Omar Souleyman – “Leh Jani”

I was very excited to find some Omar Souleyman albums at Vancouver’s Red Cat Records the other day during our visit to British Columbia. We loved his live set at Iceland Airwaves last year and his album Wenu Wenu is a great electro-pop-dance record, one that gets some frequent plays on both the turntable and iPod. So the decision to buy two of his records at Red Cat was an easy one.

 Though released in 2011, Leh Jani is actually a collection of some of Souleyman’s early work. It was originally recorded in 1998 live to tape and distributed on cassette – apparently cassette culture was still huge in Syria (certainly until the current civil war broke out…) with a tremendous amount of dubbing, copying, and what we would call downright piracy. But that didn’t seem to phase Souleyman much based on the interviews I’ve read – that’s just the way the scene worked in Syria, and he didn’t expect to get rich off of tape sales. He made his fame as a live performer, one often hired to do weddings or other celebrations, and that’s how he made his living.

Whereas 2013s Wenu Wenu is a well-produced, full sounding pop album, Leh Jani is much more raw and the sound less rich. I suspect it is more similar to Souleyman’s live sound during the era, and as such it’s an important piece in understanding his development as an artist.

Leh Jani is a double album, but one with only three songs. “Introduction/Mawal” and “Salamat Galbi Bidek” each take up a full side on the first record and run about 15 minutes each, while the entire second record is comprised of the 30 minute title track. These longer format songs suit Souleyman, who’s songs have a hypnotizing, meandering rhythm. He puts you in a trance by starting off slow, then methodically and almost imperceptibly begins to quicken the pace… you don’t realize it because you’re already in a trance, but then five or ten minutes later you sort of snap out of it and find yourself in a straight up Syrian party song. Souleyman’s music, while completely different in approach and genre, reminds me a lot of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” a song guaranteed to hypnotize me and make me lose five minutes of my life without knowing what happened.

While Leh Jani does not appear to have been released on CD, it is available on iTunes, so you can check it out there… or on YouTube, where I think you can hear the whole thing for free. Broaden your horizons. Listen to some Omar Souleyman.