Andrew W.K. Talks Omar Souleyman’s Wenu Wenu

All the music I have ever heard from Omar Souleyman delivers on the same fantastic promise: to hypnotize the listener with a non-stop, trance...

All the music I have ever heard from Omar Souleyman delivers on the same fantastic promise: to hypnotize the listener with a non-stop, trance-inducing musical whirlwind.  If you like one song by Omar Souleyman, you’re going to like them all — that’s part of his brilliance. His music is sonic propulsion: a combination of focus, consistency, and tireless energy. Amazingly enough, despite an incredible quantity of performances and semi-official live recordings — literally hundreds of live cassettes — Wenu Wenu is the first proper studio album from the Syrian wedding singer.  Produced by Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, this is remarkable and deeply euphoric dance music, the culmination of all of his previous work.

It’s rare to find an artist so uncompromisingly dedicated to their sound, style, and blazing energy level, and even more rare to find an artist so committed to sharing that sound with audiences outside of their traditional realm.  Souleyman has carved out a very special space for his music and for his radiating charisma.  He’s one of the few musicians that can make you feel starstruck just watching his music videos.  The music on Wenu Wenu continues the irresistible propulsive power of his past releases — his style doesn’t require constant reinvention or experimentation to remain completely engaging, it’s perfect the way it is and you just want more and more of it, louder and louder.  Every song could go on forever and you’d be all the happier for it.  Between the dizzying keyboard and unexpected and dramatic vocal phrasing, the listener is exploring worlds within worlds.

The superb playing by Souleyman’s long-time live keyboardist and composer Rizan Sa’id is dripping with top-rate, inspired musicianship.  His relentless solos rival the best flashy synth work from any progressive rock group or high-paced jazz pianist.  The dipping and bending buzz-tones interact and weave around Souleyman’s proclamations and passionate utterances with an incredible momentum that’s both thrillingly unpredictable and deeply satisfying.  This music is as good as keyboard-based vocal dueling can get, making for one of the most addictive sonic experiences you’re likely to come across in any genre.  The music keeps paying off and gives you what you want in ways you could never quite predict.  It’s a perfect balance of electronic programming and live spontaneity; music that’s played and performed live using non-live elements.  It’s futuristic and timeless and urgent, all happening deep in the moment.

Full disclosure: I have met the singer and partied with him.  A couple years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing him perform live at the music venue my friends and I own in Manhattan, Santos Party House.  Also, one of my partners in the club, the acclaimed painter Spencer Sweeney, created the portrait on the front cover of Wenu Wenu.  But maybe instead of this being evidence of possible bias, the fact that I have that sort of connection to Souleyman is a perfect example of the surprisingly far-reaching quality of his artistry.

As an artist and as a person, Souleyman seems to have eliminated all barriers in front of himself and his music, especially considering that his amped-up Syrian street music sound, known as dabke, is not exactly the most likely candidate for crossover.  But the unlikeliness of Souleyman’s story is all part of the magic.  When music is this good, it smashes through walls with ease.  Souleyman is one of those rare performers who can make everything he creates seem completely effortless.  He’s a master at work and the comfort and confidence he has in his mastery makes everyone want to be part of his adventure.  One of my favorite qualities about Souleyman is how he made me and the whole audience at his concert not only feel welcomed, but wanted — like he desired us, like we were a crucial part of his party.  Being wanted and appreciated and included is a hugely empowering feeling for an audience to experience live, and one that very few artists can pull off.  Omar Souleyman is a party master!

Andrew W.K. is the King of Partying and a hardcore rock & roll musician who first made his debut with the international smash hit, “Party Hard.” He lives in Manhattan, New York City.