Tag Archives: Omar Souleyman

Sound ‘Round: Omar Souleyman / Mariem Hassan

To hell with your travel ban, Mr. Trump

Omar Souleyman – To Syria, With Love (Mad Decent)

Earth’s most famous Syrian expat never wanted such a title. He began his career in 1994 wanting only to be the best wedding singer in the Middle East. Hundreds of bootleg recordings and one humanitarian crisis later finds him the reluctant figurehead of a movement he avoided. How did we get here? Because a) he was known to the West four years before Damascus crumbled and is therefore a visible figure and b) the music is a tremendous exhibit of dabke, a genre of Syrian dance-pop. In six years of civil war with millions dead, his music existed in a bubble. Zigzagging synths and relentless polyrhythms spared no silence for the dead and his lyricism eschewed bloodshed for love as rapture and dismay — again, he’s wedding singer. Five of these seven songs are in his hopelessly romantic wheelhouse. While there’s something to be said for escapism, Souleyman addresses the 500 pound international disaster in the room on the final two tracks. Translated lyrics: “I’m tired of looking for home and asking about my loved ones / My soul is wounded.” The songs are topical, not political, more heart than head, and all grief. “Look upon us, O Lord / Our sadness is larger than mountains.” Here’s hoping Souleyman and other refugees someday return to a peaceful home. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Khayen” / “Aneta Lhabbeytak” / “Chobi”

Mariem Hassan – La Voz Indomita (Nubenegra)

Before Mariem Hassan and her uncontainable contralto were silenced by bone cancer in 2015 at the age of 58, she was a singular talent who performed the world over on behalf of her people, other nationless refugees and oppressed women everywhere. Here is a woman so strong-willed and determined that she divorced her first husband when he forbade her from pursing a music career. The bulk of Hassan’s discography was recorded in Barcelona where she worked as a nurse and performed with Sahwari refugees such as herself. This album doubles as a soundtrack to a Spanish-language documentary and was recorded in the last five years of her life. Though plagued by health issues, Hassan’s vocals are a beautiful, unwavering wonder to behold. Whether breathlessly soaring above arid and ornate instrumentation, or slithering and hissing her voice through a trio of desert jazz improvs, her voice is as resolute as her spirit. No song here is more resolute than the finale, an acapella coda recorded in a refugee tent near Algeria five months before she passed. It runs just 115 seconds but says more about death, existence and love than most other death albums articulate in 115 minutes — and it’s not even in English. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Latlal” / “Illah Engulak Di Elkalma” / “Hajii Madiya”