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Album Review | World

Omar Souleyman, ‘Wenu Wenu’

A sensation in Syria since the 1990s, and recently in the internationalist crate-digging segment of the cool set, Omar Souleyman now releases his first studio album, though numerous live recordings, many on cassette, precede it. Often dubbed “Syrian techno,” this is folk music, made for debka-dancing at weddings, only souped up to high speed and laced with extravagant synthesizer solos by keyboardist Rizan Sa’id. “Wenu Wenu” lacks touches that give a Souleyman show its full charisma — the shouts to and from the audience, the presence of poet Mahmoud Harbi, who whispers to Souleyman the next line to sing, and Souleyman’s hipster-pleasing visual identity — a wiry chain-smoker in red keffiyeh and shades. But the production by Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) is smart and clean, and the songs offer range, as the melancholy “Mawal Jamar” offsets burners like “Ya Yumma.” It’s hard to hear this album without thinking of Syria’s tragic civil war; it may offer solace that Souleyman comes from a region where Arab, Kurdish, and Turkish cultures intermingle, and that he sings in all three languages. In this music, at least, there’s unity. (Out Tuesday)

Essential “Ya Yumma”

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