By Alisha Lions
While belly dancing trend-setters
look for the next craze in the dance (the latest being
Burlesque Belly) Amina Goodyear, ignited the stage at the Mission
Cultural Center, on October 1st, with her band, five dancers and an
MC, through the concept of Tarabiya (visual enchantment) and Tarab
(inner mystical joy). This, along with a multi-cultural extravaganza
of talent and their devotion to Arabic culture with a deep understanding
of the music, sets the stage for the next evolution of the dance.
This production was dedicated to Om Kalthoum, regarded as one of the
greatest female singers of all time. The dancers in this production
did not just perform; they interpreted the meaning of the lyrics from
such lovely poetic pieces she once sang, such as Enta Omri, Lessa
Faker, Daret el Ayam, Hayart Albi Maak and Alf Leila wa Leila, expressing
love, loves confusion, loss, sorrow and joy. We have seen
great dancers such as Naqwa Fouad, sing to the audience with feeling
as she danced. However, the dancers at the Tarabiya concert
took it a step further; they internalized the drama of these lyrics
and conveyed them through sincere, heart-felt emotions along with
subtle dance movements - similar to the way actresses do - by internalizing
the emotions before expressing them outwardly. This gives the
dance a whole new meaning and places it on a new level of existence
- a plateau of respectability where it richly deserves to be.
These are not just belly dancers, they are artists: Dannhae,
Nicole, Ahava, Hana Ali and Zahara.
Master of Ceremonies, Salena (an accomplished dancer, herself) added
to the concept of Tarab with her grace and ability to interpret the
lyrics of each song sincerely, without any fanfare, as she read them
to audience before each dancer appeared. This allowed the audience
to become more aware of what they were viewing and more involved in
the supreme state of Tarab and Tarabiya.
The musicians, each, long time, well-established players in the Bay
Area, certainly contributed their musical arrangements to this event:
Faisal Zedan, percussion; Husain Dixon Resan, oud, voice; Jalal Takesh,
kanun; Sandy Hollister, percussion; Amina Goodyear, percussion; Younes
el Maqboul, violin.
The following sponsors contributed to Tarabiya production: La
Taza coffee Shop, Mi Tierra Market, Truly Mediterranean, Old Jerusalem
Restaurant, Samiramis Imports. Their endowments along with Amina
Goodyear, Dannhae and Jason Wallach (Mission Cultural Center for Latino
Arts) made this wonderful event possible.
Thank you all for this extraordinary evening.
Alisha Lions (dance
name, "Aleeah") has been a major lover of Middle Eastern
dance for 20 years. She began her studies with Aisha Ali in
the nineties. Some of her other teachers have included, Dr.
Mo Gheddawi, Shareen el Safy and Amina Goodyear. Whenever
she can she performs at Rakkasah, Pena Pasha Mama and Al Masri.
This was her first year she danced at Paloma's Holloween Bean
Scream and had an absolute blast. She also enjoys
- An Evening With Om Kalthoum
Concert and Dance Performance Review
By Rebecca Firestone
How many of us have heard the name Om Kalthoum? The
most renowned Arabic singer of her generation? The voice that was
heard on radios throughout the Arab world, the woman who created an
entire genre and repertoire of love songs, composed especially for
her - songs that are now considered as the "Egyptian classics"
One reason I ended up learning these classic songs is that most live
Arabic musicians seem to know them backwards and forwards. So, if
you're out there with a band, and you want to be sure of dancing to
something vaguely familiar, you can learn to ask for "Andah Aleik"
(some of us, who don't speak Arabic, refer to this Warda song as "Under
a Lake") or "Lailet Hob". It's a good idea to get familiar
with the pieces ahead of time, though. These composed musical pieces
are more than folk tunes. They have constant rhythm changes and breaks
in unpredictable spots. They're not dancehall tunes. They're more
like a conversation - or a dramatic soliloquy that makes more sense
when read aloud.
Younes el Maqboul, Jalal Takesh, Husain Dixon, Amina Goodyear , Sandy
Hollister & Faisal Zeidan
world may be divided between those who think "Alf Layla Wa Layla"
is the pinnacle of bellydance music and those who find the "cabaret
bellydance" image too contrived or too princess-y for their taste.
This is judging a book by its cover. The important thing to me is
that the dance should not be soulless - "soul" being a sincere
desire to reach out to the audience, everyone in the audience, and
touch them somehow, include them.
