Archive for the ‘Belly Dance Music’ Category

When It All Goes Too Fast

December 11, 2012
But it feels SOO fast!

How will I EVER learn this? It’s  SOO fast!

A few years ago, I was teaching my student troupe a new drum solo. Their heads were spinning – it was definitely challenging – and they said it felt “so fast.”  As a teacher and choreographer, it’s pretty common to hear a comment like that when students first encounter new choreography. Why is that? What makes it feel so fast when it’s on time with the music, and the music itself doesn’t seem that fast?

In my experience, it all comes down to everything being relative. The music isn’t fast – it’s just going faster than the student can execute the movements. It can also be that the music is moving along faster than the student can recall the next step. Usually, it is a bit of both in the early stages of learning new belly dance choreography.  This is especially true with drum solos because they are often full of rapid-fire isolations and accents.

The solution isn’t new or obscure – slow down the music to match the students’ current speed of recall and movement execution.  Aside from easing frustration which interferes with learning, it gives the dancers time to fully complete each movement. This is HUGE. Along with posture,improving movement follow-through has one of the biggest payoffs in terms of performance quality.  Big dance studios have had the ability to slow down music for rehearsal for years. They had expensive and bulky  CD  or cassette (remember those?) players that allowed them to run the music at whatever speed they needed.

Now that technology has taken major leaps and bounds forward, we now have this ability right on our own computers and maybe even on your phone or iPod! Let’s look at a few ways to take control of your music that you might not know about:

How To Slow Down Your Belly Dance Music in Windows Media Player

  1. Open your music file with Windows Media Player
  2. Right click anywhere in the window.
  3. Select “Enhancements” then “Play Speed Settings”.
  4. A slide bar will appear that will let you adjust the music speed.

Thank you to my resourceful and clever private student, Pam for figuring this out and sharing it with me!

Using Audacity on Windows or Mac Computers

Audacity is a free music editor program that does oh-so-much more than just slow down music. In this program you can actually record and keep several speed versions to burn on a CD or load onto your iPod. This is especially handy if, like me, you use an iPod Mini that doesn’t run apps. While we’re on the topic of Audacity, I can’t stress enough how handy this free and easy-to-use program is for bellydancers! You can shorten songs that are too long. You can edit together, fade in and out or blend pieces for a smooth show. I recorded, edited and compiled all of the In the Ears, Out the Hips Podcasts entirely in this one program!

On Your Android Phone

If you carry your belly dance music on your Android phone, you can try the free Audio Speed Changer app. This will let you select mp3 files you’ve stored on your device and play them back at your selected speed. Connect your phone to your stereo’s audio input line with a cable and you’re ready for rehearsal!

On Your iPhone

According to this blog, playback speed control is built right into the iPhone’s iPod app!  The linked blog does have instructions on how to access that setting, although they only mention going faster. I don’t own an iPhone, so I couldn’t tell you for sure if a slower setting is available – you’d think it would be. If you do have one, check it out and let us know in the comments below.

There is also a free iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app available called Anytune.

As familiarity with the movements, muscle memory and actual memory improve, you can gradually increase the speed to 100%. By using this practice technique, you are sure to see better end results on the stage. So next time you’re staring down a choreography challenge – as a student or as an instructor – check out some of these options. Take a breath…… and slow down!

CD Review: “From Cairo with Love”

September 24, 2012

“From Cairo with Love” by Zamalek Musicians

The Zamalek Musicians’ 2010 release “From Cairo with Love” is a diverse mix of Egyptian performance tracks. There are 12 in all, including 3 drum solos, classic Oriental and folkloric pieces. Every experienced dancer has her own “formula” for putting together a full show, and I could easily put  a whole show together from the tracks on this CD, plus a few for teaching my classes too!  Fix yourself some tea and let’s sit down to listen together…

“From Cairo with Love” (5:41) The opening track is a strong entrance piece. After an initial upbeat section, it moves into a qanoon taqsim and then forward into a Malfouf melody. It changes gears with a sharp stop and glides on with a keyboard and qanoon melody that slows down  and then picks up into a heavier Saidi passage with a keyboard mizmar. There is a reprise of the Malfouf melody at the close. Its many changes keep things interesting and would make it an impressive stand-alone performance piece as well as an entrance.

“Shouf Il Banat” (4:07)  Are you in the mood for some Sha’abi? This CD has you covered with this fun and poppy song. It has a bright, highly produced sound and the vocals create some cute accents that you won’t be able to resist hitting with sassy dance moves. This is a perfect pick for getting your audience up to dance – the civilians (aka non-dancers) will definitely be able to relate to this style of music.

