Omar Souleyman at the Echo 7/12/11
Who: Omar Souleyman Band
Where: The Echo
When: Tuesday, July 12
Remember Konono Nº1? In 2005, decidedly non-"World Music" types went bonkers over the Congotronics album, and this amazing Congolese dance troupe with makeshift instruments found itself making the hipsters dance at hipster venues all over the country, and collaborating with weird worldbeat fairy godmother Bjork.
This year's Konono Nº1 is Omar Souleyman, a Syrian wedding musician who leads the Omar Souleyman Band. The "band" is actually a duo: the hypnotic Souleyman on vocals and his indispensable collaborator, Rizan Sa'id, who can make two decks of Korgs sound like a whole party orchestra. The impeccably curated Sublime Frequencies label has turned his Syrian tapes into tight compilations for discerning westerners and, yup, Bjork is collaborating with him.
Tuesday night, Souleyman evangelist Mark Gergis--the Iraqi-American San Franciscan who found the performer's insanely popular tapes at Damascus' cassette stalls and brought him to the West--delivered him to the Echo for an evening of "dabke" (Syrian party music). Souleyman and Sa'id took over the venue's tiny stage and proceeded to turn the whole place into an incongruous Middle Eastern wedding party salon.
What followed was pandemonium:
Here's a brief-clip of what went down (courtesy of Youtuber zornfett):
Watch carefully: When was the last time you saw this at an Echo Park venue?:
- A dapper gentleman wearing a white, full-body jallabiya and a red keffiya, impassible in Bond-villain-henchman aviator glasses, backed by a nondescript dude in a black t-shirt pulling never-cheesy, ancient sounds of the future from a couple of synth decks.
- Young Syrian-Americans bouncing up and down, getting on stage for round dances and mouthing every word (the young Syrian-Americans, by the way, were a credit to their nation: hot and cute, happy, sophisticated, engaged and sweetly reverential to a guy who looks like a hick uncle from the provinces who might know somebody who knows somebody who's "connected").
- Young Americans, and middle-aged Americans (even some of the usual NPR-Royce Hall, more stately World Music crowd), and a few indieratti musicians, all clueless as to the very meaningful, deliberate lyrics of Souleyman (from the translated titles, strange songs about love and revenge with melodramatic undertones), but equally bouncing up and down to the dabke beat.
The answer is never. Because this was a one-of-a-kind event, and everyone there knew it. After a long set with a short encore, the sweaty throngs (the Echo was at capacity) mobbed Souleyman as he got offstage and the following days Facebook walls filled up with funny pictures of a variety of local hipsters hugging a slightly befuddled Syrian wedding singer with aviator glasses.
It's fortunate that many people taped the proceedings with their phone cams, because Souleyman might need some evidence when he goes back to Syria and tells his usual wedding party crowds that he's huge in L.A. with the taste-making youngsters. As unlikely as it may seem, last Tuesday night a wedding singer from rural Syria and his virtuoso keyboardist were undoubtedly the hottest ticket in town.
(Wanna know more? Check out this excellent article about Omar Souleyman by Andy Morgan.)
Bonus Tracks: The essence of Omar Souleyman is this must-see pimptastic video: