Ba Olek Eh
(tell you what)
of Stars Side Show
of Stars Belly Dance Queen
olek eh (present)
olek eh (beginning)
History & Songs
- Aswan Dancers
Photos + Amina
October 31, 2011
Karim emailed me re last minute details for raqs Egypt.
It's happening Friday! I didn't tell him I haven't gotten it together
yet. I need to send off the stuff tomorrow so no problem. Tomorrow is
another day. I'll start fresh.
Today was spent thinking about stuff that I might touch on in our Mohammed
Ali Street talk. I started thinking about my relationship to it and how
it could be tied in. I remember Faruk Sarsa of Music Center, a drummer
and drum shopkeeper on Mohammed Ali Street said that his aunt was a famous
dancer named Naemet Mokhtar who also lived on Mohammed Ali Street. Naemet
used to work with Naima Akef who was the sister of my teacher Fatma Akef.
Faruk's mom Farida introduced me to a number of old timer dancers, Almee',
who had already retired. We used to sit together on the street and watch
the world go by. Farida told me that she was also related to Nadia Hamdi,
another dancer and Almee' who lived on nearby Port Said Street.
It really was a small village in a huge city.
It kind of reminded me of our dance community. We may not be entertainment
families but we sure do know each other or know of each other. And this
music/dance connection makes us very related. We often think nothing of
inviting a perfect stranger to share our home for a workshop weekend.
Why? Because we are a village, a family. In a bigger sense of the word.
I started thinking about Badia Masabni again. She's going to be the subject
of one of my panel talks. During the first few years I worked at the Bagdad,
I worked with a singer named Kamellia
who said she met Badia. She lived in Sacramento and would drive down to
San Francisco to sing. Her real name is Jodette and she was Sausan's teacher.
Badia had a protegee' who ended up going on her own and became Badia's
biggest rival. This was Beba Ezzedine. She had two sisters. One of her
sisters, Shou Shou can be seen dancing with Kristo Klaadex who was a choreographer
for Badia's shows. Shou Shou
was married to singer Mohammed Abdel Motalleb. Abdel Motalleb was probably
one of the first influences on Ahmed Adaweya. Some of Motalleb's
songs were composed by Riad al Sombati - one of Om Kalthoum's composers.
Yes, I think I will start working on an Egyptian entertainer's family
tree. It really was a small world and it will be fun to see how we're
related to them too. Home
October 30, 2011
Only two more days to give Karim Nagy the written material
for the raqs Egypt seminar packet. So no more procrastination. No more
stressing. Today's the day to do it all. I turned on the computer and
started writing out the choreography while wiggling in my seat trying
to remember it. I got it half done and then decided that I should really
listen to the music and see if I remembered everything. Well, that's too
easy and I was too lazy to go all the way to the dance studio to get the
music so I decided to just quit and do something else instead. After all
there's always tomorrow.
OK, so I decided to work on the panel presentations. These actually do
not have to be written out but I'm afraid if I don't write them out that
when I start to speak, I will have an anxiety attack of laughter. That
wouldn't be too professional. Besides me looking and sounding like an
idiot it would also reflect on Karim and make people wonder why he asked
me to be part of this. So - I started writing. I am glad that I did, because
now I can practice reading it and can time myself. Karim mentioned that
he is a stickler for keeping to our time schedule.This should be fun.
I am making up a booklet that I want to pass around for people to look
Well, I was on a roll - One of my topics is Badia Masabni. As I'm writing,
I realize that my grandmother was born before Badia was born. All of a
sudden everything becomes real to me. I'm no longer writing about a historical
figure that I've read about in books. Badia is a woman who lived at the
same time as my grandmother. And then I remember that I actually knew
people who either knew or met her. This is totally amazing to me. But
then, I've often thought about the fact that I have lived in a really
neat time in history here in the U.S. I was at the tail end of the beginning
of the belly dance history here in America and have seen it go through
so many changes. I myself have gone through many changes in dance style
too. But what has been a constant is the music. The music that we, or
maybe I should say, I like to listen to the most, is music that either
came from the time of Badia Masabni or was influenced by it. As I was
saying, I was on a roll - writing about Badia and thinking about my relationship
to it all.
And then the phone rang. It was Husain telling me that I needed to go
to Aswat practice an hour and a half earlier than usual because I needed
to drum for the choir practice. Faisal couldn't come until later. I am
so glad that I am leaving a spare drum in my car trunk. Well, that stopped
my train of thought. Badia would have to wait until later. So much for
scheduling tasks to the minute. It seems that the minutes get moved around
too much. Things change and we need to be flexible. I'm sure Badia won't
I was not counting on having to know the songs we were going to practice..
Being a back up percussionist means that you just do what the lead drummer
does. It's pretty easy except that you have to know how to change and
stop on a dime - instantly.,,or you look and sound like a fool. Being
THE drummer though, is another thing. You have to know the tempo and changes.
You are leading the band and singers and it's up to you to keep them from
looking like fools. Well, I show up for practice and it's the entire choir
and the band is Husain, Jalal and me. And I'm supposed to know what I'm
doing. Fortunately I'm pretty good at looking like I know what I'm doing.
They were reviewing a song I hadn't played in quite a while and I'm thinking
- ok, you're the queen of "fake it", maybe they won't notice.
Miraculously I've gotten so good at faking it that no one noticed. It
was a great relief about an hour or so later when the other percussionists
arrived and I could slack off. It's hard work being the time-keeper. I
really don't like it. I really prefer taking the back seat.
Later when I was home and starting to get worked up about my deadline
and writing about Badia, the phone rang and it was Husain again. Does
he have my number programmed just to keep me from writing about Badia?
Well, he said he was at this restaurant and asked me if I wanted to go
there and have some Iraqi food. I told him no, I had things to do. Then
he said he'd pay me and would I come and bring my tambourine. ???? Well,
he said that he was going to play his oud in the restaurant and the stage
felt lonely/empty with just him and the oud and didn't I want to eat Iraqi
food. So, fool that I am, I decided that Badia could wait. She'd been
waiting this long, what difference would another day make. Who cares about
deadlines. I can meet my deadlines.I can always forego sleeping if I have
I get to the restaurant and it is packed! They are mostly middle aged
well dressed Arab men and their wives who look slightly Iranian. At one
end of the room is an elevated, carpeted and wood railed area that reminds
me of the crib type music stages that you see in Moroccan movies. This
is stage for an intimate takht (small music ensemble) and so I deposit
my riq on the carpeted banquet and look for Husain. There are so many
people and I can't seem to find him.
So I quietly wait thinking he must have gone for a walk. But time passes
and I decide to call him. Of course there he is in the room sitting and
eating amidst all the people. Of course, I remember, he invited me to
come eat Iraqi food. So I join him and we eat. Iraqi food is pretty good.
It is like a fusion of the best of Persian with a little bit of Turkish
and Arabic mixed in. They kept bringing course after course of food -
each more interesting than the prior. I think my favorite was a kind of
chicken bastilla dish with ripe apricots. Absolutely delicious. Then the
final course came in a huge platter. Grilled semikch. Huh? it looked like
fish to me. Oh yeah, this is Iraqi dialect and they "sh" and
"ch" everything. Why, it's samak - (Arabic for fish). I barely
understand Egyptian and regular Arabic and now I have know other dialects?
OK, I asked why are there so many people here? It seems like it's a special
occasion. Well, it turned out that the dinner was for the Iraqi Ambassador
Samir Sumaidaiie who was visiting from Washington D.C.
He just opened a Consulate in Los Angeles
and wanted to let the local population know. And he did in both fusHa
and Iraqi dialect. FusHa sounds like those black and white Arabian nights
movies or maybe the al Jazeera newsreel. Everything ends in and rhymes
with atoon. "hadthatoon hobatoon hayaratoon sayaratoon". (Don't
look for a translation of that - I just strung unrelated words together.)
Iraqi sounds like they are slurring all the words with a few English words
thrown in. Just like the Egyptians talk.
And now it's time to play. Great! Now we're talking a language I can speak.
Oh no! This is an Iraqi crowd and Husain is Iraqi too. Aside from a little
maqsoum we played songs with jurjina, chobi, haja, haway and khaligi rhythms
oh and a little 6/8 too. Yikes. these rhythms are as foreign as their
language. Fortunately Bashar, who I met (as a comedian) at the "Arabs
gone Wild" show drummed with us. When I asked about a couple of the
rhythms Husain said "oh its like this or that (Persian) rhythm".
So the women look kind of Persian, the food tastes kind of Persian and
the rhythms are kind of Persian. Then I thought of that movie I had mentioned
in an earlier blog "Secret Ballot". (September 30 - on gildedserpent.com)
Yes - countries are just lines on a map. Home
October 29, 2011
Got an email from Debbie today that she will be bringing
4 real live purring, meowing and hissing Egyptian cats to San Francisco
for adoption. Real Cairo Cats! I thought that I'd you tube cairo cats
and see what came up. Well, I had totally forgotten about Susu's drum
music being called The Cairo Cats. On you tube I found a bunch of selections
for Susu and The Cairo Cats - especially for The Cat's Meow.
In the late 80's The Aswan Dancers had a series of shows called Cairo
Cabaret. In each show we featured different Arabic musicians (who all
generously volunteered their time and talents) and we called the rotating
band The Cairo Cats. Susu was in charge of the drum section which numbered
up to 6 or more percussionists. She composed drum arrangements for the
Cairo Cabaret shows and out of those performances came Susu and the Cairo
Later she wanted to do a live recording but we wanted to control the noise
that often comes from live recordings. We rented Noe Valley Ministry,
our local music performance venue, and invited a select group - members
of The Giza Club - to be our audience with the understanding that they
not make a sound until we held up an applause sign. It was also a dance
performance in order to give the drummers the ultimate performance inspiration.
There were great dancers and a loving, encouraging audience. We were inspired.
From this recording session Susu produced a best selling cassette "Dancing
Drums - Live at the Giza Club" and here it is 20 years later, now
on CD and it is still selling. It was heartening to see on you tube that
some of the dance performances to the Cairo Cats were recent performances.
As is often the case, one thing leads to another and somehow I found myself
looking at a couple of other Cairo Cats - Saad el Soghayer and Dina. They
are starring in a recently released movie Sharea el Haram.
According to anayou.com: "Traditional Egyptian singer Saad El Soghayar
revealed his concern about belly dancer Dina from thugs attacks while
she films "Sharea El Haram" (Haram Street) film. "MBC.net"
reported his statement recommending the filming takes place between 8
in the morning and 8 in the evening to avoid any possibility of attacks
by thugs. Saad explained the thugs aren't roaming the street at those
times, which would ensure the crew's safely, especially the girls - and
his main concern was Dina the belly dancer. The singer revealed he'll
finish all his scenes in the first week of Ramadan."
Here is a trailer from the movie that I hope will be available on DVD
soon. In the meantime we can at least enjoy this little bit that looks
and sounds like a take off on a popular 80's shaabi singer Sami Aly and
dancer Sahar Hamdi. click here to see Saad
So in a few days I will get to meet 4 jet lagged Cairo Cats. And this
reminds me...Debbie wants to meet before Karim's raqs Egypt workshop to
go over our Mohamed Ali Street notes. I guess there's no more time for
procrastination - especially since Karim wants all written material passed
on to him in 2 days. Where have the days gone - daret el ayam - the days
go by. Time flies when you're having fun. Inspiration where are you? ana
fi inti zarek - I'm waiting for you! Home
October 28, 2011
Tonight at the Giza Film showing, we discussed a common
question brought up in three movies that we had recently seen. These movies
were "Rakasa" which we saw tonight, "At Night, They Dance"
which we saw last week and "Dancers", which we saw 8 months
ago. The movies "At Night, They Dance" and "Dancers"
were both about lower class dancers in Egypt. In "Dancers" the
issue of economics was evident. Survival was foremost in the dancers'
minds and that made the act and "art" of dancing the means for
that end. The dancers in "At Night, They Dance", although also
struggling to survive, belonged to a family of musicians and dancers and
therefore had the support system that comes from living in such a community.
"Rakasa" was about three inter-related dancers living in Israel
- a Palestinian woman, named Palestine, Tina, a German Jew recently relocated
in Israel and Oreet, an Israeli woman.
In all three movies the unspoken theme was "Why do they dance?"
In "Dancers" we could say they danced for the most basic reasons
- to eat, to live. In "At Night, They Dance" possibly they danced
because they were born into a life of dance and knew no other life. In
"Rakasa" the dancers were of a different class and better off;
they had the luxury of choice. They danced because it was their life and
We asked ourselves. Why do we dance? We had pretty much the same answer.
It is our life and our happiness. But we in the U.S. have come a long
way - *maybe*- we have survived, overcome the stigma and prejudices attached
to dancing because we have a choice and for the most part have a better
educational and economic standing. But, when we questioned ourselves about
overcoming the prejudices we realized that we really did not advertise
to the general public that we danced.
It was difficult raising three children while working in a nightclub every
night and pretending to be Suzie homemaker in the daytime. No, I didn't
advertise that I danced. In the daytime I wore a house dress and an apron.
(I had a collection of aprons - all of them had pockets to hold dust rags,
spools of thread, toys, hammers, pliers, cookies, combs, lipsticks and
god's eyes.) For the short time that I belonged to the "single mom's"
club I guess I danced to eat and feed my kids. But also, yes, it made
me happy. Then when I turned 35 I told myself that it wasn't fitting for
me to continue to work in a nightclub because my kids were starting to
become aware of what I did for a living. I certainly didn't want them
to suffer the repercussions of having a mom who danced for a living. So,
I quit dancing. I called Yousef at the Bagdad and said "I quit, I
don't want to be a dancer anymore."
I spent a week laying on the sofa in the living room being a virtual zombie.
I didn't move, I just laid there and played my favorite record and passed
the time away. With my eyes closed I listened to my record and let it
take me away from the reality that I was no longer a dancer. I didn't
care about cleaning house, or cooking or getting dressed or even about
my family. I just wanted to listen to my music and dance in my head. Sometimes
I would stare at the cigarette smoke (yes, I used to smoke - we all used
to smoke) as it drifted around and throughout the room. Other times I
would focus on a section of the wall and conjure up images of nothing.
But mostly I just laid there and dreamt empty thoughts. And the record
just played on and on and on and the voice was singing of swaying and
becoming dizzy with wine and desire. Then after about a week I soberly
came to my senses. I called Yusef and told him I needed to go back to
work. I decided it was better to be a 35 year old belly dancer than a
good for nothing blob on a sofa. Playing my song had saved my life.
This song was indeed my favorite song for many many years. It will always
be one of my favorites. It is "Cleopatra" by Mohamed Abdel Wehab.
I don't know much about it. All I know is that Mohamed Abdel Wehab wrote
it and sang it. When? That I don't know, but I do know that in the 1920's
Sayed Darwish was working on an operetta called Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
It was to star Munira al Mahdiya (aka as The Sultana)
as Cleopatra, and Mohamed Abdel Wehab was to play Mark Antony.
Well Sayed Darwish died before finishing the operetta so Abdel Wehab was
given the job of finishing the musical scores. Unless someone tells me
otherwise, I guess I will believe that this song, Cleopatra was written
for this operetta.
Yousef and one of his girlfriends (she was not a dancer) really liked
the song too. I really lucked out, as Yousef and Fadil made that song
one of my songs. Each dancer had certain songs that became "her songs"
so at least on the nights I worked they would only play Cleopatra for
me. Now, I am not talking about just the 3 or 4 minute musical introduction,
I mean what I would call side one of the record which was about 12 - 15
minutes long. This was one of my "floorwork" songs. Absolutely
spellbinding and hypnotic music and lyrics. I didn't much like side 2
anyway. That was the part that began with the waltz. I don't think the
musicians liked that side much either as they hardly ever played it. I
can still hear it - "Laylouna khamron, we ashwaakon toughanni hawlana".
Our night is wine and surrounded by singing desires. and then it repeats
toughanni, toughanni, toughanni, singing, singing, singing.
Who needs wine to get dizzy with desire when you can find it in
This is why I dance. Why do you dance?
October 27, 2011
Sing to me, a little, a little
Tonight in class I was reminded that I
should continue to occasionally introduce a new vocabulary word or two
in ba olek eh. Well, since I am going to be teaching a choreography to
Ghanilli Shway Shway, maybe I should use words from that song. This song
was from a movie (Om's fifth movie) called Salama. It is a black and white
movie made in 1945. It is a typical Arabic tragic love story. The heroine,
Salama (Om) is a poor peasant girl with a golden voice. She is sold to
a sultan where she lives in a harem and sings for her meals. It is a real
tear jerker of a movie. If there is enough interest I may show it at a
Giza Club event sometime. I have already shown it a couple of times, but
since I consider this film a classic, I don't mind showing it again and
again and again.
Ghanilly shway shway - sing to me - a little, a little.
Ghanilly we khod ainaya - sing to me and take my eyes
but then I have another version of this song and it continues with:
Shiribt sigartain - I smoked 2 cigarettes (uh oh - you know what kind
we ma ahom hagarain - and with them 2 stones (the stones refer to what's
put in a sheesha bowl)
Shiribt, ya wala - I smoked - oh boy (exclamation)
ya ritni ya nas mashiribt - I wish oh (people) I didn't.
Well, this version, a shaabi version, continues to preach on what happens
if you continue to get stoned.
We, or rather I, played a couple of versions of Ya Zalemni, another Om
song that I used to dance to at the Bagdad. It was one of my favorites
and also was very popular with the musicians and customers. Ya Zalemni
was written by Riad al Sombati and Ahmad Rami. Ahmad Rami was the poet
who most influenced Om Kalthoum in her early years and was also rumored
to be in love with her. The song is pretty depressing and talks of oppression,
abandonment, deprivation, torment, antagonization, anger, rebuffing and
on and on. It's a virtual thesaurus for the broken hearted. As I played
this song and thought of the words I wondered if Ahmad Rami wrote this
about himself and if Om was aware of his feeling and especially if she
knew she was singing how he felt. Because her performances were usually
emotive reactions between herself and her audience she sometimes repeated
favorite words and lines many times within a song. In the song Ya Zalemni,
which was one of her most popular songs, her renditions of the song were
between 40 minutes and an hour and a half. It all depended on her saltanah
and her audience and how much she was encouraged to repeat and create.
When I danced at the Bagdad, the fourth section (or the second slow section)
of the dance was for floorwork. We had a formula dance - fast (enter with
veil wrapped around body), slow (the unveiling or strip), fast (the main
dance section), slow (floorwork) and fast (leave stage, collect tips,
sometimes do a drum solo and finale). I worked with Fadil Shahin at the
Bagdad and also later at the Casbah (he now owns the El Morocco) and he
used to play this song for me when I did my floorwork. It was slow, it
was heart wrenching and it was strong. It allowed the dancer to stretch
and moan and groan along with the singer. Although it wasn't a cardio
type song like the middle fast section, it was actually the hardest song
because it required a lot of physical suspension and strength. When I
started teaching belly dance, Ya Zalemni was one of my favorite songs
for teaching floorwork. I would make the girls start at one end of the
room and crawl, grope and claw the floor and pull themselves along like
a snake, like a reptile slowly, very slowly inch by inch and buff the
floor with their butts and their back and then flip over to their stomachs
and roll back and arch and sway and ration the music so they wouldn't
reach the other end of the floor until the end of the phrase where they
would then slowly slither, rise up to their knees and arch back in slow
motion and finally quickly flip over - like a dying cockroach.
Ya Zalemni was considered to be a "heavy" song and we had to
match the song with our dance. Those were the days - another time - another
place - ridiculously out of fashion now. But at that time - we all did
October 26, 2011
After deciding to wear the Siwa dress for the Arabic Heritage show I rummaged
through my closet and found bags and bags of other costumes. Will I ever
be able to wear those other costumes? Well, not for playing with Aswat
since they are belly dance costumes. Possibly someday I might wear them
again at other dance performances or perhaps for Halloween. Looking at
these costumes, I realized that most of them had a theme. Animal print!
