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the Omar Souleyman Group

Omar Souleyman Group performing at the Paredes de Coura Festival, Praia do Tabuão, Portugal, August 17, 2011. Photo: Filipa Oliveira/Palco Principle.

YOU SWAY; a kaffiyeh-clad man wearing aviator sunglasses struts across the stage. This is no mere tableau of shades-and-scarf radical chic, however: There is a definite tension to the scene, a fervency. The singer, who is Syrian, is chanting lyrics in Arabic while a fellow band member, a poet, whispers intently into his ear. As he intones choppy refrains, the singer’s every phrase is answered by a wind or string instrument tuned to a Middle Eastern scale. You venture closer to scrutinize the musician behind him and discover he is playing a Korg synthesizer, dishing out lightning-fast licks on the keyboard with his right hand while the left deftly manipulates a pitch-bending wheel. It is an acrobatic, almost mechanized, feat.

This is the Omar Souleyman Group, who are in the midst of a 2011 tour of the US, Europe, and Canada and recently released the CD Haflat Gharbia: The Western

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