Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dabke - Sounds Of The Syrian Houran

Sham Palace, 2012

This is a much-needed vinyl exploration of contemporary dabke dance music from the fertile volcanic wine country of Syria, of the kind made quite popular in the semi-underground West by Omar Souleyman and his unexpectedly fertile live & digital promotion by Hisham Mayet & Alan Bishop's Sublime Frequencies label  (Sham Palace is a sister, so far vinyl-only, label of SF collaborator Mark Gergis, it's only other release so far is a 2011 reissue of Souleyman's Leh Jani). Its popularity in the West is not at all surprising as modern dabke has a slew of remarkable similarities with house & techno. Drum machines & synths have come to much prevalence in the Middle East, this is particlarly seen in dabke but even this is still usually accompanied by various live instruments and particularly striking virtuoso tabla work. The underlying beat is always of a similar sort, dabke literally means "stamping of the feet" (and this describes its accompanying folk dance) and it is this stomping 4/4 which is of course one of the elements most resonant with western dance music, but it has a familiar yet foreign feel in its Syrian manifestation. One of the most striking similarities to have hit me is that of the omniprescent Arabic wedding ululation to the pea whistle of hardcore rave (yes, really, you'll hear it). Like Souleyman's band, labryrinthine trance-like synths are found throughout but not with the same prevalence as with Souleyman's cavalryman Rizan Sa'id. The sort of ghetto-tech vibe of early unpolished Souleyman productions carries over and to me this offers great warmth and realness, the kind you get from old Jamaican soundsystem recordings, and this was one of the qualities I liked best about the earlier Sublime Frequencies compilations of Touareg rock (vs. the more intimate & dynamic ranged sound of i.e. Bombino). Stuff is as lively and great as the best Souleyman's had to offer and I find myself returning to it over its sheer warmth & energy, and not to mention travel envy.


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