But even those
of us who've danced many times to these classics don't realize their
depth. We can name rhythms like "Wahada" or "Maqsoum"
and even play them a bit - but, Arabic music relies on "maqams"
which are the structural equivalent of a key signature in Western
music. Even now, I couldn't tell you how Maqam Bayati differs from
Maqam Nahawand, even though I can actually sing along quite well to
some of the music that uses them.
And then there are the actual lyrics. I think our translations do
the lyrics a disservice, really, because their literal meaning in
English doesn't capture their poetic feeling. We get things like "oh
my eyes, oh oh my insomnia, a lengthy period of time has elapsed"
which just doesn't capture the state of being totally obsessed with
someone who's just dumped us for a new lover. We may find more resonance
with Nine Inch Nails' "I want to **** You Like An Animal"
- but this attitude is a couple of galaxies away from the mainly "G"
rated poetry in these classic songs. And in our culture, "G"
ratings just don't sell. Can you imagine Snoop Dogg singing anything
The first dancer to appear was Dannhae, performing
to "Enta Omri", which could mean something like "You
light up my life
everything in my life before I saw you was
this concert was so special. A joint effort of local San Francisco
bellydance teachers Amina Goodyear and Dannhae, the core intention
is to convey a feeling of musical ecstasy known as "Tarab"
- that feeling of timelessness, of floating, while the beauty of the
music flows around us and through us. As the Sufi saying goes, "The
lover's food is the love of bread, not the bread."
"When I conceived of this project, I chose a number of Om Kalthoum
songs [knowing that] all the dancers and musicians were already familiar
with her music
it is quite remarkable that Om Kalthoum, who
was and is the voice of
the Arabic speaking world
the unifying bond in this show."
The dancers and musicians were from all over: Syria, Iraq, Morocco,
Turkey, Pakistan, and several hyphenated American ethnicities as well.
All of the dancers live locally and study with Amina - I've been in
Amina's performance class with them week after week, enduring the
rigors of performance critiques and supporting one another's growth.
In our little corner of the world, where big festivals like Rakkasah
and "superstars" are held up as the norm, and "competitions"
seek to pit dancers one against the other, this was a collaborative
effort where no one was seeking personal glory. It was a labor of
Amina: "I primarily wanted to feature the music, songs, and musicians,
and especially introduce Husain (his singing) and Younes (violin)
to another world outside of the Arab community where they are already
Husain Dixon Resan served as musical director, often sacrificing work
time to attend extra rehearsals. He played oud and sang vocals.
were given private coaching that included studying the lyrics so that
they could translate the poetry to their bodies. "They were told
to make the dances different than regular festival or club dancing,
to be more introspective
provide space for the musicians and
Husain (voice) to pull the audience into the tarab mood
the dancers to marry the music and create tarab."
So, how successful was it? Well
when it came to conveying emotion,
it was very successful. There's a particular mood, a heated but veiled
sense of longing, a sense of misty abandon, which all the dancers
conveyed almost as if we were watching them in a cinematic tear-jerker.
Their dance was very "whole body" rather than the tricks
and isolations so popular in the [tribal fusion] world.
Their expressions were very gestural - movements with the hands and
face as if they were pouring their heart out to their best girlfriend,
or berating a faithless lover. Some of the gestures were clearly in
the Egyptian idiom, not necessarily something an American would use,
but the meaning was still clear enough.
cues helps the audience to anticipate and interpret the music as well.
The dancers were essential to creating a complete show with visual
and auditory elements. They hit the breaks without being TOO literal
about it, followed the melodic changes, and had that sort of casual,
offhand, languorous feeling that I associate with "high Egyptian"
None of the dancers used choreography; it was all improvised. They
all, however, described intensive preparation, and they took the mission
of the show very seriously - to become the music, and to thoroughly
understand the lyrics as well. Amina coached everyone personally on
all aspects of the show and their performance, and encouraged them
to express their own feeling. "I knew that without her amazing
dedication and trust in me and the other dancers for that matter,
I wouldn't have had the opportunity to dwell deep into the song I
danced to," said Dannhae.
"I listened to the song over and over again. I wanted the song
to be imprinted in the memory cells of my body
" said Dannhae.
"I knew that I had to use a veil, because the music [Enta Omri]
seemed to ask for it
I had an idea from the start of how I wanted
to enter the stage
I purposely wanted to make my piece as "raw"
or natural as possible. I knew that dancing to live music is very
different than dancing to a recorded piece...with a recorded piece
you can time yourself, but with live music you have to be flexible
about any changes in the music. So choreography may not always work,
especially when one hasn't had much time to practice with the band."
