While it may be a bit cliché to state at this point, our world is constantly shrinking. Worldwide internet connectivity is allowing for the fervent, beautiful interbreeding of cultures. In elaborating on the Kardashev scale, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku has stated that for the human race to thrive, we need to share a common world culture. To this end, I’ve done my part for world peace by successfully introducing the infectious Syrian dabke of Omar Souleyman to a wide swathe of people: my girlfriend’s Northern Irish mom, some teachers visiting from various places in Mexico, and hipster grad students alike.
Jazeera Nights is the third collection of Souleyman’s music released in the past three years by the sound anthropologists at Sublime Frequencies. Culled from a glut of tape releases from 1995 to 2009, the selections here continue to exhibit the nuances of Souleyman’s sound. A mixture of Syrian dabke, Iraqi choubi, and Turkish/Kurdish rhythms, Souleyman’s musical melange is a example of the organic intermingling of musical styles. It’s a combination of frantic sequenced beats, snaking synthesizer, and agile electrified bouzoki, a traditional string instrument. But most importantly, there is Omar Souleyman’s voice, as capable of throwing Syrian wedding parties into a frenzy as it is of sweeping, fiery desert ballads.
There is a heavy poetic element to Souleyman’s music. He sings “ataba,” which is a kind of folk poetry used in dabke. Even though you may not speak his language, titles like “Stab My Heart” and “I Will Dig Your Grave With My Hands” give you a solid idea of the lyrical content. These are songs full of timeless laments of love, loss, and revenge. In fact, “I Will Dig Your Grave” is almost celebratory, an upbeat start to the album that exemplifies Souleyman’s mid-tempo songs (which are still fairly exhausting if you were to try to dance to them). “The Bedouin Tattoo” and “I Signal, You Deny” take it up a notch, turbo jams at a blazing tempo that clue you in on the jubilant affairs that are Syrian weddings. In a culture where virginity is still a really big deal, this sort of hyper-drive craziness is totally fitting for an occasion that marks the social acceptableness for a couple to finally do it.
It seems as if there was a conscious effort by Sublime Frequencies compiler Mark Gergis to make Jazeera Nights more of an unabashedly upbeat affair, perhaps as an attempt to hype up Souleyman’s big world tour. However, I’d like to hear more of Souleyman’s slower songs, which have been the highlights of past albums for me. Here, there is only one song that fits that description, album-closer “From The Day That I Told You.” From the song title and Souleyman’s powerful delivery, one can derive the weight and importance of just what was told on that day.
Although there is inevitably a bit of cultural disconnect between Omar Souleyman and his Western audience, our shared human experience overcomes those differences. We all understand love and heartbreak, yearning and loss. Beyond lyrical content, there is the shared language of dance, and the frenetic, celebratory songs of Jazeera Nights speak for themselves. It’s strange to think of Omar Souleyman as a global pop star, but that’s exactly what he has grown to become. Plucked from the virtually alien world of northeast Syria and now touring the world, the music of Omar Souleyman underscores the growing connectivity of humanity. Maybe we can all get along after all.