A Psychedelic Take on Middle Eastern Music, May 31 at the Biltmore

Ready for one of the most bizarre, undefinable and sublime shows of the year?

Middle Eastern rocker Omar Souleyman is coming to Vancouver’s Biltmore Cabaret on Thursday, May 31.  Hailing from northeastern Syria, Souleyman performs wearing a traditional Arab headdress, oversized sunglasses and huge mustache.   And he brings down the house.

Souleyman’s music mixes Arab rhythms and lyrics with club beats and synthesized sounds.  He sings Middle Eastern songs in Kurdish and Arabic and enjoys a cult following for his high-energy, carnival-style shows.

Bjork loves him.  He’s recorded with the Gorillaz.  And – best of all – he’s most famous in his homeland of Syria as a wedding singer.   The type of music Souleyman sings is a high-energy version of dabke – music traditionally performed during line dances at weddings in the Middle East.  It’s fast, infectious and guaranteed to get everyone up and moving.

Techno-style synths and beats are superimposed on traditional lyrics and melodic patterns.   Souleyman struts the stage, crooning poetry in a reverb-soaked voice and imploring the crowd to dance.  The result is an indefinable fusion of trance, disco, techno and world music.   Here he is performing at the Vancouver Jazz Fest in 2010.

Souleyman got his start recording his wedding performance in Syria on – get this – cassettes.  These cassettes then made the rounds in street music kiosks in major Syrian cities.  He usually wears a red-and-white checked keffiyeh, a long, ankle-length robe and sunglasses – even inside the dark confines of clubs and music halls.

Souleyman performs on May 31 in the intimate Biltmore Cabaret, the subterranean concert space below the Howard Johnson on Kingsway and 12th.  He’ll be joined by longtime collaborators Rizan Said (keyboards) and Ali Shaker Ali (bozouk).

Any Omar Souleyman fans out there?  Will you be at the show? 


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