I wonder how many costumes I own that have some sort of leopard, cheetah,
zebra or tiger spot or stripe. Well, I also have an animal print with
chickens, cows and kitty cats. Laura and Luara are spending Halloween
with us and we traditionally dress up with a theme. This coming Monday
Laura wants to wear animal skins with a bone in her hair. Maybe one of
my costumes will work for me. Of course I'll have to make it look more
savage or primitive for Halloween. Perhaps a skull necklace or two with
incense in my ratted hair.
Beneath all those costumes I finally found the Siwa dress. I tried it
on with the great necklace I'm borrowing from Gregory and it looked just
perfect. Later at City Hall when I was just standing around waiting to
perform, a couple of Japanese tourists very politely asked me to pose
with them for photo ops. I looked around and noticed all of us performers
dressed in Arabic finery - Nabila wanted lots of colorful costumes for
this performance. We were to represent all the countries of the Arab world,
and not just wear the usual black dresses that we had recently worn for
the Palestinian show at Skyline College. This was perfect as I looked
around and saw all the colorful flags hanging that represented all the
countries in the Arab world - I noticed this included some new flags.
So there I was, just one of the many in this Arabic theme park and I was
the chosen one. Should I have told them that I wasn't an Arab? Should
I have tried to sell them a souvenir? Or should I have just demanded baksheesh?
While we were standing around the steps waiting for sound check, Faisal
showed up with Safi the baby. Abu Safi said he was babysitting. OK - who's
babysitting?? Him, me, Sandy or... oh - he brought Rebecca his wife and
she agreed to watch Safi play while Faisal played. Of course we all watched
Safi play too - while we played. We watched him laughing and crawling
through the audience with the other babies.
Safi wasn't the only Aswat baby attending. Yasmeen, one of our singers,
had her baby there too. While Mayor Ed Lee was greeting the crowd, I noticed
that Yasmeen snuck off and took this five minute opportunity to play with
or feed her baby who is only a few months old. When Mayor Lee was finished
with his Ahlan wa Sahlan speech she was back on stage ready to sing her
Our show went incredibly smooth in spite of the fact that we have no actual
director - Younes our lead violinist did a great job cueing us with his
eyebrows. He should patent this method. It really works! After our performance
Mayor Lee honored Nabila with a lifetime achievement award. When he was
talking I was thinking about how Aswat has grown over the past 12 years.
Through Nabila's leadership we really have gotten to be pretty good, pretty
together, a real musical family. Of course it helps that she makes us
practice so much and perhaps also because Nabila and I fired ourselves
This season it is pretty easy - we only practice every Sunday - all day
every Sunday. Last season with Omar from Jordan we had to practice every
Wednesday and every Sunday plus other additional extra practices sometimes
on Fridays and Saturdays plus we were always booked for one performance
or another including school lecture demonstrations. Yes, we're really
looking forward to Omar coming back in January. Usually practices are
also supplemented by "sandwiches" (bribes?) which are provided
by Zawaya and Aswat. Of course sandwiches mean chicken, lamb or felafel
either in pita halves or the wrapped burrito style. Arabic hospitality
is Nabila's middle name.
After the performance and reception with great food, debke and Sudanese
dance performances (this reminded me of some of the Nubian Aswan dances
- countries are just lines on a map), most of the guys went to a Turkish
restaurant for more bonding. But I went home to try to catch the end of
Susu's drum class. I was glad that I did. She was teaching a very inspirational
class. Sometimes when I teach my class I will talk about my relationship
to belly dance with the Eastern philosophy of energy as in Tai Chi or
other martial arts. I have even gone as far as to talk about yoga, shakras
and colors and how our dance energy needs this same energy to make the
dance real and alive.
Well, I walked into the drum class where Susu was addressing the same
subjects. She was talking about "the energy" and how we can
become better drummers by channeling some of this eastern influence into
our bodies and letting it circulate and flow throughout our body until
it tingles and emanates heat in our fingers and even the feet and toes.
Wow! I wished I had been there for the whole class. Husain told me I didn't
need to go to another drum class since I had been drumming all night and
that drinking tea with Aswat would be better. I was pulled - continue
having fun with Aswat or go to drum class. Well, I'm glad I made the right
choice. I can always have tea and party another time, but Susu's class
last night was very special and inspiring. Home
October 25, 2011
Georges Lammam just got back from Louisiana
and called to arrange the next night at PenaPachamama. It seems that so
much is going on that we can only do Sunday November 13. Lately we have
been playing with Khader Keileh and liking it. We have worked with Khader
off and on since we were The Arabian Knights at El Valenciano and Tropigala.
The other night I was showing an old video of a show with me wearing a
weird tiger jump suit doing a zar dance at Tropigala. It was kind of fun
to see the musicians on stage. There was Georges and Khader in the band.
And now ten plus years later, we're still playing together.
Here's Khader and Marcela
She came to visit us and dance at Pachamama.
We'll see her at BDUC in February and hopefully she'll move back to the
Bay Area some day soon. Marcelaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We miss
you. Have fun in Barcelona. "Inta meen"?
Later tonight at Aswan practice I presented
the dilemma of what to do at the Crafts Fair at Fort Mason in a couple
of weeks. Not everyone can do it, so I will also dance. I don't usually
dance so we talked about what dances I know. Not much! Actually, the only
one I really know if Tfarag al Halawa. And that choreography goes back
so far that I don't even want to think about it. I am the only one left
who may remember the original choreography. Maybe Linda and Marsha do
too, but they haven't danced with the Aswans in decades. I possibly might
do the dance with Kim if she still remembers it. Also maybe Hana and I
will do Ifrid - another oldie - but not as old - if we can remember it
without Susan's prompting. Then Susan reminded us that we had a new dance
that they just performed a couple of months ago at the Free Folk Festival.
Dinga Dinga! Huh? I may have choreographed it, but I didn't even remember
they performed it or how it went. Well - we put on the music and, wallah!
the feet just started going. Well - we may have to do it a few times to
perfect it as I never performed it with them, but it'll work. I wish I
had more time to devote to more Aswan practices and I wish I were more
agressive in recruiting new members but those items have been on my "to
do" list for so long that I don't even notice them until it's time
to do a performance and not everyone is available. I may try to reorganize
to arrange more or longer practices but when? There isn't enough time
in the day to do it all.
Here's Judi, me, Susan and Hana backstage
at the Free Folk Festival.
Well, I may hate or not understand "technology"
but since I got my little iPhone, my life has changed. I still don't use
the cell phone for phone calls - I keep it turned off, but it's been great
for emails while out and, if I can make myself remember, for photos and
even little movie blips. Tomorrow we're at City Hall for the Arabic Heritage
Month festival and I hope I'll remember to use it. Home
October 24, 2011
My car for a dress
Had another "saharny" night. (See September
27 blog on "saharny" on gildedserpent.com.) This time I was
trying to list all the things I needed to do or organize for the next
What to wear for the Arabic Heritage show at City Hall on Wednesday. Nabila
thought it would be great to show off the beautiful costumes from all
over the Arab world.
I thought about my Siwa dress. Originally the dress belonged to Eddie,
aka as Edwina, aka Qamar el Moulouk who used to dance with the Ghawazee.
You can find articles that she's written on old Habibi's, gildedserpent.com
or referenced in academia articles. Eddie used to travel to all the corners
of the Middle East and often would stay with me to debrief when returning
to the states. She was the Giza Club's original and first "wacky
woman traveller". One time she mentioned that she had a 3rd day wedding
dress from the Siwa Oasis which is near the Libyan border in Egypt. She
was thinking of selling it to the Santa Fe Folklore Museum. I got greedy
and wanted it for myself and told her that more people who appreciated
this type of folk costume would appreciate it if it were displayed in
When she told me what she wanted for it, I gasped. But, I had an old Volvo
station wagon and decided that a dress from Siwa was more important to
me than a car. So - I sold the Volvo and gave Edwina the money and became
the proud owner of a wedding dress (and its accoutrements) from Siwa.
True to my word I displayed the dress in my studio for probably about
10 years and then decided it needed better care than just occasional dusting
Yes, I think I will wear the dress tomorrow. Gregory, who collects ethnic
jewelry, will let me borrow the appropriate jewelry. "If you can't
be good, you can look good!"
Besides raqs Egypt and what to wear tomorrow, there were also a couple
of other items looming in the night. What to do and what to wear for the
Women's Building Crafts Fair at Fort Mason and what to wear and choreograph
for the zeffa coming up in a few weeks.
The Crafts Fair is a pretty simple show, but, of course, I want to make
it more. I guess I will just wait for Tuesday night's rehearsal to deal
with it and decide if we do solos, duets, or more and how to coordinate
The zeffa is a bit more complicated. We need to sing du'ul mazaher
and also do some synchronized drumming, stepping and turning. Fine - if
it's just the Aswans. They can do that in their sleep - but the boys?
Uh oh, I don't know. I guess I need to get Jalal on my side. He can dance.
Maybe Hector and Husain can just stand there and play the mizmar and sing
and Jalal can drum and dance with us. This should be interesting. Also
- there's the issue of costuming. I wonder what I can get the guys to
They sort of balked at wearing the
tarbooshes and hung them on their mike stands at the last zeffa.
I wonder how much coercing can I manage
without them throwing a fit.
October 23, 2011
Belly Dance Cocktail
This morning I went to my neighborhood
Curves to teach a 1/2 hour belly work-out class. I arrived in time to
see most of a zumba class and started to feel a bit insecure. Aside from
teaching belly samba at Cole Valley Gym two decades ago, I haven't taught
a belly dance class in this format since. I wasn't sure it would fit in.
I wasn't sure I would fit in. But here I was committed to doing it. All
the women were pretty friendly and looking forward to it and had even
brought along little hip scarves with beads or coins. I had forgotten
to bring mine. Oh well - I had at least remembered to come.
Well, I decided it was not my personality
to yell out moves in class like an aerobics instructor and also it somehow
wouldn't be true to the dance. So I decided to not speak at all and I
would teach the dance as I do in my studio - minus Arabic song and music
explanations or other related anecdotes. My only concessions were that
I only used upbeat Hakim and Saad type songs and that I kept my repetitions
shorter and always, or almost always, tried to use right and left sides
equally. It was a little hard to do this sometimes because of the musical
phrasings and rhythms changes - but for the most part, I managed. It was
hard to not stop and correct, but I kept going and just kept returning
to the "hard" steps until they would "get it". The
only time we stopped in the class was the 2 or 3 second pause between
songs. These felt awkwardly long to me, but I guess it was OK as it gave
them a chance to catch their breath.
