Nov 08, 2013 Web Exclusive
The Kieran Hebden-produced Wenu Wenu is an inscrutable, occasionally delightful, and vaguely infuriating record. On the one hand, Omar Souleyman's voice is a transcendent delight, easily perforating language barriers with his scruffy Syrian lilt. On the other, the record sorely lacks in dynamics, particularly in its backing instrumentation—a relatively minor flaw considering its short running time, whose significance unfortunately grows the more one becomes enamored of Souleyman's performance.
That's not to say accompanist Rizan Sa'id isn't a deft synth player. His leads are the expressive serpentines cutting Souleyman's melancholy narratives over the driving dance beats that dominate most of the album. The problem is that the kazoo-like timbre of his synth combined with a constantly dimmed production aesthetic makes the album fatiguing as a whole. It's a disappointing conclusion to reach, especially for those new to Souleyman's music, and the man's singing is as good here as anywhere.
It's a rare vocalist that can exceed language barriers to instill the proper emotional journey in all listeners, but Souleyman frankly makes it look easy. He draws the vulnerabilities out of his native Arabic, weaving what one can only presume is an epic tale of heartbreak. It's the kind of sweeping performance that ought to be accompanied by one of Ennio Morricone's orchestras, though that might not suit his native context as a wedding entertainer. Indeed, this is supposed to be dance music and with that in mind, this is some rather bumping stuff. With headphones on, however, you can't help but wonder where Souleyman's music really wants to go. (www.myspace.com/omarsouleyman)
Author rating: 6/10
Average reader rating: 6/10