Omar Souleyman At The Echo 7/12/11

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, July 18, 2011 07:45am | Post a Comment
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, Alhambra 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.

From the first beat people were ready to dance. The Syrians and the new and older hipsters, all lost it when Soulyman hit the floor. Dabke, the Syrian party music in which Souleyman and Sa'id are famous for, is a mixture of high-energy Arabic music that sounds like gritty house music mixed with echoed vocals. Souleyman, dressed in jalabiya with sunglasses, looked like he stepped right out of the desert night and onto the stage. I wondered if he looked at the sold out crowd and thought, “What the f*^k? Who are these people?” Even the various Middle Eastern people, who went to dance on stage and spoke to him in Arabic, were far more westernized than they would like to think, at least compared to Souleyman.

In the end the show was perfect. Syrians may go all night but the L.A. audience just started to lose steam right about the time they stopped. This show reminded me of Konono No 1 first show in Los Angeles a few years back. A show that was mixed bag of Africans, hipsters and the aging World Music enthusiasts, all dancing till the very end, but barely hanging on compared to the Congolese who can go all night.

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World Music (146), Omar Souleyman (7), Syria (3)