Omar Souleyman, Janka Nabay and The Bubu Gang, DJ Hutz

Omar Souleyman

Omar Souleyman is a Syrian musical legend. Since 1994, he and his musicians have emerged as a staple of folk-pop throughout Syria, but until now they have remained little known outside of the country. To date, they have issued more than five-hundred studio and live-recorded cassette albums which are easily spotted in the shops of any Syrian city. Born in rural northeastern Syria, he began his musical career in 1994 with a small group of local collaborators that remain with him today. The myriad musical traditions of the region are evident in their music. Here, classical Arabic mawal-style vocalization gives way to high-octane Syrian dabke (the regional folkloric dance and party music), Iraqi choubi and a host of Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish styles, among others. This amalgamation is truly the sound of Syria. The music often has an overdriven sound consisting of phase-shifted Arabic keyboard solos and frantic rhythms. At breakneck speeds, these shrill Syrian electronics play out like forbidden Morse-code, but the moods swing from coarse and urgent to dirgy and contemplative in the rugged anthems that comprise Souleyman's repertoire. Oud, reeds, baglama saz, accompanying vocals and percussion fill out the sound from track to track. Mahmoud Harbi is a long-time collaborator and the man responsible for much of the poetry sung by Souleyman. Together, they commonly perform the "Ataba," a traditional form of folk poetry used in Dabke. On stage, Harbi chain smokes cigarettes while standing shoulder to shoulder with Souleyman, periodically leaning over to whisper the material into his ear. Acting as a conduit, Souleyman struts into the audience with urgency, vocalizing the prose in song before returning for the next verse. Souleyman's first hit in Syria was "Jani" (1996) which gained cassette-kiosk infamy and brought him recognition throughout the country. Watching Omar live, offers a rare glimpse into Syrian street-level folk-pop and Dabke - a phenomena seldom heard in the West, not previously deemed serious enough for export by the Syrians and rarely, if ever, included on the import agenda of worldwide academic musical committees.

Janka Nabay and The Bubu Gang

Janka Nabay is the undisputed king of bubu, a frantically-paced dance music with ancient, magical origins in Sierra Leone. The Bubu Gang are the posse of musical collaborators he has hooked up with in the US (featuring members of Skeletons and Gang Gang Dance among others), to create a wild, high-octane juggernaut of call-and-response vocal interplay, juddering dancefloor rhythms, synths and guitars: throw in a taste for tearaway improvisation and you have an absolute blast of a sound, that keeps it quick, loose and natural and runs on pure musical joy. Ready to hit hard and true in full band format at festivals worldwide in 2012. An EP drops on True Panther Sounds in March before a full-length album on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label later in the year.

Janka single-handedly radicalised bubu in his native Freetown, Sierra Leone in the nineties, adding drum machine kicks and twitching synths to its airy hum of blown bamboo shoots and carburetor pipes. Then he relocated to Philadelphia, and after a decade off the musical radar he found a Stateside vessel for his infectious music in True Panther Sounds, who released a well-received EP in 2010. This caught the well-tuned ears of the mostly Brooklyn-based players who would go on to make up the Bubu Gang, namely Doug Shaw (Gang Gang Dance, Highlife, White Magic), Jason McMahon & Jonathan Leland (Skeletons), Michael Gallope (Starring) and vocalist Boshra Al-Saadi (Saadi): a series of sweatbox US shows followed, and all involved realized they had birthed something beyond the sum of its parts: “We speak one language now”, says Janka of these exciting new sounds, that draw as much from Janka’s own bubu as they do from the sunny energy of Ghanaian highlife, the extended improvisations of 70s Miles Davis, the hypnotic rhythms of classic Afro-beat and the swirling echoes of 60s and 70s psychedelia.

DJ Hutz

DJ Eugene Hutz is a Ukrainian-born singer and composer, most notable as the frontman of the critically acclaimed New York Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. Hutz is also well known as both a DJ and actor.

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Omar Souleyman, Janka Nabay and The Bubu Gang, DJ Hutz

Friday, September 7 · 6:00 PM at The Well

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