MusicCatching up with Syrian dance icon Omar Souleyman
The wedding music phenomenon talks Ray-Bans, having dinner with Bjork, and what constitutes his perfect day.
Originally from the Hasake Region of Syria, Omar Souleyman cut his teeth as a band leader at weddings and birthdays. Due out this Friday, his upcoming Monkeytown Records release, Bahdeni Nami, established Souleyman as a force to be reckoned with in the world and electronic music circuits. Touting collaborations with everyone from Four Tet, to the Black Lips’ Cole Alexander, even a remix by Dutch technofunker Legowelt, Bahdeni Nami is a diverse collection of sounds unified by Souleyman's unmistakable belt. We caught up with the singer and talked physical fitness, Ray-Bans, and the pleasure of doing nothing.
HOPES&FEARS: Bahdeni Nami is a beautiful record, celebratory yet sad. What is Bahdeni Nami about?
OMAR SOULEYMAN: The title track is about a man who loves his woman and she lays in his lap. He loves and cuddles her, and she knows he loves her. I’ve always liked to have a variety [of emotions on my recordings]. There are people that like sadness and those that like dancing.
H&F: There are a lot of collaborations on the new album, like with Four Tet and a remix by Dutch producer Legowelt. How do you go about finding collaborators?
OS: All the communication were through [my manager] Mina Tosti. She was the one who organized all these meetings for me and coordinated with the studio, but I also met them.
H&F: What's your favorite time of day to record music?
OS: I like to record at night. In the morning, when a person wakes up, their voice isn’t open or awake enough like it is in the afternoon or at night after you’ve walked or moved around. I like to record after the body has had some movement. In my lifetime, I haven’t been known to record my voice in the morning.
H&F: Do you still perform at weddings?
OS: Right now, I have some weddings in Istanbul, Turkey. I’ve also started going to festivals and shows so I have lessened the [amount of] weddings I [perform at] a little bit. Of course, I go to weddings but not as much as before because now I have other work. If I didn’t have outside work, I’d do more weddings, no problem. I don’t like to discriminate against any audience.
H&F: I'm curious about the gear your band uses.
OS: We have been putting new sounds into the keyboards that we already have. I [recently] got a new keyboard that's a new model of the Korg C series. This has new sounds, but I can input the voices I like in it as well.
H&F: What do you consider the best life practices for maintaining a prolific musical output?
OS: Physical exercise helps me to perform. I like to walk a lot. I don’t take the car, I walk and that’s how my body stays relaxed.
H&F: In 2011, you collaborated with Bjork on The Crystalline Series. How did that come about?
OS: Bjork asked my manager if we could do a duet for a cassette. My manager came to me and told me, "there’s this well-known artist named Bjork [who wants to work with you]" and so I agreed. We made the recording in Istanbul. It was good and the recording succeeded. I also visited her in Iceland. I had a show there and we met up and I had dinner at her place.
H&F: What is your go-to pair of Sunglasses?
OS: Definitely Ray-Ban! This is my preferred type. But I also wear other ones that aren't necessarily as high-end but just work well for me.
H&F: What is your perfect day?
OS: I wouldn't do anything. I [like to] stay home [with loved ones] if I don’t have a performance.