Younes el Maqboul, a recent arrival from Morroco,
played violin for the show.
Hana prepared in a similar manner. "I danced
to Hayarti Albi Maak, a song Ive had a longstanding love
affair with both its musical arrangement and its poetry
My preparation consisted of listening to various versions of the song
ad infinitum (including Umm Kulthoums original), trying to internalize
the poetry as much as I could and just dancing to the various versions.
I also attended one of the band rehearsals at Aminas and it
was very educational and fun watching & listening to the musicians
as they figured things out."
Although the songs aren't overtly religious, there is an element of
unselfish devotion that I think is encoded or disguised as romantic
love. The dancers picked up on this as they gave themselves to the
music. Zahara said, "I read the translation and asked God to
do my best! I was the last one to perform I was back stage hearing
the amazing band and the crowd going crazy in love all night and that
made me so happy already I prayed one more time before I go on because
I wanted everyone to keep all their happy faces on!"
There were times I thought the stage should have more decoration -
although there were large swaths of Egyptian print cloth hung around
the theater itself. Which was BOILING HOT by the way. The single biggest
thing the Mission Cultural Center could do to improve comfort would
be two big floor fans
had a large stage, but not all of them used it. I've had an experience
where I'd carefully choreographed this brilliant dance piece with
a thousand barrel turns and a big veil, only to discover that my actual
dance stage would be a 3' square piece of carpet honeycombed with
wiring for sound equipment. If you have a big stage, you can travel,
spin, and put those $100 Isis wings to good use, finally.I think one
could do this and preserve the "tarab" feeling.
On the other
hand, going back to the bareness of the stage, that gave the event
more of a curated feel, the way one might present "high art"
in a museum - it needs no adornment. And this was the audience to
do it for. I saw people there I hadn't seen in years, probably from
one of Amina's "Giza club"
events (film showings, discussion groups, awards
All the band
members are members of Aswat, a large Bay Area Arabic musical ensemble.
Many audience members were Aswat fans (or members) as well. They came
primarily to support the musicians and to enjoy hearing some of their
favorite classic pieces. Now, I think that the audience is a great
teacher for someone who may be new to, say, Arabic music, or really
any genre that's unfamiliar at first. There's some sort of group cellular
response, a collective sigh, that you can pick up on to know what's
The music was arranged so that each musician had an opportunity to
show off with lots of taqasim (improvisational solos). These interludes
are the core of Arabic music, showing the virtuosity of the musician
and their mastery of the maqam - they embody the music for the audience,
becoming the gateway for everyone to enter into the state of tarab.
Solos also allow some of the quieter instruments, like the oud, to
stand out and shine a little - sometimes the oud gets drowned out
by louder instruments, even with the most careful sound mixing.
Jalal Takesh, a master kanun player
who owned the Pasha restaurant in San Francisco for 20 years, shared
his skills. The kanoun is the law in an Arabic orchestra, because
with 70 strings, every other instrument tunes to it rather than the
other way around.
to me at length about how and why the show was conceived in the form
that it was. "I was insecure about producing just a music event,
as I am a dance teacher and not an Arab male, musician, singer or
music events producer so didn't feel I could reach the music lovers
I hoped to bait people by the important visual addition
Preparing for the concert was a labor of love on the part of the musicians,
none of whom were guaranteed much in the way of payment. They rehearsed
extensively, as Amina describes, in order to make some changes specific
to this show.
"The boys (and Sandy) and I got together and practiced a number
of times for hours at a time. Everyone already knew all the songs,
but I had some arrangement requests that made them have to stray from
automatic pilot. This was difficult for them as they are so used to
playing it as on Om CDs and were totally programmed to do it exactly
as original recordings."
Those of us
who've never played in an orchestra may not fully appreciate the work
of creating a balanced ensemble with the right mix of instruments.
Amina goes on, "The only thing missing from this takht was the
nai (flute). There are a couple of nai players in the area but I needed
to use musicians who were friends and on the same page musically and
capable of instantly "picking up the pieces" in case of
musical forgetfulness errors.
And on the matter of payment, Amina was honest with the band, telling
them she would give them whatever she could afford after expenses.
"None of them even balked at that. They still wanted to set aside
time and more time for practice. Younes and Husain are limo drivers
and sometimes gave up jobs to practice. Faisal is a new (stay-at-home-dad)
father and came to rehearsals with his baby, even though we told him
he didn't have to. I know that Jalal and Husain and Faisal also got
together and practiced other times too at Faisal's and Jalal's houses."
were unanimous in their praise of the band.
