Omar Souleyman’s new album To Syria with Love proves there is still music in a Middle Eastern country decimated by civil war.
The music industry is different in the Middle East where Souleyman started out in 1996 as a wedding singer. He has produced hundreds of live albums but To Syria with Love is his third studio album. To appeal to a western audience it focuses more heavily on keyboard and electronic elements than his previous LP’s. It is out now on Monkeytown Records and Mad Decent, a division of Warner Music Group.
Ya Bnayya (Official Music Video)
As you can tell from the music video the person playing the keyboard is wailing on that synthesizer. It takes place at a Syrian wedding, drawing upon the producer’s roots playing nuptial ceremonies. The lyrics are all in Arabic and so are the subtitles, but it is interesting to learn more about the local scene.
Before it was destroyed by bomb explosions, Damascus (the capital of Syria) was a center of Arabian classical music. And the city of Aleppo is known for “Muwashshah” or a form of Andalousian sung poetry. Other Syrian musicians include George Wassoof, Nour Mahanna, Sabri Moudallal and Sabah Fakhri.
Effects of Travel Ban
According to an artist interview in High Snobiety Donald Trump’s unconstitutional travel ban has affected Souleyman’s tour scheduling. Last September 2017 after the new regulations went into effect the musician was unable to get a visa to perform in the US. He is still able to tour in Europe though.
Souleyman told High Snobiety, “I went to the US on tour in May 2017 and that worked out well despite the travel restrictions that were announced. But then in September of this year – I couldn’t go on my scheduled tour – I did not get a visa. So that of course is a great shame, that it seems like I cannot return to the US any more.” He continued, “I have been there at least 17 or 18 times in my career since 2010. It’s a shame that all the work that goes into planning such tours is wasted, the audience is disappointed, and all of this is and was very upsetting.”
How Omar Knows Bijork
In 2011 Souleyman remixed three tracks on Bijork’s remix EP for the single “Crystalline” off her eighth studio album Biophilia. The resulting remixes of “Crystalline,” “Tesla” and “Mawal” have a Middle Eastern perspective that sounds exotic and mysterious to foreign ears.