Ever since we first heard that Syrian dabke star (and longtime Afropop favorite) Omar Souleyman was releasing a record (the first he’s ever recorded in a western studio) with the eclectic electronica producer Four Tet, we’ve been following news of the album’s progress with great interest. Would Souleyman’s trademark style, a super-charged rush of spiraling keyboards, repetitive vocal melodies, and pounding drums beats, survive the translation? Would Four Tet’s production overly (or overtly) influence the sound? Would a western studio be able to capture Souleyman’s world famous intensity?
The answers, for those keeping score from home, are: Yes, not really, and we needn’t have worried. Although (necessarily) recorded far from his Syrian home, Wenu Wenu sounds like nothing so much as a sharpened, focused version of the music that Souleyman has been perfecting for years. Without changing anything in the underlying structure, Souleyman and his group seem have used the record as a chance to upgrade the materials of their sound, crafting tracks with enough digital sheen to sit comfortably (or at least quasi-comfortably) on an international dance floor, without provoking the shock of fidelity (or synth quality) that would previously have greeted their music.
As can easily be anticipated, this kind of development does come with certain losses, and fans invested in the rawer style of Souleyman’s endless youtube videos or releases on Sublime Frequencies may miss the wild intensity of his earlier work. But a quick listen to the sky-shredding solos that dot the call-and-response title track or the brain-frying electronic stutter of the keyboards that begin “Warni Warni” should put these concerns to rest. From where we’re standing, Wenu Wenu is a near-perfect crossover record, an example of a mature artist finally given the tools to fully realize his sound. The keyboards are in-your-face, present and perfect, his vocals fly out of the speakers, and the drums kick with a power that transcends the mechanical. It’s a great record, simultaneously world expandingly different and accessibly exciting, and we can’t recommend it enough.
Give it a listen here.
Want more Souleyman? Watch his Afropop interview.