When Omar claps, you dance.
  • Kelly O
  • When Omar claps, you dance.

I’ve never seen somebody do so little to trigger so frenzied a response as Omar Souleyman did yesterday at Fisher Green Stage. Looking like the stoic, ’stached, and shaded badass who’d give you a speeding ticket in Damascus, the Syrian vocalist wailed in Arabic tales of romantic heartbreak and triumph, with frequent “EEEYYYOOO”s that were delayed to create the effect of several Omars in agony and ecstasy. He took many breaks from vocalizing to daintily clap and nonchalantly urge the crowd to dance, but ultimately he didn’t seem to give a damn if you did (I mean, I’m sure he did care, but his demeanor suggested he’s not going to weep if you remain stationary; it’s also safe to say Omar did not recognize Mark Arm standing front and center during his whole set, and if he did, he remained unruffled by the Mudhoney legend’s presence).

Rizan Said: Another day at the synthesizer bank.
  • Dave Segal/The Stranger
  • Rizan Sa'id: Another day at the synthesizer bank.

The real star of any Omar Souleyman live show is keyboardist Rizan Sa’id. Working a couple of Korg synthesizers, Sa’id wears the sort of dour expression seen mainly on post office workers. But he coaxed his instruments to wild flights of whirling glee and headlong, oblong rhythms that could pass for techno, even though this is technically called dabke: Syrian folk and pop and wedding music.

Mark Arm: Hes a Soul(eyman) man.
  • Kelly O
  • Mark Arm: He's a Soul(eyman) man.

The dominant sound is a warped, melismatic, saz-like bleat that fibrillates with strange, serpentine charm. Ragged, rapid beats and hand-drum ratatats kept asses moving all set in the perfect summer weather Monday. It didn’t matter that Sa’id only seemed to have two vocal samples in his hard drive: “come on” and “bring it down.” The crowd went mad for Omar and Rizan’s action-packed compositions, even though it was doubtful anyone understood a syllable the former sang. This was one of the highlights of 2012 Bumbershoot.