The engine of Omar Souleyman’s biggest hits, keyboard player Rizan Sa’id, steps centerstage for his first solo LP, King of Keyboard - an album that was waiting to happen, and now has thanks to Discrepant. From fiery dabke to beatless synthesiser poems, this is a zinger!
“There is no other Syrian dabke musician that has enjoyed the local, regional, national, and international recognition that Rizan Said has, and for that, the world is lucky. Rizan is a musical ambassador from a disappeared Syria, and this is not to be taken lightly. Once upon a time, not too long ago, Syria was a culturally diverse country possessing a certain unity. A place not synonymous with barbarism and savagery. Far from the capital of Damascus, the northeast of the country, known as the Jazeera, was rich with history and culture.
Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Yezidis, and Arabs had lived together for centuries in this largely agricultural region. The area is closer to Iraq in proximity and culture than the rest of Syria – evident in the dialects, clothing, food and music. In the mid-1990s, in the small northeastern town of Ras Al Ain, Rizan Said – maverick pioneer of the Syrian Kurdish electronic synthesizer was getting his start. Rizan was a musical prodigy from a young age – a gifted player of percussion and reed instruments before a wealth of synthesizers began flooding Syria in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Steadfast on the Syrian cassette album circuit at the time, Rizan the boy wonder was already sending his signals out from the Jazeera frontier, thanks to a partnership with local producer Zuhir Maksi.
Live and studio cassette tapes from the region were distributed with frequency across the country, and Rizan was the man behind many of these regional releases. His compositional and improvisational prowess shone both live at wedding parties, and in the studio where he began producing with more frequency over the years. It can be said, that without Rizan Said, a good number of Syrian singers from the 1990s onward might never have been heard – most notably Omar Souleyman, a collaborator with Rizan for two decades. Where synthesizers can bring a certain artifice and death to the sound of music, Rizan’s torrential speed and flair on the keys bring new life to Syrian and Kurdish sounds – lightning fast as required – respectfully forcing the component sounds of folkloric dabke into the next level.
Once exposed to the west via Omar Souleyman, these swirling synths atop accelerated electronic beats easily seduced the "west" – and the world soon began celebrating the dabke sounds of Syria.
What has often been overlooked is the very specific context and vibe of northeastern Syria, where this music originates.
These sounds were indeed designed for dance, but when you’re at a Syrian wedding party, you begin to understand that this has been going on for centuries, before electro, disco, hipsters, and orientalists. This is the updated sound of the ages, where hand drums and reed flutes are now emulated and pounded out on Korg keyboards.
Run it through your favorite amplifier, and keep it in the red for authenticity. – Mark Gergis – April, 2015”