The singer paces the stage in trademark dark glasses and checked headscarf, soulfully wailing tales of lost love in Arabic while a foot-to-the-floor 4/4 beat pounds and synthesised oud sizzles through the speakers. At one point he leans off the edge of the stage and waves his microphone over the audience, like a priest blessing a congregation with trails of perfumed incense. It's hard to put your finger on where the real Omar Souleyman ends and the construct begins, but judging by the melee in the standing area, not much of tonight's audience mind. Two thousand surrender themselves to the sound of Damascene weddings readily.

Tracks from Souleyman's Western debut album Wenu Wenu go down the best with tonight's packed audience, chief among them the frenzied tub-thump wig-out of "Warni Warni", two minutes of tense instrumentation before Souleyman's echo-laced foghorn vocal sweeps off the stage and into the rafters. It's a heady experience, and it sends audience members crashing into a each other like waves in the Levant surf. While the singer gets the plaudits, his keyboardist deserves a nod too, queuing up backing tracks and battering his fingers on the keyboard at lightening speed on yet another sizzling folk sample, all the while looking slightly like a little boy lost at the pace and volume of it all, the only break for him the twin minutes of ambient calm that bookend the set.

Tonight, thousands of miles from home, Omar Souleyman is simply brilliant fun. If a biopic hasn't yet been optioned, don't bet against seeing it on screen sometime soon.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next