Teaching a class in that format was pretty
weird to me and I was happy to know that some were genuinely interested
in pursuing it to another level. So let's see where this goes. As for
me, I'm not sure I want to commit to yet another commitment. If I do,
I will change the format. I would still do the non-stop areorbic way of
teaching as they want in a gym, but I think I would have a theme dance
style each class and stick to it. For example each class would have only
one theme - only shimmy, only saidi, only sharqi, and so on. In that way,
we could perfect something and they would learn a style of dance and a
style of music by osmosis. Today it was kind of fun doing a belly dance
cocktail in a gym. I'm just not sure I would want to do this cocktail
format regularly. In fact, I wouldn't. This cocktail only served as an
introduction to the serious art of belly dance. And, as you all may know,
I don't drink. And I'm not sure I would want to commit to adding anything
else to my commitment calendar.
I have spent over ten years of Sundays
with Aswat. That's a lot of commitment, a lot of songs and a lot of Sundays.
Today is Sunday and after this experimental Curves workout I went to Aswat
practice as usual. Except for the winter and summer breaks after our big
concerts and occasional Sundays when I'm attending a dance event or workshop
I have spent eleven Sunday years with Aswat.
We have two seasons each year that usually
ends with a big concert in June and another in November, December or January.
It depends on our director's schedule. The past few years our directors
have come from overseas - Egypt or an Arab country. This season we have
been pretty much self-directed as Omar Abbad, our director will not come
from Jordan until January. But this is OK. We have been managing with
the help and experience from various singers and musicians within the
group. I guess Nabila Mango, founder of Aswat and co-founder of Zawaya
(our non-profit arts sponsor), is our interim director and "go to"
person. She is truly an amazing person. She has been fighting stage 4
cancer for the past year and a half. Aside from taking a few days off
for chemotherapy treatment now and then, she has been with us the entire
time. Organizing, planning, nagging and partying.
A few members of Aswat backstage - Skyline
College Oct. 8, 2011
Susu, Chakib, Hector, Najwa, Husain Yvette
After the October 8 concert, a few of us
were looking for a place to eat. Well, as usual, we ended up at Nabila's
partying, playing music and eating pizza until the wee hours of the morning.
See October 8 blog "Riding in Style and Halal Pizza" for more.
This Wednesday before drum class (I plan
on making it for the end of class), I will be playing music with Aswat
at City Hall for Arabic Heritage Month. We chose our songs today. Faisal
came to practice so some of the songs we chose were songs Faisal liked
or didn't need to rehearse as he had to leave early (this means not stay
later than scheduled rehearsal end time) because he needed to babysit.
Nabila will be there too, as usual. Hope you can make it to our event.
It is free. I remember last time - besides the entertainment everyone
got treated to Free Food! Here's a link to what will be going on including
a you tube clip of Aswat performing in 2009.
Arabic Heritage Month
See you real soon. Home
October 22, 2011
It's starting to be that time when I really
can't procrastinate any longer. I really do have to get my act together
for the Mo. Ali class and the two panel presentations. But it is really
hard to make myself focus on writing something - even an outline. OK -
I'm looking at the book "Procrastination" by Burka and Yuen.
It sits by my computer and I look at it every day. I've even read it -
well, years ago I read it. Now I'm thinking of looking at it again. I
guess that's a start. So now what? Apply myself? Well - I'm doing the
class outlines in my head for now. Besides the Mohammed Ali Street class
there are two panel presentations. The two panels are The Role of Dance
in Egyptian Society and its Future and The Americanization of Egyptian
Dance. One problem is that Karim gave us teachers too many categories
within the two panel subjects and I just cannot decide what to choose.
Below are his suggestions:
Friday Panel : The Role of Dance in Egyptian
Society and its Future
topic categories can include -
- a presentation about a specific historical dancer
- a presentation about a specific dance style
- how does the folklore get used in the cabaret ?
- the religious debate : is dance Haram ?
- the government role : Qawmeyya, Ridda, Tanoura !!
- dance and socio-economics : what type of girl becomes a dancer ?
- the foreign influence : ballet, salsa, african
- a study of wedding dancers
- the future of the dance industry, post Jan 25 Revolution
Sunday Panel : The Americanization of Egyptian
topic categories can include -
- a presentation about a pioneer dancer in the USA
- a presentation of a musical band or famous venue
in the USA
- does the name "Belly Dance" contribute to de-Ethnicization
- have American teachers become more famous than Egyptian ones ?
- is it necessary to use Arabic music ?
- context for dancing : is the dance in America less controversial ?
- has the dance improved in the USA ? has it altered ?
- why is Arabic language not being used for movement vocabulary ?
- do Americans know the origin of this dance ?
- are young Arab Americans learning to dance professionally ?
OK - Just jotting this list down really
helped and I marked in red my panel choices. . I think I will take the
easy way and not stress any longer.
For the Friday panel I will do a presentation
about a specific historical dancer. Badia Masabni. Is that too easy? What
if someone else also chooses her to do a presentation. Should I just do
it anyway or should I have a back up subject? I guess I could choose Naima
Akef as my second choice since I heard so much about her from Fatma (her
sister and also my teacher). Now I feel like I am cheating since I really
won't have to do any sort of research on either of those two people. But
Badia would be a good first subject because she would just be an addendum
to the Mohammed Ali Street talk and there are some really important issues
to bring up. I really will have to write an outline and a paper otherwise
it will end up being too long. Here's a link to a nearly
invisible clip of Badia, her girls and her club. It's so great to
be able to have a little bit of history at our fingertips like that.
For the Sunday panel, would a presentation
of a famous venue in the USA be cheating if I talked about the Bagdad?
Is that too easy or too what? Two other panelists - Sausan of Al Masri
and Aisha Ali from southern California also worked at the Bagdad, so that
might make it interesting or should I choose something else from one of
the other categories? Just not sure how I should handle this.
Anyone out there reading this who might
be willing to give me an opinion on choice of topics. especially Sunday's
topic, please help. I'd be very grateful. Thanks. Contact
(See I really am paying attention to my book. Chapter 10 suggests
that "in your struggle to end procrastination you might get help
from other people.) Help!
Tomorrow I will start putting the Mohammed
Ali St. class material into a portfolio binder that can be passed around
in class. Then I will go to Curves to do the belly workout class. After
that it's off to Oakland to rehearse with Aswat for our Arabic Heritage
performance on Wednesday. Good news - Faisal will be performing with Sandy
and me. Home
October 21, 2011
Today I got an email from Debbie and she
proved that she is just as much a procrastinator as I am. Instead of addressing
the subject of our joint class for raqs Egypt that is happening in just
two short weeks, she started baiting me with ideas for a prospective workshop
we might do together next year in March. She hasn't even arrived from
Egypt for this workshop and already she's planning another workshop and
trip for the beginning of next year. Well, I kind of got excited and spent
a good part of today thinking and planning for that workshop.
It will be a continuation of our running theme on Shaabi music and where
it was, is and where it is going. It seems that this type of music is
ever changing just like the politics and the country. So, who knows what
the next six months will bring. But, for sure there will be change and
we will try to be on top of it as much as we can. Of course it helps that
Debbie lives in Cairo and therefore is able to get a good collection of
the latest music.
In the meantime I am going to be busy compiling my little lists, writing
down my little theories on shaabi trends and making up a collection of
visual and audio examples. In the past year or
so I have accumulated quite a bit of shaabi music and can honestly say
that I am overwhelmed by all the music that I have.
In the old days I had just a few dozen LPs and I knew all of them...all
the songs...whether I liked them or not were memorized. The record covers
were well worn and tattered until they were no longer a cover, but two
separate pieces of cardboard frayed at the edges and only used as identifying
markers for the record within. Of course the dust covers, the little paper
sleeves the albums were encased in, were just two pieces of torn or shredded
paper if they were lucky enough to not have found their way into the waste
paper basket. The records themselves, 33 1/3 rpm long playing high fidelity
black record albums were often times worn grey in sections - the parts
of the songs that I continually and repetitively used - their fidelity
worn and weak sounding, the records scratched and nicked from over use
- sometimes making clicking sounds, getting stuck on a word or even skipping
words. Sometimes due to heat the records would get warped and wouldn't
play at all. The needle arm would just jump around and dance all over
the record. But if one put a dime, a penny, a nickel or even a quarter
on the needle arm, sometimes we could weight the needle enough to make
the record play. Or if really desperate, we could try heating the album
in the oven until warm and moldable. Then we would let it sit and flatten
overnight under a fat huge heavy encyclopedia or dictionary.
Then along came the cassettes and better yet, the cassette recorders.
Cassettes were great, handy, convenient and small. But usually it was
difficult to use advantageously unless one wanted to use just the first
song. Before the cassette players became sophisticated enough to know
to stop at blank spaces in the cassette (which signified a new song),
or to have an identifying numbering system, we could only find a desired
song in the middle of a cassette by physically using an ink pen to mark
up the cassette. Cassettes too, would warp and we would just have to learn
to live with it or fast forward and fast rewind a number of times hoping
to correct the warp. Cassette recorders, on the other hand, were a great
boon to our dance careers. No longer did we have to deal with heavy, bulky
and unwieldy reel to reel recorders. The cassette recorders made copying
so easy. Of course, at first, they couldn't be plugged in directly to
the LPs so the music to be recorded would have to be played very loud
and would be recorded ambiently while hoping that the telephone would
not ring or a fire truck would not come siren-ing through.
We were told that CDs were the media of
the future and were virtually indestructible. I think we have found that
fact to be untrue. But CDs are even more handy, convenient and take up
less space than cassettes and their tracking ability makes them even more
useful. And with computers they make copying easier and faster.No more
real time or double time copying necessary. Why, an hour long CD can be
copied in minutes, let alone how computers can also manipulate and edit
music the music to be copied.
