Omar Souleyman is reported to have released 500 live albums in Syria, recorded mainly at weddings before the country’s civil war forced him into exile in 2011. With that conflict only worsening six years in, and Souleyman dedicating his new record “with love” to his homeland, one could be forgiven for anticipating a somewhat melancholic tone here. The singer’s 503rd (ish) album, however, contains precious little bleakness. For the most part, its relentless thump and slithering, urgent melodies are fluorescently bright, insistent and addictive, and Souleyman’s vocals, gruff and throaty, bubble with a bold joie de vivre.
Only on ‘Mawal’ does the pace dip below “frenetic”, the throbbing techno kick replaced with a loping waltz-time rhythm, and the short blasts of instrumental jingles set aside for longer, more keening phrases. Elsewhere, though, spirits remain stoically high: ‘Ya Bnayya’’s lurching syncopation, recalling a sort of 1,000-volt interpretation of ragga, is impossible not to wriggle to, the relentless ratatat of ‘Khayen’ is only augmented by Souleyman’s boisterous ad libs, and the closing ‘Tensana’, while superficially a touch corny, revels in its tangy mix of route-one techno with serpentine microtonal saz.
It all adds up to a record that pulses with life and indomitable spirit – from one angle, surely the finest love letter Syria could currently wish to receive.