Back in 2013, Mark Gergis (the man responsible for introducing Syrian dabke singer Omar Souleyman to listeners beyond his village of 7,000) estimated that there were upwards of 550 releases from the man. While the compilations that Gergis put together for the Sublime Frequencies label introduced him to the west, Souleyman has continued to release material on an array of electronic labels ever since, most recently on Diplo’s Mad Decent. No matter the label, Souleyman’s style remains distinct, melding the celebratory and emotional folk music of his homeland with heavy electronic beats that transcend borders.
Shlon, his latest for the label, broadens his vision of dabke to include a variety of global influences, while keeping its traditional fundamentals intact. The snare rolls that punctuate the title track veer into trap territory, but Souleyman remains his gruff and stoic self at center stage. “Shi Tridin” and “Layle” boast both the keyboard stabs and heavy bass of an EDM festival crossover smash, coupled with a galloping traditional rhythm typical of hundreds of weddings he’s played in his home country. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Souleyman’s work—particularly with regards to Western listeners unfamiliar with Arabic—is how he conveys great emotional burden, even in the midst of such abundant joy. One needn’t comprehend Souleyman’s plaintive words on laments like “Mawwal” to translate their soul-stirring potential. Even several hundred releases in, his emotional magnetism is as strong as ever.