“Zena Zena” (4:27) This track opens with an energetic drum and has a “remix” kind of feel. This song strikes me as a split-personality; it has a very modern drum machine back beat but the violin and keyboard melody is very upfront and classic. This would be a good time to disclose to you, my dear readers,  that I have a strong distaste for drum machines. Once I identify them, it’s *all* I can hear in the song and the music takes on a soulless quality for me. If they don’t bother you, you might just love this song!

“Tabbel Wa Wahid” (4:01)  Watch out – it’s a Sha’abi fake out! This track starts out like a cute Sha’abi and turns into a lively drum solo! I think it would make a fun class performance piece. The drum solo pace is nice and full of interesting riffs that are still approachable for student choreography. It has a clean sound and a crisp finish.

“Silence of the Nile”  (4:29) I think this is my favorite track on the whole CD. It starts out with a ney solo soon joined by a meditative tabla. Both instruments pick up the pace and I find the ney melody especially inviting. It is full of lots of stops, accents and detail. This track is very unique in that it’s like a drum solo with instrumental additions. It takes a complete turn at 2:20 that practically feels like a completely different song (I bet you could use it edited!). The second half is more modern with keyboard and Oriental styling, and some Saidi elements. Taken from the beginning to the end, it almost feels like a mini-musical tour from folkloric to Oriental. I wonder if that’s what the musicians had in mind – there are no liner notes on the CD.

“Hilwina Hop” (3:14) Another fast, poppy cut – this one is almost comically fast! If you want to light a fire under your class for a fast travelling drill, this song would do the trick. Seriously, click the link and listen to the sample.

“Artist Bros.” (2:25)  Let me first say that I really appreciate the lack of drum machine on this track – it sounds real and raw. Two drums, zills and a tambourine.  I dig it. It has good energy and nice clean build to a finish. If you close your eyes it’s like the musicians are in the room with you.

“Warda” (4:52) This classic makes a beautiful entrance and this version is nicely instrumented with has a pace you can really sink into.  It’s got all the goodies like a quanoon solo and spooky Zar transition into the fast and fun closing passage. This is one of my favorite performance songs. And…. it falls into that “under 5 minute” mini-show category that is so useful for showcases where your slot is limited but you want to show your dance range.

“Habibi Ya Asaf” (4:35)  This cut is one that is better suited for class than for stage, in my opinion.  It is moderately fast and remains steady throughout. You can get *lots* of laps of walking 3/4 shimmy in with this song.

“Ya’ nawaim” (3:14) We’re heading to the countryside with this folksy track.  It has an irresistibly heavy feel that just might yank you out of your seat! There are alternating male and female vocal sections. I think it would make an interesting group performance piece, playing off the vocals. It would also work well for Saidi zill drills in class – the tempo is in the sweet spot for practice and the down beat is really clear for beginners to hear.

“Lissabri Hadoud” (3:44) This song has a pleasant  violin and keyboard melody, layered with interesting drum ornamentation. It would make a nice mid-show piece, especially for a restaurant or club venue where you’ll be dancing your way through the audience. Near the end, it slows down to a short oud taqsim then resumes the pace of the rest of the song.

“Khallina Ho” (2:25) This is the last drum solo on the CD. It has a nice mix of riffs – some were “deja vu”  moments from other solos. but it’s all good stuff. I would consider this an intermediate level drum solo.

“Bastannak” (3:54) This track is a lovely performance piece. It has a soft keyboard violin opening and a flowing sound.  I like the mix of drum flourishes and instrument variety. This is just the kind of piece you can improv to often and find different things to dance to with each listen. At the same time, it’s a nice even pace for class combos with the added bonus of cultivating their ear for richly arranged Egyptian music. Everybody wins.

Making the Leap to Live Music!

September 10, 2012

Performing at Tagine in New York City with Rachid Halihal and Majdi Kurd.

A dancer’s first solo is an exciting and scary experience, but  the first live music performance can induce a whole new level of stage fright – even in dancers with plenty of performance experience under their belt. Dancing to live music can – and should –  be a thrilling experience for both the audience and the dancer, but as with most worthwhile things, there’s a hurdle to jump or a challenge to face first before you can claim the thrill.  Spontaneous creative collaboration is the height of performance to me – I’ll take live music over recorded any night! When I think back over the “golden moments” I’ve had so far, they have all been live music situations. There is an undeniable magic that can happen when you open yourself up to this possibility.

