Omar Souleyman most recent attribution, To Syria, With Love is a repetitive, chaotic soundscape, which does little in way of ear-hugging, but simply gives a aural insight into his techno music, whilst also depicting the multicultural aspects of his community. The Kurdish, the Ashuris, the Turkish, the Iraqi and the Arabic cultures all have their place, as does the techno. A musician from the village of Tell Tamer near the city of Ra’s al-‘Ayn in the northeastern region of Syria, Souleyman has been influenced by the culturally diverse milieu, and this is evident by one listen to this new release.
As expected from Mad Decent Records, we are exposed to a Syrian folk-techno album. However, the relentless beat flattens, and the listener soon loses interest in this mix and Souleyman’s prolific voice intrusively thrashes at your ears, making this is a tiring listen. Souleyman made dents in pop culture before Syria was filling social media newsfeeds, collaborating with the likes of Björk and Gorillaz in the studio and on stages with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and MGMT but since the start of its civil war in 2011, news of chemical warfare, the millions of refugees leaving the country, its rotting humanitarian crisis there are plenty other reasons for Syria to be on our radar, and I cannot foresee that Souleyman’s new record will emerge above all that.
Having started out as a wedding singer, it’s not easy to see the natural line of progression to where he’s now at, sharing label space with Major Lazer and Diplo. Souleyman works in dabke, which is mainly line-dancing music for weddings throughout the rural parts of the Levant and by foregrounding the electronic stomping beat that powers modern dabke, Souleyman has managed to tap into the Western dance culture, albeit tenuously. It’s still all very bizarre.
Now with this album title you would expect some degree of social commentary on current affairs in his country. However, as with most of Souleyman’s work, few of the song topics swing anywhere nearby affairs, focusing on the war within romance instead. Lyrics come from collaborator Shawah Al Ahmad which is evident when Souleyman sings “You’ve been holding my soul captive for a year/Send me your news, at least once a month,” as Al Ahmad’s had his own recent brush with Daesh. This is about as political as the album swerves, aside from the last two tracks. Distinct in it’s dose of dabke, this is an unfortunately disappointing record, failing to meet the anticipation for an album titled, To Syria With Love.
To Syria, With Love was released on November 3rd via Mad Decent/Because Music.