Syrian singer Omar Souleyman may be barred from performing NYC concert

The spring concert series presented by Brooklyn’s World Music Institute may be another victim of President Donald Trump’s executive order that bans U.S. visits from Iraqis, Syrians, Sudanese, Iranis, Libyans, Somalians and Yemenis for 90 days.

The Institute, a 32-year-old nonprofit dedicated to sharing music from around the world in intimate settings, plans to present Omar Souleyman, a Syrian singer who performs dance and trance-like love songs, and who now lives in Sanliurfa, Turkey, on May 11 at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village.

This week Souleyman’s booking agent, Mina Tosti, a Williamsburg native who now lives in Istanbul, was made aware of an “urgent notice” from the U.S. Embassy & Consulates. In light of Trump’s executive order, it said, visas to citizens of Syria and the other six countries have been “suspended effective immediately until further notification. If you have an appointment scheduled, please DO NOT ATTEND.”

Visitors with citizenships in these countries would not even be permitted entry to embassy and consulate buildings, according to the “Urgent Notice Regarding Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.”

Souleyman, who started his career as a wedding singer and is known for his catchy love songs in the Arabic language, “is an incredible artist who is loved around the world,” said Par Neiburger, the artistic director of the World Music Institute. Souleyman’s diverse NYC fan base – part of a larger international group of Souleyman enthusiasts that includes not just Arabic speakers, but hipster technophiles who appreciate Souleyman’s collaboration with English house producer Four Tet – “will be really upset if they can’t see him,” Neiburger said.

Souleyman, who also performed at the 20th annual Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, has visited the United States 16 times in the last seven years – “16 times of extreme vetting!” – and never before had a visa problem, Tosti said. Her client now holds an “approval notice” good for all of 2017 from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Department of Homeland Security that requires a new visa for each visit, she explained. Souleyman’s electronic keyboard player, Hasan Alo, who is also a Syrian national and who lives near Souleyman in southeastern Turkey, is similarly a victim of the ban, Tosti said.

One discordant irony is that Souleyman’s music bridges the very divide that is now Balkanizing the nation and the globe, Neiburger noted: “His music is a cross section of traditional Syrian music and contemporary Western music. He bridges the cultural divide!”

More than 1,000 State Department employees, diplomats and foreign service officers have signed a “dissent cable” complaining that the president’s ban is counterproductive, likely to fuel anti-U.S. sentiment around the world, sour international relations, damage humanitarian efforts and negatively affect the U.S. economy.

“It is great they are ‘rebelling,’” Tosti said by email, but she added, “I’m very skeptical this will make any difference.”

“I’ve never encountered anything like this,” said Neiburger, who described the hitch as unprecedented. But, he continued, tickets to Souleyman are selling briskly and the World Music Institute has no plans to cancel the concert.

How will they get him here?

“We haven’t exactly figured that out,” said Neiburger, “but we’re not giving up.”