Preparing Yourself for Live Music Performance
You spent weeks, maybe months, rehearsing for your first solo performance. Stepping up to dancing with live music takes a broader preparation approach, because you don’t always know exactly what’s coming. There are things you can do to get yourself ready, however. Here are a few:
  • Know the standards and classics of Arabic, Turkish and Greek music. It will give you some peace of mind. It will also increase the odds that the band will play something that you are familiar with. Even if they don’t play a standard, by being acquainted with well-known and popular songs from these genres, you will get comfortable with the common features of belly dance music from different regions.
  • Work on your improvisational dance skills with an emphasis on channeling the melody and rhythm. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…”in the ears, out the hips!” Practice staying “present” in the music and dancing to the elements that come forward and to your attention. Part of the artistry in improvisational dance is that each dancers hears and feels the music a little differently. You may even hear and feel the same piece differently on different days. Today the deep underlying rhythm may draw you, tomorrow the flute melody may be calling your name. Practice following your intuition; this is not a right or wrong scenario.
  • Learn your rhythms so you can navigate your way through unfamiliar songs. Face it – you can ask for “Miserlou”, “Alf Leyla” and “Sawah” and the band leader may nod and smile, but don’t be surprised if they play whatever the #>%$ they want! Sorry to burst your bubble. In the case of long Egyptian belly dance classics like “Enta Omri”, they will likely play a few selected sections. They may not be the same sections in the 6 minute version you have on your CD! I’m not saying this to scare you, but rather to point out how important it is to be able to find your way through unknown music using skills and strategies. There are some bands that will give you exactly what you request and that’s fabulous – but hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Here’s an exercise to help prepare you for the “live” experience…
Ask a dancer friend to make you a CD of 10 danceable songs that are not “classics”  or things she knows you are familiar with. Do the same for her and trade CDs.
When you’re practicing, play 1 or 2 of those songs and dance through whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not – no excuses. Dance on the rhythm. Dance to reflect the melody lines of each instrument. Try to catch the accents and changes as they occur. Your instincts and reflexes will get sharper with practice – I promise!
When you’re on with a live band, you have to keep the show going no matter what so learn to dig deep and push yourself – it’s far better to get used to it in your living room than in front of an audience!
Let me tell you about the wedding gig where I had to dance to an Afghani accordion… really!

Once upon a time, before I learned the lesson of avoiding a “middle man” when booking a gig, I arrived at an Afghani wedding only to find that they had no CD player (this was before the dawn of the  iPod). They only had a cassette deck and I had already abandoned those. “That’s ok”, the host cheerfully told me, “Uncle Mo has his drum and Uncle Ali has his accordion. They’ll play for you!” And so I proceeded to do a 45 minute show(they wouldn’t stop!)  to Afghani accordion and drum music. I knew nothing about Afghani music, but I grooved into the drum line and opened myself up to playing off the accordion melody. Even though Uncle Ali didn’t speak a lick of English, we communicated plenty and it turned out to be a great show for an ecstatic audience.
Tell us about your first live music performance or your most “surprising” one in the comments below…

CD Review: “Belly Dance Mirage” by Ya Salam Orchestra

July 30, 2012

Belly Dance Mirage by Ya Salam Orchestra

“Belly Dance Mirage” by Ya Salam Orchestra has 13 tracks with a nice variety for any cabaret dancer looking for performance music. Among them, there are four drum solos ranging from straight-forward to complex. I would consider 5 of the songs to be “classics”.  Ya Salam’s renditions bring something fresh making them worth adding to your library even if you already have a few versions of these standards. For the dancer who is just building their classics library – as every new belly dancer should – this CD has lots to offer.

Nagwa (4:42) This CD opens appropriately with an entrance piece. Nagwa has a very modern sound, heavy on the keyboard. This track is full of tempo changes with plenty of fun hooks, accents and pauses which make it a wonderful performance piece in the “under 5 minute” category.

Bahlam Beek (4:27) Whenever I hear this song, I am immediately transported back to Morocco’s New York City studio and her weeklong intensive. We spent two days learning a choreography to this in her distinctive “water torture” method of repeating practice. And yes, I DO still remember parts of it over 7 years later! Ya Salam’s rendition is true to the classic with a more “vintage” feel that the opening track. The drum line is clean and crisp behind a nice mix of ney and qanoon.

Nile Cabaret (3:14) The CD’s first drum solo has a short modern keyboard into. A drum machine provides a back beat through most of the track. The drum riffs are clear, varied and fun. However, I think this track feels like it comes to an “unexpected” end. It doesn’t build to a finish but rather the keyboard comes in with a closing flourish. This could work nicely in the context of a full show if it was followed up with a song that continued the modern keyboard feel.

Ashk Al Sabaya (4:36) Another track with a more “vintage” attitude, this one features lots of vocals from male and female choruses and a male lead vocalist. The inital upbeat intro slips into a mawal backed by keyboard and violin. When the singer wraps that up, it drops into a satisfying and folksy tempo. A quick online search didn’t turn up any lyrics for this song and none are provided on the CD. I really like this song, but as always, I recommend getting a translation before performing to music with vocals, especially if you are performing for an Arab audience – better safe than sorry!