However, each new form of media degrades the sound quality a bit. I won't
even go into the benefits and disadvantages of ipods. I decided I don't
even want one - but I may eat those words one day. In my opinion and probably
in the opinion of true audiophiles, LPs and secondly cassettes have the
best sound. But, we need to keep up with the times. So, in the past year
or so I have accumulated quite a bit of music on CD.
And I can honestly say that I am overwhelmed by the amount. I have so
much new music - mostly shaabi, that I don't even know if I have heard
it all. Because most of this music is shaabi, a lot of it is the product
or by-product of DJ manipulations, looping and editing. It will take me
quite awhile to process, internalize and make this music a part of me.
And believe me - I feel I listen to it 24/7.
The world in general is just going too fast for me and seems to be going
at a faster and faster rate. As soon as something new is introduced, something
newer is taking it's place. Fortunately though, if it's of any worth,
it stays. As I mentioned before, new shaabi artists are now covering older
When I was at Ayman's this week, we worked on another Om shaabi song.
'oolu, 'oolu, 'oolu - tell them, tell them, tell them.
lli gai ahla min illi rah - what's coming better than what's gone.
This Christmas when people shop for kindles, please remember I like to
hold and read real books. Home
October 20, 2011
Lately I've been coming across lots of Arabic music that includes the
rhythms rumba and samba. Then last night in drum class one of the other
students asked to work on these rhythms. Since Mohamed Abdel Wehab introduced
samba, rumba and even tango into Arabic music - probably starting with
his ever popular first film "White Rose" (1933), these rhythms
have been here to stay in Arabic and Egyptian music.
Warda and Amr Diab are two very popular Egyptian (French Algerian Warda
lived and recorded in Egypt) recording stars who have broken all records
and have used a lot of cross-over Latin rhythms in their recordings. And
Egyptian singer Amr Diab is the best selling Arab recording star of all
time. He has sold over 50 millions albums including his Latin fusion song
"Habibi Nur el Ain" which alone sold over 3 million copies.
In this song you can clearly hear the son clave rhythm. ting ting ting
- ting ting. It is kind of like the malfoof (One-2-3, One-2-3, One-2)
rhythm with an extra ting ting (One-2, One-2) at the end. He is considered
to be the father of Mediterranean music as he chooses to blend Egyptian
with Latin sounds. He continues to be popular in Egypt. There is even
an Egyptian movie about how a shaabi singer impersonates him and then
gets kidnapped for ransom.
But, getting back to drum class. First a little history - a family tree
In a previous blog I mentioned being involved in samba dancing and carnaval
parades. I started studying samba dance with Jacque Barnes in the very
late 70's and Susu, coincidentally and quite independently, also was involved
in samba schools in the early 80's. A couple of years after I worked with
Sir Lawrence Washington, she joined the Escola Nova de Samba and played
with the bateria under the direction of Chalo Eduardo. We essentially
came out of the same school since Josephine Morada and Chalo Eduardo who
were part of Jacque and Jose Lorenzo's school, Batucaje later formed the
Escola Nova de Samba. I also studied with Josephine, but since belly dance
was so time consuming, I wasn't seriously involved. If any of you know
her, Daria who sometimes danced with me and who was an integral member
of The Cairo Cats was one of Josephine's core dancers. Much later Carlos
Azeituno, who was also part of the Escola in the late 1980's saw and met
Laura Morales (Rocha) at the Mission Cultural Center. Laura had been studying
belly dance from me at the Cultural Center and was an Aswan Dancer. Eventually
through her association with Carlos, she became part of his group and
was named Rainha de Bateria (Queen of the Drum Core) two years in a row
in the early 2000's. Now, Luara, Laura's daughter is studying capoeira
in the Mission. It's a small world, we're all family and samba has played
a big part in our training.
As far as clubs go - in the late 70's-80's there were Brazilian clubs
on Lombard Street. When Susu got involved, the clubs had moved to Valencia
Street. Later Emiliano Benevides of Bat Makumba used to play with The
Arabian Knights at Tropigala and Fernando who sometimes plays set drum
with us at PenaPachamama used to play with Susu and the Escola on Valencia
Now back to drum class:
Wednesday night's drum class was great fun. We discussed rumba and samba
in relation to Arabic music and played a few pieces of music and discussed
how different drummers treat the pieces of music. We played Abdel Wehab's
Habibi Lasmar and Fee Youm we Leila CDs and talked about how various drummers
would choose to play karachi, jerk, samba or other rhythms to the same
song. Susu showed us the difference between Arabic samba and jerk and
Brazilian samba. We then played Brazilian samba with different people
playing different parts and discussed how samba is used in drum solos.
We also took out Hossam Ramzy's CDs and played a few tracks and remarked
how his drum compositions in his Sabla Tolo series are too cerebral and
feel computer generated rather than spontaneous. Class went over time
as usual and ended too soon as usual. I am sorry I may miss next week's
class. But I will need to be at City Hall to play for Arabic Heritage
Month. Susu can't go because she is teaching the drum class. I will try
to make it to the end of her class and hope we get to do more samba.
I realized last week at the Arab Film Festival show - especially when
I have to carry the show and not be the back-up - that having these Latin
rhythms inside your heart and body is really a lot more important than
people/drummers realize. Because of Abdel Wehab's influence, the Arab
world's love of Latin music and Egypt being part of Africa and the land
of the polyrhythms, that rumba, samba, jerk, karachi and etc. are indeed
basic components of Arabic music. Maybe not as much as beledy, maqsoum,
wahedeh etc. but enough to be totally necessary in every Arabic drummer's
vocabulary. And, if you're a dancer, it is also important to recognize
and be able to dance to these rhythms. Home
October 19, 2011
bokra fil mish mish
Today I got an email from Karim Nagy regarding the raqs Egypt seminar.
It's the only thing I've been stressing about for the past couple of months,
but OMG, his email hit home and below the belt. It will be happening sooner
than later. Like in about two weeks. And am I ready?
Well, I've picked out the songs for the dance workshop portion and even
have a choreography. And you know how I HATE choreography. But this is
for the dance class and this is what I do best and do every day. Also,
I've even talked to Georges about my music and done a trial run at Pachamama
in a costume that fits for my dance show portion.
BUT Yikes! What about the talking part?
I am also expected to do a joint one hour class with Debbie on the history
of Mohamed Ali Street. Fortunately we've done it before but that workshop
took all day - just how can one really do a history of a centuries old
street in only 60 minutes, let alone 6 hours. Debbie broke down our sub-subjects
and it's very organized. 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, 5 minutes for
this and 15 minutes for that. The workshop is very succinctly listed on
a paper but, really, how does one deliver 600 years of history in 60 minutes
and in 5 minute segments.
I know I have to start writing and making outlines. But, when it comes
to talking, I am the queen of procrastination. All I've done so far on
this subject is to sit and stress and have a few "saharny" nights.
(See other blogs on the subject of "saharny".)
AND then there are the two panel discussions. "The role of dance
in Egyptian society and its future" and "The Americanization
of Egyptian dance". OK - I do know I can do this. But talk in front
of a group of people? I don't think so.
I remember when Karim first asked me if I wanted to be part of raqs Egypt,
I almost said no because I'd have to talk. Then I decided to do it because
it would be "good for me" to learn to talk in front of people.
Now I'm wondering if that was a good decision. This seminar is two weeks
away and all I've done was stress and procrastinate about talking. Should
I pay Debbie to talk for me? Write a few papers and pass them out and
make other people read them? Get hypnotized? Take confidence pills? Get
a case of laryngitis or mad cow disease? Get sick? Or maybe do what I
do best - get a case of the laughing disease.
All right - I can't do any of the above. And I can't procrastinate any
more about this. So - bokra - manana - tomorrow - I'll start working on
it. Yes - bokra fil mish mish*
* An Egyptian idiom,"fil mish mish" literally means "in
apricots" or when you are expecting something to be done by a certain
time. "Fil mish mish" is just the understood way of saying "bokra
(tomorrow) fil mish mish". Or maybe a way of saying "no way
will that ever happen" or maybe "when pigs fly". Home
October 18, 2011
This morning I got a call from my local
Curves franchise. They want me to teach a work-out class on Sunday morning.
I guess I'll give it a try. It is really close to my house - it's even
walking distance across from Tower Market - if you like hills - and it
might be fun. Maybe I'll even get to try out the machines.
Years ago I used to substitute teach at
the Cole Valley Gym for a Samba dancer named Marlene'. (We both taught
at the Mission Cultural Center.) She also taught an hour long work-out
class in Cole Valley. At that time I had been doing a lot of Samba dancing
and mixing Samba with belly dance was so fun, so easy, so natural. In
fact a lot of Egyptian music from the "Golden Age" of Egypt
uses Latin and Samba rhythms.
Egyptians have been fusing music and dance
since forever. The "father" of modern Arabic music, Mohamed
Abdel Wehab borrowed freely from other cultures - especially European,
Russian and Latin cultures. When I think of some of the musicians/singers/composers
from that Golden Age, it wasn't just Abdel Wehab. Karem Mahmoud, Farid
el Atrache, Mohammed Fawzi are just a few others who loved and borrowed
from other cultures - especially the Latin cultures and rhythms. And the
dancers from that period also reflected the fusion in their dancing and
costuming. And their dances reflected the times. In fact, dancer Badaweya
Mohamed Kareem Al Nirani chose the stage name of Taheyya Karioka to be
more closely connected with the Latin dances.
Another person from my past while teaching
at the Mission Cultural Center was a man named Sir Lawrence Washington.
He and Adela Chu were the founders of San Francisco's Carnaval parade
- traditionally held in June and not in the spring before lent as it is
in other countries. In fact, if you are ever in the Mission on Folsom
Street around 19th and 20th Streets and you look at the mural on the wall
next to the parking lot of El Faro Taqueria, you will see Sir's happy
face leading some Carnaval dancers. Anyway, when Carnaval was a smaller
event and a mostly Mission district happening, Sir asked me if I wanted
to collaborate with him for the parade. Of course I said yes.
(Euridice, Beatriz's daughter on left
- Sir in the middle and Kathy G. on right)
Although we did Carnaval together a few
times, we actually collaborated two years in a row. It was quite an ordeal.
