If you’re not dancing or clapping while listening to Omar Souleyman, you’re doing something wrong.
The story of Omar Souleyman’s rise into pop culture outside of the Middle East has been repeated enough times that it’s become a myth unto itself. Souleyman was already a force in his native Syria, preforming at thousands of weddings with his stellar band, with well over 500 recordings of his work floating around. He described his music as, "from the community I come from – the Kurdish, the Ashuris, the Arabic, they're all in this community. Even Turkish because it's so near….and even Iraqi." After nearly twenty years of being the world’s best wedding singer, Souleyman caught the attention of Four Tet, who went on to produce 2013’s Wenu Wenu which finally made the rest of the world perk its ears up. Souleyman has returned in fashionable style, proving himself a true work man, refusing to rest on the laurels of praise from Wenu Wenu. Bahdeni Nami is even better than its brother, one of the finest, if not the finest dance album of 2015 that any genre or nationality has produced.
“Delirious” is the best adjective for Bahdeni Nami. Outside of stately opener “Mawal Menzal”, no track dips below five and a half minutes, with a good portion reaching well over the eight minute mark. Souleyman’s strange magic causes each track to create a trance like state. Everything here is mesmerizing thanks to its pitch perfect repetition and thumping rhythm. But don’t think for a second that this is music for ambience. Even those with two left feet will find head-bobbing and foot-stomping impossible to stop. The slow grace of “Mawal Menzal” is only meant to ease you in, as soon as the Four Tet produced title track starts it ushers in the ecstatic vibe that soaks into every note. Outside of Souleyman briefly saying “thank you” at the end of the title track, there are no breaks on Bahdeni Nami, nor should there be. Souleyman means to evoke, and create, an all-night dance party that lasts into the wee hours of the morning and leaves every guest exhausted, but giddy.
After Four Tet’s romp, Souleyman launces into the most pop friendly track “Tawwalt El Gheba” with the opening synth-horn bursts being one of the few nods to a world outside of Souleyman’s feverish kingdom. Despite their length, these songs feel wonderfully efficient, not a moment is wasted, every violin swirl, vocal stop, or synth break down is absolutely needed. Souleyman is obviously allergic to fluff and filler, and the average American pop song, three minute run time and all, is infinitely more luxurious and overstuff than anything on Bahdeni Nami.
Souleyman doesn’t seem affected by the frantic pace swirling around him, he’s so clearly in control and steady in his pose that each time his voice chimes in, it reinforces his position as absolute ring leader. Four Tet and Modeselektor absolutely bring their 'A' game here, but it’s Souleyman and his band who are always in control. The nearly punishing “Leil El Bareh” is built off of a constant, thumping beat that serves as the bedrock for darting and fluttering solos from synths, guitars, and a flurry of other instruments who interject on top of each other, creating a frenzied mood, making Souleyman’s sudden powerful calls like a splash of fresh water. “Darb El Hawa” is one of the few slow tracks, burning fantastically over its nine minute run time, allowing Souleyman to languish in the churning, swaying beat. The insane run time is absolutely justified, causing the loopy logic of “Darb El Hawa” to transform into a fever dream, impossible to ignore and easy to get lost in. Souleyman’s “dance ‘til you drop” ideal runs parallel to the electronic brutalism of French producer and Kanye cohort Gesaffelstein. But unlike Gesaffelstein’s robotic punishment, Souleyman is quite keen on showing his human side. It’s a wonderful touch to have Souleyman yell out “hey!”s and “oh!”s between blistering solos, a reminder that this music is meant to be played during joyous times.
Bahdeni Nami feels like the antidote to those PC music people who choke on their own smugness. There’s no need for conceptual nonsense that distracts from the entire point of this music: to make you move your body. On that level, Souleyman has triumphed; making music that is completely participatory in nature. If you’re not dancing or clapping while listening, you’re doing something wrong.