Ya Moustafa (4:08) Yes, it’s the old classic – but this version opens with a kickin’ little drum solo. The lively drum line sticks around in the background and then comes back mid-song for another mini drum solo before slowing down – just a little – for a violin solo. If you’re looking for a lively version of this classic with some “fire in the belly” , this may be just the thing.

Bardawi Drum Solo (3:00) Another drum solo, this time without the keyboards. This one fires off fast, interesting and what I think of as “assymetrical” riffs – ones that don’t repeat the patterns- so it’s not easy to “follow” for improvisation.  It gets hot and heavy at the end and has a strong finish. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with this track’s patterns, it would make an excellent and captivating performance piece for an experienced dancer.

Fein Ghazali (4:49) “Fein Ghazali” alternates between even, mid-tempo melodic sections and taqsims with short drum transitions. The melody line is quirky, but appealing.  I would not personally choose this track as show music, but its back-and-forth pacing give me ideas  to use it as a teaching tool for improvisation and musicality in class.

Manafsaji (3:42) Although it doesn’t say so on the CD cover, this song feels like it could have been plucked right out of a Samia Gamal movie. It starts out in a moderately fast Maqsoum then slows way down for a violin solo with a slow chiftitelli backdrop. An abrupt 2/4 drum transition leads in to a short drum solo. The track wraps up with a reprise of the opening melody. I can almost see her sashaying around between the marble columns as I listen…

Zambulla Drum Solo (3:31) Drum solo #3 has repeating and more predictable riffs than “Bardawi” and would be a good choice for a new performer, but don’t take that to mean it’s boring. It has plenty of interest to hold the dancer’s and the audience’s attention. I think this would be a good “shimmy drill” track for a mixed-level class too. More experienced students could practice “catching” some of the drum patterns for a little improv practice while working on their shimmy smoothness and endurance.

Zay al Hawa (5:15) Another classic – and this is one of my favorite versions of this particular song. The accents are crisp and the pace is perfect for a lively yet laid-back feel. There’s so much going on musically in this track to play with as a dancer – the tabla is full of fun flourishes even in the background, the melody has fun twists and there moments of soft sustain to add contrast. Great features like these are why classics have such enduring power in our dance. Good music is just good music.

Tabla Zein (2:04) Short and sweet, Tabla Zein comes in fast and high-pitched then slows down, shedding layers of percussion one at a time till it’s just one tabla winding down to brief second of silence. Then POW! The whole percussion section hits back for a fast ending. Much could be done with a structure like that – have fun!

Tamra Henna (4:20) This is another version of the classic, opening with a brief qanoon solo. Unlike the original arrangement, it leaves the well-known melody early for a meandering keyboard solo with lots of “drummy bits” in the background. It does eventually come back to the melody in the last minute to close.

Moallem Tabla (2:08) Yet another drum solo! This one is also a manageable 2:00 length – just right for a class choreography or slipping into a short showcase performance. This one has some cute and funky rhythm patterns and plenty of fun energy. I especially like it “roll and pop” ending –  Ta-DAH!

CD Review: “Nasrah” – Turkish Bellydance

June 25, 2012

Turkish belly dance CD review

Although I readily confess that my heart belongs to classic Arabic music, even I get a craving  for the lively energy of Turkish belly dance music now and then. And 9/8… that is a delicacy all its own in my book! When “Nasrah” by the Huseyin Turkmenler Ensemble found its way into my hands, I was very pleased with it’s mix of performance tracks, teaching tracks and soul-stirring 9/8s. Let’s have a virtual listen together….

Arabia (6:01)  Ironically, this Turkish CD starts out with a Turkish interpretation of Arabic bellydance music. This tune has a lively start with an interesting melody then progresses into a violin solo backed by a fast chiftitelli. The violin line is full of textural interest to play with. This track includes a fast drum solo before winding up with a fast, melodic close. This makes a nice selection for a showcase piece of limited length.

Rast Oyun Havasi (5:30)  Track 2 starts out fast then slows down to a moderate chiftitelli with a melody that takes turns the  qanoon and violin. There’s a fast-firing drum solo before  the melody returns, punctuated by drum breaks. This also is a good choice for a single-song performance.

Bekar Gezelim (4:34) This track takes off with a short drum intro that opens onto another lively melody. It mellows out with a clarinet solo. After a brief revisit with the melody, the violin takes a turn for a solo then changes rhythm abruptly changes to a  more flowing feel before fading out. This is usable for both performance and in class for combos.

