21st February | Marble Factory
The universal and unifying power music can have is something that is expressed so frequently in a clichéd manner that it often feels insincere, a throwaway, vague gesture. Yet there are times when this transcendental capacity presents itself with such genuine and unaffected lucidity that its potency strikes you anew. And with Omar Souleyman, this is very much the case, especially in a live environment. Considering the Syrian artist’s musical career first involved success as a wedding singer before having to flee to Turkey, here he is performing his distinct, heady fusion of traditional Syrian Dabke and electronica in Bristol on Thursday evening. Which, if you think about it, is pretty wild.
With Flamingods opening the night, their kaleidoscopic swathes of hypnotic psychedelia glide through the venue offering perfectly befitting, immersive aural delights from the outset. It’s a welcome return from the band, who recently released their first single in quite some time. Showcasing new material from the highly-anticipated new record Levitation, due out at the beginning of May, Flamingods’ charismatic, eclectic array of sounds float from moments of hazy, blissful psychedelia to frantic reverb-doused basslines, to infectious disco rhythms, and more, that combine to offer an all-pervading sonic aura.
With a perceptible excitement in the air, Omar Souleyman takes to the stage, sporting his signature sunglasses and keffiyeh combination, accompanied by his long-time composer and saz/keyboardist Rizan Sa’id. Received with a tangible zeal, the initial wavering, strident incantations and 4/4 beats provoke an immediate outburst of dancing that spreads through the crowd, and is sustained throughout the show. In theory this shouldn’t be all that surprising, but given that at your average gig it often feels like most people are glued to the spot, the liveliness of the audience is refreshing (especially as someone who enjoys a good dance at shows).
The frenetic elation of Souleyman’s sound on record is increased tenfold live, as oscillating dabke rhythms, sharp percussion samples and spiralling, warped saz/keyboard refrains, provided by Sa’id, fuse with Souleyman’s powerful, surging vocals. Throughout the set particularly eminent tracks from Souleyman’s extensive discography are received with renewed fervour – the likes of ‘Salamat Galbi Bidek’, ‘Ya Banyya’, and ‘Warni Warni’, to single out a few, resulting in increasingly passionate flurries of clapping and dancing and singing along.
The capacity Souleyman has to bring such a jubilant and hypnotic atmosphere to Marble Factory is quite astounding, particularly given it’s a venue of considerable size, especially in comparison to his last Bristol performance in the foyer of Colston Hall at Simple Things in 2017. And whilst the rescheduled date has likely, and unfortunately, resulted in the venue not being as busy as expected, the vibrant ambiance isn’t diminished on account of this. Unsurprisingly Omar Souleyman’s fan base is varied, to say the least. There are few artists who can bring together and captivate such a diverse audience, transcending linguistic and cultural differences, with his performance resulting in an ultimately euphoric affair fuelled both by the music and also by the crowd’s enthusiasm.
Check out ‘Ya Bnayya’ here: