Omar Souleyman at the Cambridge Junction – Live Review

live reviews Souleyman playing Ahbab Festival, an Arabic music festival celebrating themes of love in music and film.

Who would have thought that a wedding singer from the Syrian countryside would have such a universal admiration and wide critical acclaim?

Dabke, as a musical movement, is often left to documentation by the historically-accurate world music journalists (grafting highly interesting articles in prestigious publications such as Songlines). It’s rare that someone from such a corner of the globe should be receiving high praise from the likes of Pitchfork and elsewhere with such a niche musical background. But, it’s Souleyman’s brave fusion of the traditional Middle Eastern genre with modern dance music, and production techniques, which has made it widely accessible.

Fundamentally, this performance was a celebration of Arabic culture. The DJ in the support slot, clearly a connoisseur of world-influenced dance, was injecting tracks such as Kalbata’s ‘Al Shark’, which set the tone for the evening. I’ve never been to a performance where the audience was so diverse, so interesting, with so many cultural representatives under one roof. All as one, we indulged in the exotic choices that were being put to the turnable needle.

When Souleyman eventually took to the stage, he carried himself with grace and dignity. Keeping a respected composure throughout, he chanted alongside the relentless percussion loop, which is stabbed with electronic Saz samples.

It’s the 7 minute magnum opus ‘Warni Warni’ that drops halfway through the set which gets everyone dancing. A conga line is spontaneously formed, which snakes through the crowd, picking up everyone in it’s impulsive path. People of all creeds involve themselves with such genuine joy, and it’s somewhat poignant. How, despite the war-torn origins of Souleyman’s Syrian heritage, he’s chosen to spread his message of hope and love through the guise of his culture’s most traditional sound, is somewhat beautiful.

Without sounding too cliche or sentimental, there’s something to be said about the much-needed cultural interaction of Souleyman bringing his newly-reinvented world sound to the masses. It’s a remarkable live show, which brings together people from all societies, to celebrate dance music’s fundamental power… the strength of uniting people, regardless of language. You just have to feel it. It’s remarkable.

Words from Jack Stevens

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