Calgici Kansi Binnaz (5:19) This song starts out subtly with a clarinet solo backed by a veil of qanoon. The  melody begins at a nice walkling pace in a 4/4 time, but with a Roma feel. There’s lots of drum ornamentation to play with behind an expressive a melody that you can really sink into as a whole. The feel and tempo are very even throughout the piece, picking up the pace just for the close.  It’s even nature would make it a good piece for teaching.

Tekirdag Karsilamasi (4:37) This track also has a gentle qanoon introduction. But don’t relax, the drum comes in with a brisk 9/8 that will compel you to get out of your seat! There are some sporadic vocals and a really crazy repeating accent that sounds like a glissando-type effect on a qanoon – have fun with that! The pace throughout is steady until the final close. This is a really good track for practicing 9/8 combinations as well as a fun show piece.

Percussion Improvisation Konyali (6:09) This drum track starts off with unforgiving speed right out of the gates. The lead drum keeps up the speed till around 1:45 when it slows down to a moderate pace and the accents become more defined for a short while. This track feels related to” Tekirdag Karsilamasi” with it’s glissando- like features and would work well in combination for a longer performance.

Nikris Oyun Havasai/Ya Mustafa (4:11) If you are looking for a good Turkish-flavored class piece for combos, the first 3:00 of this track is a perfect choice.  After the 3 minute mark, it morphs into a fast close with the familiar “Ya Mustafa” melody.

Karacbey Ciftetellisi (7:00)  Another excellent choice for class, this moderately slow 4/4 piece would be very handy for combos or drilling smooth movements. Its relaxed feel would make a nice interlude between faster pieces in a Turkish set, but a bit long for my personal tastes – Audacity to the rescue! It does  gain some speed in the final 2:30 minutes before it fades out.

Mastika (4:39) This track is a delicate 9/8 with a light feel that I love. I think this is an especially nice “intro to 9/8” piece because it is easier to hear the rhythm and feel its pulse through the melody,more so than other 9/8 tracks commonly available. There are some vocal interjections of a man calling “Bravo!”.  “Mastika” is a girl’s name, perhaps he is cheering on a dancing girl? It speeds up slightly toward the end then slows down to a soft, clean finish. This is a lovely track for all-around 9/8  use. It is my personal favorite on the CD and will soon be taking up residence on my iPod!

Azize (5:22) This is a wonderful Turkish interpretation of the Arabic classic. A little  lighter and sprightlier than traditional Arabic recordings, it would make an excellent and uplifting performance piece. The drum accents are crisp and the violin taqsim is eloquent. The melody plays out on a dual layer of violin and qanoon that are delightful and fresh sounding. Even if you have several Arabic versions of this classic, this one is a unique addition to your performance music library.

CD Review: “The Essence of Bellydance”

May 14, 2012

Essence of BellydanceAl-Ahram Orchestra’s “The Essence of Bellydance” was released in 2008. In the years that I’ve had it, I have returned to its tracks over and over for both performing and teaching, so I thought I’d let you get to know it if you aren’t familiar with this versatile CD already. Overall, the album has a modern Egyptian sound with lots of keyboard, complex melodies and well-placed accents. Several of these songs really are staples on my bellydance show playlists!

Lylet Al Naseeb (7:28)  This classy entrance piece gets off to a traditional Malfouf start then drops into a moderate Saidi rhythm. The melody alternates between phrases of keyboard and ney for the main theme of the piece. It slows down midway in with a Chiftitelli, then picks up for an upbeat section with a Khaliji feel then drifts off to a waltz that is lovely for travelling around the floor. If you are doing a performance where you can only do one song, this one gives you lots of opportunities to show off different elements of your dancing. The song closes with a reprise of the main melodic theme and a Malfouf exit.

Tamr Henna (4:55) This is the “other” Tamr Henna. This piece has a melancholy melody and a steady pace. It works well for running slow, smooth combos or veil combos in class.

Nagham al Hob (3:33) Another good teaching track, this one has a steady Maqsoum rhythm at a nice moderate pace. The drum is rather “up front” in the sound which makes it a good choice for practicing combos with zills in the Maqsoum rhythm.

Sahran Alayya (6:36) This dramatic entrance piece always suggests whirling to me. It starts off with a qanoon taqsim,  then transitions with a fast gallopy section. It moves on to a slow Saidi with a sultry keyboard line interspersed with fast segments. It really invites you to show lots of personality through the changes of tempo.

Ikhlasik Fen (4:36)  This track also starts out with a qanoon intro then progresses to a moderately fast Saidi rhythm accompanied by a qanoon and keyboard melody line.  This song has some nice “stop accents” to play with. It feels vaguely like a traditional beladi, but not quite. The melody line in the last section is where you hear that most clearly.

