When I heard Omar Souleyman
was playing in Los Angeles, I knew I had to go. Not only do I love his music but also how many times do you have a chance to see anyone from Syria perform in the U.S.? All those who cry about what a disappointment the Obama administration is can thank their liberal visa policies towards international artists. Do you know how many artists’ visas were denied during the Bush administration, especially if they’re from a country deemed a threat to the U.S.?
Truth be told, there are many places you can hear music like Omar Souleyman across the Los Angeles area. In various Arabic restaurants in Glendale
and the West Hollywood you can find someone like Souleyman’s collaborator Rizan Sa'id on a couple of keyboards playing behind a group of belly dancers or at a wedding reception. However, comparing Souleyman to those restaurant musicians is the equivalent of comparing Junior Kimbrough
to some hack wearing a fedora playing slick Chicago-style blues. Sure, they both play blues music, but with Kimbrough, you felt the blues.
I had a feeling what an Omar Souleyman audience would look like: The hipster boys who travel to places like Indonesia and buy cassettes of local artists with their ambiguously ethic girlfriends? Check! Arabic people, mostly Syrian nationals, checking out a guy from their home country? Check! The “way too cool” musicians and deejays, who never say anything to you even though you see them everywhere you go? Check! Aging hipsters, still on the brink of discovering something new? Check! Ok, we can proceed.