Your Middle East
Last updated: 22 November, 2015

From Syrian wedding singer to international cult star (VIDEO)

Not long ago, Omar Souleyman was predominantly occupied with wedding gigs. Now, things have changed. A lot. The Syrian artist is – many say, unexpectedly – building a serious following among audiences in the West.

After a US-based record label discovered Souleyman in 2007, he started growing a following outside his native Syria, a country now devastated by civil war. The artist eventually fled to neighbouring Turkey. But singing at weddings there wasn’t as easy as back home. Luckily he was able to build a fan base in Europe, where he has been touring with a hugely popular live show, and also performing at prestigious events like Glastonbury and the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

“They can feel the music and the rhythm of the songs,” he says about his Western audience in an interview with Guardian, “and that fills me with pride. I’m so happy to be able to do this; few Arabic or Syrian singers have the opportunity to play festivals, or even perform outside the region.”

Monkeytown Records, his label, has crowned him “perhaps Syria’s most successful musical export”. On Monkeytown’s website, we learn that “the new album was recorded closer to home, in Istanbul, and appropriately the singer is joined by traditional accompaniment. Souleyman has reunited with his favorite poet, Ahmad Alsamer (who penned his pre-west hits ‘Kaset Hanzel’, ‘Khattaba’, and ‘Shift –al Mani’), heard throughout the album offering claps and wails of encouragement. The songs come alive with musical contributions and support from the virtuosic saz work of Khaled Youssef, another long time collaborator from his hometown. Keyboards by Rizan Said improvise devotedly to every tune and turn of Souleyman’s choice. The lyrics are familiar territory for the singer – declarations of eternal love, consolation of one’s aching heart, please to his lover to sleep in his arms forever – realized as four fast dance numbers, an introduction mawal, and an elaborate araby style ballad.”

“Despite the world’s insistence to associate him with his home country’s unending war, Omar gives back nothing but Love.”

Click here for more info on his new album, via Monkeytown Records.