Sahrawi Ya Wad (4:30) I am tempted to call this song “a meditation on the saxophone.” That is the melodic instrument at the forefront of the sound. It’s joined by a keyboard in some parts and has a very spare Maqsoum in the background. It is steady and subtle and makes a better teaching track than performance track, in my opinion.

Habayibna Gayyin (3:36)  This is a moderately paced Saidi track that presents the rhythm straight up and with heavier variations for phrase emphasis. It takes a few Malfouf  side trips along the way. This one is steady enough for teaching  but interesting enough for a show thanks to a nice melody and the rhythm changes.

Soublil Alashra (3:53) This track is a bouncy 2/4  with some scattered vocals. The melody is carried on keyboard and keyboard-synthesized mizmar.  I like to use this track for drilling and teaching small travelling “flat/ball” steps.

Mizamir Arabaa (3:47) With a keyboard mizmar, this track has the heavy feel of a Saidi but with an electronic modern sound. At 1:15 it changes to a drum break then features a call and response section between the “mizmar” and the keyboard. I’d use this for a Saidi performance if I was looking for a decidedly modern feel. I’d also use it for cane drills.

Altablalal Ghallab (2:14) This drum solo has a crisp, clear sound, nice changes and good flow. My crazy dance partner and I used it for a duet a few years back. It has nice tempo changes and some unusual riffs that are fun (if challenging to choreograph). The piece wraps with a heavy wind up and a clean end.

Ala Baladi Il Mahboob (3:24) This is one of my favorite  performance songs because you can play really interesting, musical zills to it. It also has a qanoon opening and then sets the mood with a  heavy Masmoudi variation. It progresses to a slow Maqsoum that breaks pattern to occasionally merge with whats going on in the melody line – which is where the zill fun is. There is a nice call and response between the qanoon and keyboard. The track moves into a fast section with plucky little surprise accents that I love – then straight into a 6/8 section. It closes with the same Masmoudi melody theme that it opened with.

Ouilli Ya Baboor (5:13) This track begins with an almost painfully slow and moody atmosphere from strings and ney. At 2:15 it turns up the intensity and pace but keeps its serious mood. This could make a good sword performance piece.  The melody line leaves a lot of room to work within it for sword tricks. It has another nice transition around 4:15 that reverts primarily to drum till the close.

Ana Hashik (3:53) This is a true gem with a coy attitude and fun moments! Its very playful opening develops into a sassy walking pace with great vocals to play off of. I have always found this song to be real crowd pleaser and especially great for parties where you are right among your audience. Try it, you’ll like it!

If you have this CD, what are you favorite tracks and how do you like to use them? Tell us about it in the comments below…

CD Review: Hossam Ramzy’s “Baladi Plus”

February 13, 2012

Baladi PlusI recently got a copy of  Hossam Ramzy’s “Baladi Plus”. True to its name, this CD has a heavy, folksy feel throughout its eight tracks. As an instructor, I find a lot to like in this CD and my students can count on hearing a lot of it in class. This one will definitely be taking up permanent residence on my teaching  iPod!

The CD opens with “Night Foal” (2:29) which sets the tone for the music to come. It starts out with a rebaba improvisation that is shortly joined by a mizmar. The rebaba drops into a drone in the background while the mizmar takes the lead in what I can only describe as a succulent and delicious taqsim. Mizmar is one of those love-it or hate-it instruments. If you love mizmar, this will move you. If you don’t… well, move on to the next track!

The second track, “Arabian Knights” (8:33) is a straight up Saidi. The liner notes say this was written for the dance of the stallions the Said region is known for. If you don’t have any dancing horses around, don’t worry. This mid-paced, even tempered Saidi makes a fantastic drill track. I can see it being used for ATS drill, Saidi zill drills or cane practice where its over 8 minute length is a real plus. This will be a mainstay on my playlist for teaching Saidi workshops.  Just because I’m recommending it for drill, don’t think it’s too boring for performance. The mizmar has a fun melody line and the rebaba pops up for some cute little accents in the background that could be expressed in choreography or improvisation.

“Mashalla” (8:08) is a rhythmic play on the similarities and differences between the Masmoudi and Maqsoum rhythms which have the same pattern but in different time signatures. I think this is really cool because I’ve demonstrated this with zills to my classes for years – now I can let them hear it directly in one piece of music too. Aside from this fun musical trivia bit,  this would also make a good drill track for shimmies.

Track 4, “Alla Hai” (5:58) is a Zaar, an Egyptian ritual dance to rid the particpants of evil spirits. It starts as a slow, plodding 2/4  that gradually picks up speed. This would be a very good track for drilling basics with zill triplets.

