Recording information: Babajim Studios, Istanbul.
Translator: Caroline Kinj.
Though he has been exiled to Turkey since civil war broke out in his native Syria, Omar Souleyman, arguably the world's most recorded wedding singer, has been making the rounds of the globe's festival stages, from Bonnaroo and All Tomorrow's Parties to WOMAD, Field Day, Big Ears, and SXSW. Four Tet's Kieran Hebden did a beautiful job in being largely inconspicuous when he produced 2013's Wenu Wenu, Souleyman's official debut studio album (after a slew of comps and -- literally -- hundreds of live cassettes). Its follow-up, Bahdeni Nami, is released on Modeselektor's Monkeytown label, and features productions not only from Hebden but label auteur Gilles Peterson and a remix by Legowelt, in addition to a pair of "straight" dabke jams. Recorded in Istanbul, Souleyman uses a tried-and-true cast of players here: madman pitchwheel keyboard wizard and rhythm-natist Rizan Sa'id, electric saz master Khaled Youssef, and poet Ahmad Alsamer --who is responsible for writing the words, chanting encouragement, and handclaps in the backdrop. Each producer accents a different aspect of dabke's line-dancing style. As on Wenu Wenu, Hebden does his best to stay out of the way on the title track. His layered reverb touches on the rhythm tracks and saz provide texture, space, and ambience around Souleyman, who delivers the lyric like an incantation in a near monotone. The two longest cuts, "Leil el Bareh" and "Enssa el Aatab," were produced by Modeselektor. They are the most decorative in a sense, stacking and contrasting Sa'id's low- and high-end rhythm tracks in hyperkinetic fashion as the pitchwheel and saz duel for dominance between Souleyman's sung lines that passionately plead with and celebrate the beloved. Further afield is Legowelt's remix of the title cut, with its whompy, oily acid house overtures -- this treatment feels forced, unfortunately. Peterson's "Tawwalt el Gheba" is more of the former and is a dancefloor killer -- his treatment of the spiky saz in particular. The two moodier, more traditional tunes on this set are its best. Opener "Mawai Menzal" is a mawwal that uses considerable vocal improvisation on vowels and meter, though its sense of spiritual and amorous longing is pervasive and feels more reverential than it is. "Darb el Hawa" is almost a desert blues in the intro, with a moaning ney haunting the foreground as rhythms underscore Souleyman's vocal syncopations with dramatic keyboard stabs and trancey saz lines. Bahdeni Nami's greatest appeal will be to newer fans who may prefer more contemporary production to the gritty lo-fi dabke aesthetic. That said, despite various flourishes, these producers try hard to remain true to Souleyman's spirit and, with only one exception, succeed in spades. ~ Thom Jurek