We rented/borrowed space in one of the piers belonging to Sunset Scavengers
on the Embarcadero and worked on our float. We found dancers from everywhere
including my Aswan Dancers and I choreographed fusion belly/samba combinations.
We made our own costumes the budget way using everything from sequins,
crepe paper and ostrich feathers on Salvation Army rejects. Click
here and then scroll 2/3 down to see a photo. We
were too many to practice in a regular studio so we practiced at "The
One year we were Tropical Outer Space and
the next we were Tropical Heat Wave. And that's what we were. Colorful
- Hot - Crazy - Wild - with sore feet. We all wore sensible Chinese Mary
Jane type shoes but dancing for what seemed like miles does take a toll
on your feet. We danced the whole parade - forget about walking - we wanted
to win. And this was my first attempt at choreographing for a parade so
I did not realize we could use rest steps. I didn't know that other groups
would let their dancers sometimes just walk. Well, we didn't. We
danced the whole way.
The day of Carnaval our float was ready
and the band was hot. We danced and turned - laughing and singing and
carrying on all the way from somewhere in the heart of the Mission (a
side street around Harrison St.) down 24th Street, out Mission Street,
up South Van Ness to Van Ness Ave., across Market Street on Van Ness to
almost City Hall and then our float broke. It was a giant beautiful float
with colorful crepe paper palm trees and hot hot music. And this was tragic.
Our beautiful float was stuck on the intersection of Van Ness and McAllister
holding up traffic. We started pushing and pulling this huge gigantic
gorgeous flatbed garbage truck that was the base of our float and soon
cars on the street took pity and helped push our float to our assigned
spot in the Civic Center Park across from City Hall. One car passing by
actually had a tow chain and pulled us in.
Who knows why - group effort and energy
- Sir's influence - our costumes - my choreography - our band - pity on
us for our broken float - our great musicians - whatever - but we came
in #1! In fact, we came in #1 for both of the times we collaborated.
Enough of this memory lane stuff. This
Sunday I will go to Curves and I have no idea what I will do. This is
another time and another place and they already have a Zumba instructor
- whatever that is - so I'm not sure what I will do. Well, I have about
half a week to think of something interesting.
located at the corner of Army Street (currently Cesar Chavez) and Potrero
Avenue in San Francisco, California, was a community center from 1974-1987.
The Farm had a two-story building; the lower story contained an actual
farm, with vegetable gardens, chickens, geese, rabbits, and goats. Up
stairs was a library and an art gallery. Also on the bottom level was
The Farm would put on DIY shows to raise funds. Some regarded The Farm
as a punk rock showcase by night, infamous for staging seminal 1980s punk
rock bands such as Frightwig, Discharge, The Descendents, The Mentors,
7 Seconds, MDC (Millions of Dead Cops), RKL (Rich Kids on LSD), DRI (Dirty
Rotten Imbeciles), Raw Power, The Accused, Redd Kross, Soundgarden, The
Gits, the Lookouts (Early band of Green Day drummer), Bad Brains, and
Buildings in the same complex also housed Survival Research Laboratories,
Subterranean Records, and Cloudkick. Home
October 17, 2011
Is it beledy, maqsoum or masmudi?
Sunday night at Pachamama I played back
up percussion with Tony Lammam. Every drummer has a different relationship
with the back up percussionists and also with drum rhythm terminology.
And Tony is no different.
I have always thought of myself as a dancer
and dance teacher first and only as a percussionist due to my desire to
be one. Although I've been studying and been involved with the drum longer
than many drummers have been alive, I am realistic about my abilities.
Although I do know the music both literally and intuitively, somehow my
brain doesn't always transmit the messages and riffs to my hands and fingers
in a proper manner.
I think I've always been a wannabe drummer
ever since Fadil Shahin gave me a broken drum when I first started dancing
at the Bagdad many eons ago. Yousef Kouyoumjian, the owner of the Bagdad,
used to make us sit on stage and play tambourine with the band in the
beginning of the night. Even though we often didn't know what we were
doing, we thought we did.
My first teacher Vince Delgado thought
I should use my drums as coffee tables and George Dabai, my second teacher
decided we all needed to relearn how to play cymbals properly. But he
did encourage us to sit on stage sometimes and play along.
I think the first drummer I really played
back up percussion for was my own daughter Susu. Because we shared the
same records we would often spend hours together breaking down songs and
working on their rhythm changes. When she started performing it was very
natural for me to become her back up drummer. Sometimes it was in the
role of "stage mom" reminding her how certain riffs went and
other times it was actually playing along with her on pieces we would
choreograph or compose together. Gradually this partnership grew with
Susu becoming the lead drummer of the Cairo Cats, a band of rotating Arabic
musicians. She directed a group of drummers, including me and I organized
After the Bagdad closed I danced at a club
called Shahrazade. It was an all Arabic supper club with a local singer
and also guest artists from other areas including the Middle East. I remember
Sabah was one of the guest singers when I worked there. They hired a new
drummer for the occasion. "Why, he's even better than George Dabai".
His name was Azmi and he would let me play tambourine for the singers
after my dance show. I think this was my first real "professional"
experience performing. It was especially exciting because so many of the
singers were pretty popular and well known in the Arabic community and
I got to play for them. Well, Azmi had an embarrassing habit of playing
footsie with me while we were on stage together. Sometimes I'd feel pretty
uncomfortable hoping that the audience wouldn't notice. Finally after
weeks of putting up with his forwardness I got up the courage to ask him
why he was always doing that to me on stage as he never flirted with me
offstage. He just looked at me funny and said, "I'm not flirting,
I'm just trying to keep you on time with the music".
I played tambourine and duf various times
with Reda Darwish. Sometimes we would play at a wedding and we'd all sing
along while playing. Reda would always remind me that I had to choose
between singing and playing because when I sang, sometimes my playing
would suffer. I wonder if the audience suffered when I sang. Later I worked
with Reda at a club called El Valenciano. We were part of the band called
The Arabian Knights which I co-founded with Jacques al Asmar. It was there
that I became acutely aware that musicians have different names for the
drum rhythms. What is beledy to one musician may be masmudi to another
and what is maqsoum to one can be beledy to another. There's no harder
way to learn this than in the middle of a song in the middle of a show
while standingwith the band, semi-dancing, wearing super high heels and
a sequinned mini cocktail dress trying to look good. And there's the drummer
calling out rhythms and you don't know what rhythm he's talking about
as you both have different rhythm terminology. Yes, it's actually quite
fun to go through rhythm gymnastics trying to find the happy rhythm without
missing a beat. All this while trying to look good and look like you know
what you're doing. Sure it is!
Probably the drummer I've worked with the
longest has been Loay Dahbour. I think I've learned the most from him
- practicing with him off stage and also playing duf and tambourine with
him. We've worked together for way over ten years - maybe fifteen, and
over this period of time I think we've worked out a lot of unsaid drum
communication. He knows my shortcomings and realistically puts up with
it. Or at least shows me and tells me what he wants me to play and when.
Most of our playing together has also involved playing for dancers. Since
I feel I'm a dancer and dance teacher first, I like to watch the dancers.
This is where I get in trouble. Sometimes if it's a dancer I really like,
I will hear Loay yelling "Amina! Pay attention!" Yes, I think
I space out and sometimes forget to play if I'm enjoying the show.
Now Loay has been overseas in Jordan for
the past few months and I've been Tony's back up percussionist at Pachamama.
It was an adjustment. Each drummer has a different take on the music and
a different style. And as I stated earlier, every drummer has a different
relationship with the back up percussionists and also with drum rhythm
terminology. And Tony is no different.
He wants me to watch him the entire time
we play together. I guess I should consider it a free drum lesson. Sunday
night he played a drum solo for a dancer. I don't really like being his
back up for the drum solos as he almost always plays it in super fast
maqsoum saeria. This I translate to be super fast double time maqsoum.
He likes me to play that beat forever! Or at least, until I feel my arm
almost freezes or starts cramping. I don't like to play it because I worry
that I might mess up.
Usually when other drummers play their
tricks in the middle, they like you to stop. Not Tony! The first time
I stopped like I usually do for other drummers. This upset him. So now
I know. Don't stop. Well, last night he told me to stop. Hurray! I can
rest my arm a bit. Then he said, play beledy. What's beledy to you? What's
beledy to me? dum dum teky tek, dum teky tek, teka? Medium tempo? Made
sense to me since drummers like to change tempos. So there I went playing
dum dum teky tek, dum teky tek, teka in a different tempo than the super
fast double time maqsoum I'd already played.
And then I got the look! Yes, the look
- like "What are you doing, why are you messing up my drum solo?"
OK, I thought, maybe I forgot how to play beledy or something. Well, he
just gave me another look that said "OK, I'm ending this solo - you
messed it up for me." Later, I asked him what happened. And he said
I was playing beledy too slow and it should have been saeria (fast). I
said "oh, maqsoum saeria?" He said no - beledy and he beat out
a rhythm. It sure sounded like maqsoum saeria just like the super fast
double time maqsoum that I had been playing for the whole interminably
long first section of his solo. Tony and I speak English together. He
also speaks Arabic and poetry which I can sort of understand. But when
he speaks drum talk, I guess don't understand a word he says.
The best part of the night at Pachamama
was when Roni (a Lebanese drummer) decided to join me on stage. He played
the duf and I played riq and sometimes the cymbals. He has good energy
and we can groove together and have fun. But the best part is that he
provided a little buffer between me and the lead drummer.Home
October 16, 2011
Who needs Susu and Faisal?
Today I went to Aswat rehearsal packed
and dressed - sequins and rhinestones - for the Pachamama show. The motto
is: "If you can't play good, at least look good!" Going to Pachamama
also meant packing the dahola (the largest sized drum used for backing
up the more regular sized tabla), duf and duf stand, riq, birthday cake
(it was Queenie's birthday), candles, paper plates, forks, napkins, red
glitter stage heels, make-up, costume (I was going to practice for raqs
Egypt) and my butt. More on the butt later - maybe in another blog.
The musicians generally arrive for Aswat
practice after the singers have worked out their problems and transitions.
This is a short season. We already had a couple of mini-shows and we are
now practicing for our main show in November. Our director currently is
back in Jordan (where he lives) and will not be back with us until January.