“Baladi We Hetta”  or “Baladi Plus” (9:17) is the title track. It has a lively pace and an accordion melody that you takes you on a great ride for improvisation. To me, this track feels like the second half of a traditional baladi progression. It has a built in drum solo starting around the 5:00 mark to the end, which is pretty handy for a performance piece.

If you like the flow of soft Chiftitelli pieces, you will most likely enjoy “Wahda We Bas” (7:16). This track has a Wahda Kabira base rhythm holding up a pretty oud melody, which playfully teases at Chiftitelli a couple times in the song. But just when you’re settled into the flow around 4:15 it gracefully sneaks into a Samaai (10/8) which makes it all the more interesting in my book. This would be a lovely piece for veil work.

“Malfouf Ala Westi” (6:54) means “Wrapped Around My Hip” – what a great title for a bellydance song! This track is entirely in the Malfuf rhythm, most often used for entrances and exits in cabaret pieces. Here it is the backdrop for a baladi piece with more of that juicy Egyptian accordion. This would make a really good show closer for a full set – it has a nice build up to a strong finish. Off the stage and in the studio, this would be a good piece to use for practicing the fast travelling steps we use to enter and exit the stage.

And the best comes last…. dear “Roah Albi” (7:20), where have you been all my dancing life? That’s ok, if I heard this too early on as a performer I wouldn’t have been able to handle it! If you are into doing virtuoso drum solos this track is manna from heaven. You better eat your Wheaties if you plan to dance to this – it’s long and unrelenting in dishing up rhythm changes and  interesting hooks you just will not want to pass up. It has some fun call and response passes between the tabla and zills and a great roll section perfect for some fun shimmy-play. All that would be enough but to gild the lilly, that Samaai is back around 4:00 – and that really pleases the rhythm junkie in this dancer. When I said eat your Wheaties, I meant it because Mr. Ramzy will work you hard for the last 2:30. I LOVE it. This IS my next drum solo – bring it on!

You see, I told you there was a lot to like about this CD! From stage to studio this one will get lots of use around here.

Already own this CD? What are you favorite tracks and how do you use them? Tell us in the comments below….

CD Review: Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock The Tabla”

December 12, 2011

I recently received a copy of  Hossam Ramzy’s “Rock the Tabla” CD for review. It arrived in the mail as I was headed out to teach so I popped it in the car CD player for a first listen. From the title (and the artist) I expected a CD of hot drum solos but this CD was quite the surprise!  If I had read the notes first, I’d have know that this is a collaboration CD.  Ramzy has been a guest percussionist for many other artists and in this CD  “Egypt’s Ambassador of Rhythm” invited his favorite artists from other genres to swing on his playground.

“Rock the Tabla” has 11 tracks that run between 3:00 and 6:00 minutes each. The guest artists include A.R. Rahman, Billy Cobham, Manu Katche, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Jimmy Waldo, Chaz Kkashi, Phil Thornton and John Themis.

The opening track, “Arabatana” (5:07) set me straight with a Spanish guitar and a very “Santana-esque” electric lead guitar. The opening guitar melodies give way to a drum break and then back to the guitars. I think this could make a very interesting skirt fusion piece.

“Cairo to India” (5:51)  is the second track. This selection has a modern Middle Eastern feel with a kind of “India -meets-Jazz” vocal melody in parts.  This song has a good, steady pace and would make a better drill or combo practice song than performance piece, in my opinion.

Next up is “6 Teens” (4:31). This piece is lively and has great energy, drum breaks and accents.  It also has varying time signatures, primarily 7/8 and 9/8. This is a really interesting piece and I am drawn to listening (and dancing in my office) to  it over and over – I love unusual rhythms!

Track 4, “Ancient Love Affairs”  feels like cool water poured all over me on a hot day. It is soothing and relaxing, but won’t put you to sleep thanks to a light layer of interesting percussion. Now, I’m not a tribal gal, but I imagine this would be a perfect slow combo song for ATS – listen to it and tell me if that’s right.

Yes, there is a drum solo – “Shukran Arigato” (3:52) combines Egyptian tabla and Japanese taiko drums. The two drummers use a “call and response” format with  Karatchi and Malfouf rhythms as a backdrop. This doesn’t sound decidedly Japanese and could be a fun drum solo. This will definitely make it onto my “Shimmy Drill” playlist for class.

“Blusey Flusey” (5:05) is  another 7/8 track. The rhythm feels right up front with a melancholy violin in the back. That’s all cool with me, but when the mizmar jumped in I found the song much more appealing. For me, this is a piece to just enjoy listening to and dancing freestyle just for fun.

Yet another rhythmically adventurous track, “Billy Dancing” (4:32) (no, that’s not a typo) switches between a 9/8 and Saidi rhythms. For that reason, it doesn’t make a good drill song, but might make for a fun choreography if you dig accordion.

