Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Omar Souleyman doesn’t get much respect in his own country. One Syrian music promoter told journalist Andy Morgan, “Omar is a very bad singer … No one knows him here, apart from maybe some truck drivers from the north. It is just horrible music, with stupid lyrics.” The promoter prefers musicians like Wafik Habib, whose YouTube clips show a professional musician undeniably slicker and more refined than Souleyman. Habib comes across like his country’s Michael Bublé, a snazzily groomed product. The 49-year old Souleyman, on the other hand, with his defiant shades, henchman’s thick mustache and stiff physical presence, looks more like a police chief than a pop star. But this strange figure’s latest album, Bahdeni Nami, is 51 minutes of catchy, up-tempo dance music that isn’t even his wildest album. This Sunni Arab is the best known practitioner of the modern folk sub-genre dabke. As his fellow countrymen might have it, it’s as if KC and the Sunshine Band were chosen to represent American music to the world. But I love KC and the Sunshine Band and there’s something to be said for Souleyman’s wild pop. Despite potentially volatile differences, his audiences agree. Souleyman has played for audiences of Christian and Muslim faiths alike, his music transcending ethnic and religious differences in a kind of ecumenical disco. Souleyman made his name as a wedding singer and recorded some 500-700 live albums before he ever entered a recording studio. Those “albums” were essentially cassette documents of the hundreds of wedding gigs he played. His first proper studio album was the Brooklyn-recorded Wenu Wenu, produced by Four Tet in 2013. Less raw than the live recordings captured on his excellent Sublime Frequencies album Haflat Gharbia (The Western Concerts), this wasn’t the case of a Western producer watering down an unprocessed vision. What makes partygoers of all faiths move on the dance floor is the strange combination of Souleyman’s stoic presence and rough vocals backed by a relentless 4/4 beat and gloriously sick synth timbres. It’s exotic and even kitschy but indescribably catchy. Four Tet gave Souleyman enough focus and sheen to make Wenu Wenu a furiously-paced dance album with a few moderately slower changes of pace to keep dancers from exploding. Bahdeni Nami features the return of Four Tet and other producers like Modeselekstor and Gilles Peterson, but nobody tries to squeeze this hypnotic kitsch into their own image. Rizan Said’s Korg lines aren’t as sick as those on the last album but this showcases the rippling electric saz work by frequent collaborator Khaled Youssef. The electrified traditional string instrument spins out spiky, circular lines that suggest Tom Verlaine as a wailing disco God. Lyrics by poet Ahmad Alsamer are typical love songs: “Leil El Bareh (Last Night)” is the Syrian equivalent of that old lovelorn 2:00 AM lament: “I haven’t slept last night/ The night was so long/ Crying over my precious ones with tears on my cheeks.” Except the music’s driving tempo makes it more likely that the singer and in fact the whole neighborhood is up late not because they’re in love but because they’re had too much coffee and are playing too fast to ever go to sleep. Wenu Wenu may be a better introduction, but Bahdeni Nami is the sound of staying up all night. Indeed, after you listen to it or any of Souleyman’s albums, you may never fall asleep.