Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Souleyman in the Citay

When Omar Souleyman strode onstage at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn on a crushingly hot June 27, he was flanked by at least two official videographers, along with a hype man who hovered about the stage continually snapping photos with an iPhone, often directly over Souleyman's shoulder. The internationally celebrated purveyor of hyperspeed Dabke seemed utterly unfazed by the bordering-on-overbearing presence of these documentarians; in fact, the impression conveyed by this performance was that Omar Souleyman was, is, and shall remain utterly unfazed by anything at all.

Coolly, purposefully prowling the stage, Souleyman wasted no time with superfluous gestures, pausing only to make measured exhorting signals to the gesticulators below, or to receive lyrical coaching from his onstage adviser (the guy with the iPhone). Decked out as he was in full-body thawb and keffiyeh in the oppressive heat, not one bead of sweat manifested itself anywhere on Souleyman's visage for the entire performance.

Souleyman is a consummate entertainer, and every aspect of the show from the circling cameras to the cool-customer nonchalance was carefully calibrated to project the idea of capital O capital S Omar Souleyman; the unflappable, deeply intense figure hailing from a place utterly remote to most Westerners, a man who clearly lives to engage and entertain but who remains to a large extent mysterious and unknowable.

This is not to imply a cynically calculated approach on the part of Souleyman or his musicians and handlers. Of course, one must be familiar with Souleyman's music to really get the full complexity and character of this concert. For the unschooled: it basically sounds like Excepter at triple speed played on pitch-shifting keyboards while Souleyman intones Syrian poetry and candy coated digitized Oud flies in from the top of the Burj Khalifa here just watch this and this. Basically, it's really intense and out-there. Souleyman's impenetrable attitude onstage actually served to heighten the intensity; since he stayed so reserved for the lion's share of the show, the moments in which he really threw himself into a phrase or lyric (especially when he was met by an immense shifting wall of psych Korg)were genuinely transporting.

But that's all just so much talk. I guess that what I'm ultimately trying to express is that of the two concerts this past weekend at which an iPhone played a crucial role, I think I chose the right one to attend.

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