Sublime Frequencies is well known for releasing high quality documentations of folk and pop music from mainly 3rd world countries, but they?ve really outdone themselves with the release of Omar Souleyman?s ?Highway to Hassake.? This release is somewhat a deviation in the oeuvre of the label as it?s the first time Sublime Frequencies has devoted a whole record to a single artist. The thirteen gems found on this recording were all hand selected by Souleyman himself, in full cooperation with Sublime Frequencies, so there is no need to worry about there being any dubious origins to this work; its all been done in fair trade and one hopes that more records are forthcoming from Souleyman and his amazing band.
In Syria and much of the Middle Eastern world Omar Souleyman and his band are musical legends. They?ve released well over 500 recordings, both live and studio, since 1994. The music is highly celebratory in nature and is often times performed at weddings and various other festive occasions and draws upon many of the indigenous musical forms of the Middle East.
The manner in which the band performs is rather an interesting aspect to take note of. All of Souleyman?s lyrics/poetry are written by long-time collaborator Mahmoud Harbi, who accompanies the band on stage, chain-smoking cigarettes and often times whispering the lyrics of the songs into the ears of Souleyman as he sings while a heady mix of keyboards, percussion, oud, bozouk, saz and Arabic fiddle accompany his vocals.
The music often moves at a breakneck pace that sits comfortably between Middle-Eastern motifs and New Wave/Techno-like grooves. This is high-octane danceable shit that sounds completely bent and fresh to the Western ear. Occasionally the band does drop it down a notch to play some more ballad oriented pieces as on ?Atabat? which contains some amazing oud leads, backed by slow motion keyboard and drum action with the occasional siren-like sound effect. Then there is the melancholy ?Jalsat Atabat? which begins simply with the lonesome sounds of the Arabian fiddle played over a low drone. Later some well-placed percussion makes its way into the mix to lighten the mood slightly.
What differentiates this music from much of the world music that is heard here in the United States is that it doesn?t even attempt to mimic the ultra-polished shimmer of ?high quality? studio recordings, but maintains its rough edges which in turn contribute a much more human feel to the whole ordeal. Overall this is an amazing document of the folk/pop sounds of Syria, beautifully presented by Sublime Frequencies and Omar Souleyman. 10/10 -- Cory Card (26 June, 2007)