Therefore this show will be entirely self-directed. We've done it before
and sometimes with great success. Right now we are still working on the
details. Younes and Husain are our adjunct musical directors and are doing
a great job.
When I arrived for practice I realized
that Sandy and I were the only drummers - and we are only back up riq
and duf musicians. OK, remember the motto - "If you can't play good,
at least look good!"And looking good, means looking professional
and looking like you know what you're doing.
Faisal was in Washington, Susu was home
working on her Moroccan room and, of course, Loay is still in Jordan looking
for a...... Thank God I had my dahola in the trunk. Having to be a back-up
drummer is starting to be the norm these days. Amina, remember - always
have a drum and a tube of lipstick in the trunk. "If you can't play
good, at least look good!"
Well, I had no idea what the singers were
doing and Sandy had just handed me a bag of tootsie rolls, so I decided
to give her the drum so I could work on the tootsie rolls. The other back
up drummer was a little smarter than us. She had decided to sit with the
singers and sing rather than suffer the humiliation we were anticipating.
We couldn't hide in the back any longer,
so dragging our feet and our instruments we reluctantly joined the singers
and musicians. But we just couldn't figure out what they were doing. Sandy
had a list of the songs we were supposed to practice including two medleys.
Well, we couldn't even figure out what lines, verses or even what medleys
they were singing. Both of the medleys were Egyptian and walking in cold
and hearing the songs disjointed and out of context made me just want
to focus on the tootsie rolls. As I helped Sandy figure out what to play,
we really were the blind leading the blind. Since both medleys had a lot
of vox and rumba in them, we just sort of faked it...until Husain decided
to stand beside us and beat out the rhythms on his oud. We both gained
a better respect for Susu and Faisal while secretly hating them for abandoning
Finally, khalas, the singers figured it
out and decided to try the medleys - "min el awal" - from the
top. OK, was it time to take a bathroom break, disappear, start working
on the Turkish delight box of sweets sitting next to me, or should I be
a good guy and be Sandy's drumming partner. Well, of course I did the
honorable thing and decided to stick it out and help Sandy mess up. Yallah!
wahed, itneen, talata (one, two, three) Dum - and we were off. Husain
stood next to us and played music on the oud and we, surprisingly, just
went into automatic pilot and played the medleys just like we did at all
our other concerts. We looked at each other in amazement and couldn't
believe it. We did it and without any help from our friend the tapping
oud player. Who needs Susu and Faisal when we have each other. Well.....Home
October 15, 2011
Eh il Hikaya - What's the Story
In 1988 shaabi singer Hamdi Batshaan from
Alexandria released a song called el hikaya - what's the story. The story
is a shaabi song done in rap style. It's kind of cute and is about a girl
walking down the street who gets accosted by a dirty old man. She sort
of disses him, asking him why he's bothering her - pestering her. In the
song, Hamdi Batshaan remarks about the old man's grey hair and his big
nose. He calls him Cassanova, Travolta and Michael Jackson. - Boy did
they ever like Michael Jackson! There are references to the fact that
the guy kind of likes big voluptuous girls. Eh il asitoki da - what's
with this girl. Asitok ha literally means "elasticize him".
According to Walter Armbrust in the old days they really liked big girls
- girls so big that they had to use elastic to hold up their clothes.
Also in his book "Mass Culture and
Modernism in Egypt"(1996) if one "reads between the lines"
one will come across a social commentary on what's going on in the world
"in which there is no room for refinement or love because everything
is dominated by the power of money." This is some of the very same
commentary that Ahmed Adaweya had in his songs in the 1970's when he started
the shaabi song tradition.
Eh il Hikaya had
incredible staying power in Egypt and was even used to deliver subliminal
messages in a couple of movies several years later. Somewhere in my archives
I even have a video clip of the song that I copied from ART (Arabic Radio
Television) satellite. I have always personally called this style of shaabi
music "city beledy".
In 1994 Reda Darwish produced the cassette
called "Walk with the Moon". In the cassette he features a version
of the song Eh il Hikaya sung by Abdullah Kdouh. At the time Reda and
Abdullah both worked with Jalal Takesh at the Pasha Restaurant. It's a
great recording and is worth looking for in your pile of dusty cassettes.
I happened to have always liked this particular song, so some time ago
I had transferred it to CD.
This morning I got an email from Debbie
in Cairo telling me of a song called il binti gamda dee sung by Mahmoud
el Leithy. He happens to be a favorite singer of mine in the genre of
dj shaabi sufi or dj shaabi mulid. Now it seems that he has "covered"
Eh il Hikaya" calling it il bintil gamda dee. click
here to listen
As Debbie says, it's a totally different
sound for Mahmoud el Leithy. It seems he will be re-introducing the "city
beledy" sub category of shaabi music. I am sure given his popularity,
this style will soon be popping up all over the Arabic air waves. Another
shaabi song that is enjoying newly revised popularity is the song Shokolata.
That shaabi song originally was sung by Sami Ail also in the 1980's and
is now becoming a favorite in shaabi cocktails.These songs really never
went away. They have always been here in the cassette culture and now
they are with us in the virtual shaabi cafes as the new generation of
shaabi singers discover the old shaabi.
As I told Debbie - I don't think Mahmoud
was even born when Eh il Hikaya first came out.
It's kind of nice to know that although
shaabi music may not even be recognized in the "official" media,
thanks to the virtual cafes of the internet and phones, this old shaabi
music is now receiving the same "classic music" status as Om
Kalthoum and Warda shaabi music. But more on that another day. (Or, if
you come raqs Egypt, Om and shaabi music is my dance class topic) Home
October 14, 2011
The changing face of zeffas
Over the years I have noticed a change
in how our Arabic and Egyptian community treats weddings. Maybe I should
qualify that and say "the weddings that I've been involved in".
A lot of this has to do with the fluctuating economy, the various trends
in music. perhaps globalization within their culture or maybe just general
assimilation into the American culture. Whatever the reason - there definitely
has been changes.
A few - maybe 3+ decades ago, my group
(The Aswan Dancers) would be hired to perform folkloric dances as part
of the wedding entertainment. Sometimes we would dance to cassettes and
sometimes we would hire musicians to accompany us. The wedding party itself
did not especially ask for or want a formal zeffa or processional into
the banquet room, but would want music and dancing reminders of their
homeland. More often than not, the wedding would have a band with a singer
and only hire a single young dancer wearing a 2 piece bedlah. Usually
this enterainment would happen during dessert or before the cake cutting
ceremony. Many weddings did not even hire a dancer.
As time went on, many times the band and
singer would be either replaced or be supplemented by a DJ. During this
period the wedding family would ask for a zeffa. Some of the zeffas would
be led by the "dancing girls" including a dancer balancing a
shamadan. Some zeffas would have one dancer balancing a shamadan and include
other young girls just walking and carrying candles. We developed strategies
for coping with candle wax - wear a wig with the shamadan, hold little
paper cups hidden in the bottom of the long white candles to catch the
dripping wax. In this period we would wait in the hall as each important
member of the wedding party would be announced and enter amidst applause
and cheers. Finally when it would be time for the bride and groom, we
would precede the happy couple and also be joined by many female members
zagureeting and just making lots of noise. Of course we would also have
enough members in the zeffa party to play the dufs and other percussion
instruments. These would be the all female musicians.
About fifteen years ago I noticed a big
change in the zeffa requests. It may have been partly because the San
Francisco Bay Area has a large Arabic/Palestinian community and it may
have been also because of the escalating religious conservatism. First
- the wedding family would request that all dancers be covered. No more
bedlahs. Then, they they would ask that we do debke rather than belly
dance. Maybe folkloric dances, such as Saidi style would be acceptable,
but debke was preferable. Also they started requesting that only men lead
Finally I would just get requests for only
men. Only men for the debke and only men for the zeffa. No need to ask
if the dancers need to be covered. There would be no (female) dancers.
This has become the norm for Palestinian weddings.
Today, I just made arrangements to do a
zeffa for an Egyptian family. As this is where the tradition of the shamadan
and belly dancers come from, I was expecting them to request at least
one dancer because they said they wanted a traditional Egyptian zeffa.
However - they said they did not want any dancing at all (debke is not
in their tradition) and preferred an all male troupe.
My dream, my goal. is to to train the guys
to learn to do a little choreography while doing the zeffa. - Kind of
like the dancing zeffa boys in Egypt. It may take a little manipulating,
but maybe - just maybe - I can sneak in a step or two or maybe even a
turn two three and, wallah, before they realize it, they'll be doing the
Egyptian two step.
In the meantime, I disguise myself as a
guy in order to do a zeffa - why I even have a mustache in my duf bag.
In all the zeffas over the years there
has been one constant no matter what the country, and that is the request
for the song Du'ul Mazaher - du'ul mazaher yalla wyaHlil bait ta'aalu
- play the mazhars all of you in the house.
Here are a few memories of various zeffas:
Smoking out and almost evacuating the banquet
room with our incense while waiting for the bride.
Training four to six guys to do the debke
and sing and dance around the bridal couple. Now, if I can just train
the musicians to do this.
Learning that the groom's brother asked
one of my dancers for her phone number. They eventually married and we
did a zeffa for them.
Doing two zeffas and dancing in two separate
rooms - one for the men and one for the women.
Waiting to be called to lead the zeffa
and finding that the bride and groom had already entered the room as they
did not know we were supposed to lead them in. They thought we were separate
Waiting to lead the bride and groom to
their limosine only to find they were already in it. Home
October 13, 2011
The hills of San Francisco
Georges Lammam called this morning to check
in about our show at PenaPachamama this coming Sunday. We will have a
great lineup with seven dancers. I will get to do double duty - play with
the band and dance. I like dancing at Pachamama - it's like having fun
while exercising. It's my personal health spa. But I don't normally get
to dance because we usually have too many dancers. This Sunday though,
I will, because I want to try out a couple of songs I might use for my
raqs Egypt performance.
Georges asked me if I would like to play
with the band for the opening night reception of the Arabic Film Festival.