According to the liner notes, “Sawagy” (4:04) is a blend of rock, Latino and Egyptian Fellahi styles. This track has full vocals and I’d say it feels mostly modern Egyptian at the beginning till the rock guitar comes about two minutes in and dominates by the end.

“Dom and Doumbia” (3:03) is another drum duet, this time between Ramzy on Egyptian tabla joined by a Malian djembe player.  Personally, I like more distinct riffs and accents for my performance drum solos but the overall steady nature of this track makes it another good one for a “Shimmy Drill” class playlist.

The title track “Rock the Tabla” (5:33) features Omar Faruk Tekbilek on mizmar – but don’t be scared away if you’re not a mizmar-lover. It’s not the dominant instrument. This track has vocals and a lot of electric guitar. The liner notes say Ramzy was inspired by his work with Led Zepplin in creating this track and you can hear that in the last minute or so.  If you’re inclined to use fusion music in your class, this would be a good song for teaching or drilling combos.

I love the playful title of the closing track , “This Could Lead to Dancing”. This final track seems to be  a reprise of “Cairo to India” and it makes a fine send off to a varied and interesting CD.

What do you think of this CD? Tell us in the comments below…

Jump in the Stream….About Musicality

November 7, 2011

We talk alot about musicality in bellydance, perhaps because improvisation is such a strong tradition right down to the roots of the style. Like the concept of “stage presence”, musicality can be difficult to define in practical terms. It is interesting to view it through the lens of another dance style, particularly one that is traditionally choreographed. A recent post by one of my new favorite dance bloggers got me thinking.

New dancers spend (or should spend) a considerable amount of time learning to hear and dance properly on the most common rhythms for their style. These will differ for bellydance students learning Egyptian, Greek or Turkish styles for example. Some beginners come to class and find their first challenge just keeping the basic beat, before they even attempt to work with a rhythm pattern.

With time and practice, body beats get steadier and rhythms speak more clearly to the dancer. The next pursuit is to move beyond a simple approach to rhythm and take the music in a more holistic sense… learning “musicality”. Every instructor’s definition of this would be unique in some way. It should be – it’s about personal impressions of the music and how you express them. So I’ll just speak for myself here.

When I am looking to help a student develop their musicality, I want them to be more aware of the larger structures in the music such as the phrasing, verse/chorus arrangements and the rise and fall of energy in the landscape of the piece. Whether improvisationally or through choreography, these can be reflected in floor patterns, scale of movement and repetition of movements for a sense of “theme”.

Musicality also includes attention to the details. The characteristics of the instruments heard up-front , whether they are smooth, vibratory or percussive, should be evident in the movements that occupy the music they make. The flourishes and sudden accents are like exclamations – they are important and interesting and deserve visual  representation.

These are just a few of the elements that we tap to develop a better physical connection with our music. It’s a subtle process and one that deepens with time and experience. It’s best learned with music that truly inspires you and that you really love. The best analogy I can give my students is this:

When you dance correctly “on” the music, you are riding in the boat and letting the stream take you at its pace. When you take note of and use the structure, energy, mood and details of the music along with the pace, you are dancing “in” your music and now you are swimming in the stream. It surrounds you and moves you and caresses all of your body.

Wouldn’t you rather swim?

How do you define “musicality”? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

A Zill Q & A

August 11, 2011

A student asked me this recently…

Q. Do I have to play my zills for the whole song? And if I don’t, can I just stop and start wherever I want?

A. No, you don’t have to play your zills for any whole song – in fact, you may be overpowering the softer parts of your music if you do. The music calls the shots in this dance style, so when the music goes down in intensity, so should your playing.  You can ring them more softly by barely tapping the edges together, play a less ornamented version of the rhythm pattern with less hits or even stop playing all together. Silence creates contrast – contrast is interesting and good! Experiment and see what compliments the music and your movement best.

Now that we know it’s OK to stop playing, how do you decide when? No, you can’t just stop and start willy-nilly. Well, you could, but it doesn’t look or sound professional. What I see most often in these “random start and stop” situations is that the dancer can’t keep playing while doing more complex movements, so the body goes and the hands stop.  That’s not the best solution – practice is.

Music has structural patterns that give us opportunities to start and stop playing that are comfortable and make sense to your audience. We already mentioned a change in the intensity, but there are also chorus /verse transitions and the phrasing of the melody.  Think of it like a driving on a freeway – you can’t turn off just anywhere – you have to wait for the next exit.

I cover more concepts for adding musicality to your zill playing in my “Thrills with Zills: From Rhythm to Musicality” workshop.  If you’d like to book one in your area, email me  for info and my 2012 workshop selections.