The Arty Semite

An Electric Simcha With Omar Souleyman

By Ezra Glinter

  • Print
  • Share Share
JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Omar Souleyman at the 16th Sonar Festival in Barcelona in 2009.

Omar Souleyman is a singer from Hasakah, Syria, who plays a techno-ish version of dabke, an Arabic folk music usually heard at weddings. He performs in a red-and-white checkered keffiyeh, dark glasses, and a moustache.

Not the most likely artist to take the American hipster-indie music scene by storm, you say? Think again. Now on his second tour of the U.S. to promote “Jazeera Nights,” his third album on Seattle’s Sublime Frequencies label, Souleyman performed Tuesday for a sizeable crowd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, last night at the Paramount Theatre in Boston, and he appears tonight at Purchase College, SUNY.

On Wednesday he played a show in Philadelphia at Johnny Brenda’s, where he made another strange connection: Opening for Souleyman was Electric Simcha, a month-old Hasidic punk outfit led by trombonist and vocalist Daniel Blacksberg. The Arty Semite spoke with Blacksberg about Electric Simcha and how it came to play for hundreds of hipsters in Fishtown with one of the Middle East’s most popular artists.

Ezra Glinter: What is Electric Simcha?

Daniel Blacksberg: We play Hasidic music, in a punk rock way. Right now we’re doing more or less a wedding set that could easily be heard on any Orthodox or Hasidic bandstand. We don’t start with “Od Yishama,” but we’re basically starting on the third tune of that medley. But we’re going for a loud and fast, hardcore punk aesthetic — bands like Black Flag and the Minutemen come into the picture. It’s a distorted, agressive, heavy kind of sound.

Who else is in the band?

There’s Nick Millevoi on guitar, Travis Woodson on bass, and Julius Masri on drums.

How did Electric Simcha come together?

These are guys who I’m really bringing into the Jewish music world. I know them from playing in rock bands and jazz and experimental music around Philly, and I like the way they play. Plus we’re just friends, and we hang around together and play music together in lots of different situations.

I think the music came about in a performable way in September. We played our first show as a band October 5. Before there were people coming together to play some gigs, and then we said, ‘Hey let’s make this a band.’

How did you come to open for Omar Souleyman?

A couple members of the band, specifically Julius and Nick, had seen Omar when he played in New York, and when they found out he was playing here they were super psyched to see him. And we were talking at rehearsal, and thought it would be super cool to open for him. And Julius was able to reach out to the guy who was putting the show together and get us on.

How did the combination of Hasidic punk with dabke music go over?

It was great. We’re playing loud and fast party music that’s not American pop and he’s playing loud and fast party music that’s not American pop. There are some melodic similarities, but I don’t know — it feels right. Anyway, the similiarites are way more fun than the differences.

So it was a good show?

Yeah. Omar has this incredibly strange draw — there were just hipsters as far as the eye could see. I saw maybe 10 people who looked Arabic out of maybe 300. Nobody could understand what he was saying or had any familiarity with the music, but they were all just moving. It was unbelievable.

Listen to ‘Leh Jani’ by Omar Souleyman:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish Music, Travis Woodson, Syria, Philadelphia, Omar Souleyman, Nick Millevoi, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Music, Minutemen, Julius Masri, Jonny Brenda's, Jewish Music, Hasidic Music, Hasakah, Folk Music, Fishtown, Ezra Glinter, Electric Simcha, Daniel Blacksberg, Dabka, Black Flag, Arabic Music

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.