Hana: "When the band started playing and we heard the audience
respond, the excitement backstage was palpable. I almost wished I
was in the audience watching, instead of stuck backstage without permission
to utilize the peep-holes! What stood out for me was how
well the band seemed to connect and Husains singing Ive
always liked his singing because he does it with such feeling
but I thought he outdid himself that night. His inflections &
Dannhae: "I was thrilled at how the band performed, I could hear
from the way the audience was responding. They clapped, cheered, and
I could hear some people singing along. To me every sound the musicians
made on the stage, from the violinist to the drummer, felt and sounded
organic, like a heart-beat."
Each musician seemed to me to have a uniquely personal sound, almost
like they were different spice mixes that went together but each had
some unique savor in how they interpreted each maqam - and since all
the melodic instruments were fret-less, including of course the human
voice, they had full control over nuances of tonality. (OK, the kanun
isn't exactly "fretless" but that one had plenty of shading
as well, and a shivery, shimmering sound.
Amina notes, "Sandy and I were there to provide a little extra
fullness and feminine energy on the stage. We both wished we could
have matched the guys' virtuosity and talent but that will have to
be another lifetime."
I seem to remember
Amina telling me that the musicians had originally wanted the much-beloved
Jalal to be the musical director, but he was too humble and demurred.
So, the task fell to Husain Dixon Resan, who's been a long-time member
of Aswat as well as playing regularly with Georges Lammam's ensemble.
Here I would venture to make one suggestion for next time, which is
that the musical director might have to be positioned in a way that
he can visually cue in the rest of the band. Every orchestra has a
conductor, and most bands have a leader as well - sometimes it changes
from one song to the next, but there are times when too much humility
needs to be balanced with firm, clear direction - especially if there
are any first-timers in the audience. Of course, maybe they'll repeat
this show, or do another one with a different theme, and over time
the rough spots will just naturally smooth themselves away.
One final observation is that with many shows, the artistic director
acts to control every aspect of the choreography and execution - which
can create a very tight, very disciplined show, but also leaves it
as more of an expression of the director's vision rather than the
performer's individuality. Amina is not an egotist, and rather than
dictating exactly how every move should be done, she left it up to
each performer, and acted to guide, encourage, and draw out the talents
they already possessed. This created a different kind of camaraderie.
Dannhae said, "What was magical about that night was to see my
fellow dancers and myself all sharing a space that for a moment felt
so sacred. I felt a tremendous sense of sisterhood between us. We
were in harmony with each other. We all looked focused and I could
feel the intense energy in our bodies."
I felt as if I was in the presence of like minded artists who all
shared the same passion for Oriental dance and Om Kalthoum."
Photos: Tarabiya Band - Linda Grondahl - All others
- Ian Wilson
Firestone has been studying Middle Eastern Dance for over 10 years.
Besides having a strong background in ballet and modern dance, she
has also studied other dance forms such as jazz, Caribbean, West African
and Fire Dance. In additions she is proficient and studies martial
arts including Aikido, Kung Fu and Kupigana Ngumi (Afrikan fighting).
She has a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Oberlin College and supports
herself as a technical writer, biographer and blogger for an Architectural
firm in San Francisco.
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts
A Sold Out Show
Jason Wallach, Program Director of the MCCLA
Saturday, October 1, 2011 - 7:00 pm
Center for Latino Arts
2868 Mission Street (near 26th
St) San Francisco CA
Husain Dixon Resan, Jalaleddin
Takesh,Younes el Maqboul Faisal Zedan, Sandy Hollister and Amina Goodyear
(Amina m.i.a. during sound check)
creating the tarabwith
exotic rhythms and entrancing melodies
of the finest Bay Area
Ahava. Dannhae, Hana, Nicole and
with Salena as M.C.
A dance and music show created
for you to experience
In a tribute to Egypt this first Tarabiya Show showcased the music
of Om Kalthoum and Egypt's Golden Age.
These emotions induce ecstasy and trance.
The musicians played many traditional and beloved pieces written especially
for Om Kalsoum- the voice of Egypt. In this manner we hope we brought
you memories and feelings that invoked Tarab.
There is no word in the English language that accurately defines the
In Arabic culture "Tarab" is used to describe the emotional
effect of the music on the listener.
Ecstasy and Trance comes in many forms. We hope you experienced this