And Now, Our Favorite Syrian Wedding Singer

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Omar Souleyman performing during NPR Music's showcase at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City on Wednesday, Oct. 16. (Loren Wahl/NPR)

Omar Souleyman’s songs are like the Middle Eastern version of cajun music — they never fail to get people dancing. That's something Souleyman learned to do in his early career as a wedding singer in northeastern Syria, where his early performances came with a twist: he literally didn’t know what he was going to sing when he started a song. Instead, his assistant joined him on stage and whispered lyrics into his ear, and he’d sing whatever he was told.

It's not surprising that Souleyman developed a mystique. His cassettes circulated in the underground for years before the American record label Sublime Frequencies discovered him, and now he collaborates with people like Björk and plays big festivals.

The unfortunate thing? Being from Syria, Souleyman's had trouble getting into the U.S. since the travel ban. So his show on Sept. 5 at the Ritz in San Jose seems more important than ever. Details here.