The Austin Chronicle

Omar Souleyman

By Chase Hoffberger, June 10, 2014, 1:45pm, Earache!

Adam Sandler ain’t the true Wedding Singer. That designation goes to Omar Souleyman. The Syrian matrimonial maven whose affinity for performing at nuptial agreements has spawned some 500-odd live compilations and albums over the last two decades.

“The music mainly gives happiness to the people,” the 48-year-old known for his exotic, party-ready blend of Iraq choubi and Syrian told the Chronicle in advance of his first Austin showing at Chaos in Tejas 2011. “It’s less sadness that I address. In my opinion, it reflects living here, in Syria, in the city among my people.”

Souleyman returned five months later for Fun Fun Fun Fest, then again last year during South By Southwest for a sit-down with Chronicle contributor Austin Powell. He makes his fourth stop in town tonight at Justine’s on East Fifth Street. Somewhere between Europe and the US, the man made time for Chronicle Music editor Raoul Hernandez’s inquiries.

Austin Chronicle: Your first visit to Austin was in 2011 for Chaos in Tejas. What are your impressions of our fair city several trips here later?

Omar Souleyman: I did start to like Austin right away. The audience was warm and enthusiastic, and there was good barbecue and lots of Arabic people I met.

AC: Last year’s Wenu Wenu was recorded in Brooklyn. What was that experience like?

OS: It was a great joy for me to record my first album in the studio. Kieran was [an] amazing collaborator and led the effort with incredible skill, and I am very pleased with the result.

AC: The title track uses synthesizers for horn-like punctuation in places. Do you derive any influence on both instruments – synth and horns – from Western musicians? Were you ever exposed to U.S. R&B like James Brown?

OS: No, none at all. I choose my wind instruments – these are zornas, mostly – and the sounds of them carefully. I have only heard those in a village or somewhere like that.

AC: For you, where is the intersection of Syrian folk music and technology – electric instrumentation?

OS: Well, all this you can judge by listening to my music and if you know more about music in Syria. I am not making those intersections. This is simply the style of music in my region that I have been performing for many years.

AC: Any potential for your wedding soundtrack business here in America?

OS: No, none at all.

AC: What’s the difference between Middle Eastern dance culture and Western dance culture? Have Americans and Europeans been dancing at your shows?

OS: Yes, wherever I go people dance! The Americans, British, Europeans, and many others have their own dance, but there is often few Arabs in the audience and they show everyone the dance that they do. There is no difference really. Everyone dances non-stop. That is the most important of all.

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