Which was tonight! I think because he was away most of the summer and
just got back from Texas a day or so ago, that he forgot to line up a
drummer for tonight. Well, maybe he forgot to line up the other musicians
too as he told me that Eddie, Quentin and Gabriel would also be playing.
They are the musician family that owns Pachamama and Eddie and Gabriel
often play along with our band. Quentin, who plays the congas usually
does not play with us. But Georges told me that Quentin would be playing
tonight and I should just bring my riq. I said, OK, I'd bring my riq but
also would bring my tabla.
When I arrived at the Castro Theater where
the reception was to be held, Georges told me that Quentin couldn't make
it because the restaurant had an overflow of dinner reservations. Was
I happy that I had my tabla! I may have mentioned before that because
of a few past 'lack of tabla' disasters that I decided I would always
go to a gig with a tabla in the trunk of my car - just in case... Well
this was the perfect case because the tambourine just wouldn't have worked
as the only percussion instrument tonight. Because the reception was pretty
packed and pretty noisy, the acoustics were pretty bad - even with the
sound system. The music we played was interesting because we couldn't
always hear each other. Sometimes I didn't even know what I was supposed
to be playing. All the songs were Arabic, but many with a Latin flavor,
so mainly I played karachi, filled in ayoub, rumba, bolero and malfoof.
I don't know why, but I just can't get into the malfoof groove. They say
practice makes perfect. Well, I practice and I actually can play it up
to speed including the double lefts and can keep it up even though my
forearm feels like it will fall off or cramp. But I know that I just am
not making the other musicians happy. It's the syncopation. And to think
- I used to be a tap dancer - I even was my teacher's assistant. But malfoof
- yikes - I just can't make it right. Finally, il Hamduli'llah - towards
the end of our set, Georges played less Latin fusion and more regular
Arabic songs and debkes. Boy, it sure felt more comfortable to play those
songs. I could have played all night.
However, the film festival was about to
show the first film and I had a roomful of dancers in my studio waiting
for performance class to begin. Fortunately Gregory was around to start
the class for me. On Thursday nights I usually start class showing dance
videos so it was a perfect night for me to be a little late.
The Castro district is a pretty busy neighborhood with very few parking
options. Therefore, unfortunately, because of the neighborhood, I had
to park my car 6 blocks away. Three of those blocks were almost a re-creation
of last Sunday's hotel/zeffa adventure minus the high heels. I only had
2" heeled boots but because I had a waiting class I ran dragging
my heavy drum in it's wheeled duffle bag and my two bags - purse and tambourine
- down 3 blocks of Castro district pedestrian traffic - zahma, dunya,
zahama - and then up 3 blocks of not quite almost vertical incline sidewalk.
When the city bus travels that route, if it is overfull, in the past,
the bus driver would sometimes make the people get off and walk the incline
in order to make the bus light enough to inch it's way up the hill.
Who needs a health spa when there are the
hills of San Francisco. Who needs to lift weights when there are drums
to drag around. Needless to say, I managed to get to class in time. I
was late, but they didn't seem to miss me or even notice I had arrived.
They were too busy watching Dina. In fact, two other dancers arrived after
me. I didn't have to run, I could have walked, I could have stayed and
enjoyed the food at the reception. I felt pretty wiped out from my running,
but it was great to be dancing in class so I could rest. Biddi ashoufak
kil youm ya Habibi. I want to see you every day, oh my darling.
October 12, 2011
Spent the first part of the day making
plans for the band to perform in a new venue. Now I need to sit down with
the owner of the the restaurant to finalize details. Unlike last week,
this week I also remembered to go Ayman's house for Arabic. Ayman mentioned
that he wanted to have a music night in about a week. It is the same night
as the documentary movie "At night they dance", so I don't know
if I can go. Ayman assured me that the party wouldn't even get going until
after 10 or 11. So, I guess I'll plan on having my tabla in the car so
I can maybe join the party late.
I had a really good session with Ayman.
We listened to a couple of versions of the songs I will use in raqs Egypt.
I already had the translations but I need to really understand the words
in order to teach the dances. It doesn't matter if I ever even explain
some of these words to the class - if I truly understand the songs, then
I will be able to teach the songs better. Today we talked about how Om
was such a genius in her choice of words in the poetry and how she enunciated
and expressed herself. Some of the words in the songs were in old Arabic
- pre-fusHa - pre classic - words people don't use anymore and within
the very same sentence were words in colloquial popular slang type Arabic.
Yes, she was amazing. But also amazing were the poets who wrote for her.
She may have micro-managed and even commissioned poetry and songs, but
these guys came up with the words and phrases. They worked hand in hand
with her. They had input and she had input. I am reading a book - a fictionalized
autobiography of Ahmad Ramy who was one of Om's poets. ("I loved
you for your voice.") He was named "Poet of the youth"
because of his considerable contributions to the Arabic song. He was best
known for writing lyrics for the songs of Om Kalthoum - about half of
them. When I am reading this book I need to remind myself that perhaps
not all the incidents of the book are real - but they could be. It is
really neat to see the world of Mohamed Abdel Wehab and Om Kalthoum through
the eyes of this poet. It really makes that world of music, song and the
creative process alive and real to me.
In Islam there is a saying: "Saut
il mar'a awra" - saut-voice, mar'a-woman (mir'at-slang for wife),
arian-shouldn't be seeing or awra-naked. kedda - therefore - In Islam
the voice of a woman is naked (meaning - is not acceptable). If we look
back on Om's history - she started her singing career disguised as a boy.
Many of the early, previous century female singers were not Moslem, but
were other religions (look at Asmahan for example). It took great courage,
determination and planning for Om to do what she did. Yes, she had the
voice but also she had the drive and the force to carry through her plans.
She also paved the way for others, and I am not talking about the globalized
Ruby's and Nancy's of today's music videos. That is another story.
I caught the tale end of Susu's private
drum class and her student showed me a photo of a drum she just ordered.
It is a Gawaher al Fan drum and is inlaid with red design. Then the students
came for Susu's regular drum class and Hani, one of the oud players from
Aswat was in the class. He just got back from Jordan and had a new drum.
It was beautiful and had black, white and red inlaid tiles. It looks like
the new color accent for drums is RED!. Even Hana has the new design red,
white and black tabla. Hers, actually was the first one I saw. I already
have too many drums, but now am wondering if a nice red drum will somehow
pop its head into my studio. And if it does and has a for sale sign -
will I buy it? Hani was with Loay in Jordan and he too was looking at
drums. hmmmmm. I wonder. If he does come back with one for himself - will
it be red? Will he need to sell it someday. Oh, I hope so. Well, I guess
I will need to wait and see if he even comes back and then wait for him
to decide to sell it someday and - it better be to me. Is this just wishful
thinking? I don't even know if he bought a drum.Home
October 11, 2011
Tuesday nights in Noe Valley
A little over thirty five years ago my
friend Hoda and I decided to join forces and do some performances together
with our students. She taught at a park and rec center and at San Francisco
State College and I taught in a little studio around the corner from my
house. My old studio is now the Firefly Restaurant. My first group performance
was at the Noe Valley Library and my dancers were from Amina's School
of Belly Dance. Then Hoda was invited to perform at Sigmund Stern Grove
and she invited me to join her. At the time Vince Delgado was teaching
drum in my studio and he had a little band called Jazayer that consisted
of himself, his wife Mimi and and his daughter Devi Ja. They played mostly
Turkish music and Mimi played a Turkish instrument called a bouzouk. It
looked like a Greek bouzouki which looks like a baby oud with a long handle.
Well, Hoda and I were into Egyptian music and two of our favorite records
were Lailet Hob and Alf Leila we Leila. I asked Vince if he and his band
would like to learn some music for us and perform at Sigmund Stern Grove.
We were so thrilled when he said yes. And yes, they learned all the music
for us. And they learned it perfectly as we both had our dance groups
do choreography. In fact, not only did we do choreography, we collaborated
and merged our choreographies. Hoda taught her girls separately from mine
and in the end - with one rehearsal for staging we fused our dances together.
Vince, Mimi and Devi Ja never missed a beat and our girls never missed
When I think back, it was pretty amazing.
We made them learn about half an hour's worth of music - mostly Om Kalthoum
- and we performed with the utmost confidence that the music would be
executed exactly as planned. And, to think, Devi Ja was just a little
girl of about 13 or 14 at the time.
I have a black and white video of this
performance that was recorded on a Sony portapack. This was waaaaaay before
video cameras as we know them now. The format was very similar to reel
to reel audio equipment except that there was a huge heavy battery pack
that the camera man could wear strapped to his body while he also carried
a bulky recording device attached to a heavy video camera. Usually it
was a two man job because of all the equipment. Technology sure has come
a long way. Now we have flips and iphones for the greatest of ease in
I was working at the Bagdad at the time
and told my friend Arousiac, the owner's sister that I was forming a dance
group and was trying to think of a nice name for it. She told me to call
the group The Aswan Dancers because they had good dancers in Aswan. So,
without hesitation or even a question, I named my group The Aswan Dancers
and we began practicing on Tuesday nights.
I remember going to Aswan and wanting to
see the "real" Aswan Dancers. I went to the Aswan Cultural Center
and told them that I, too, had a group called the Aswan Dancers. They
had a poster called Firqet Aswan (Aswan Troupe) and they gave me two copies
of the poster. I have one hanging in my studio. Besides seeing their show
- which was amazingly wonderful and inspiring - I got to see part of a
rehearsal. It was such fun to finally see our namesake and understand
more about the Aswan dancers and to finally see and hear them in action.
My friend Debbie just came back from Aswan last month and she too got
bitten by the bug. I think that she finally understood what I was talking
about when I told her that I just loved the music and dancing in Aswan
and how it differed from the rest of Egypt. She emailed me and told me
that she bought every CD she could find. Well, actually, I think she only
bought about 30 or so CDs. Then she told me she went back and bought more.
I can hardly wait to see Debbie when she comes to S.F. next month for
Tonight, I was thinking of the many many
Tuesday nights I have spent in my studio practicing for a show. Recently
I watched the show Hoda and I did at Sigmund Stern Grove those many years
ago and it's kind of interesting to see how my dance style has changed
over the years. It was interesting to look back on what we did then for
an outdoor show and compare the choreography and music with what we practiced
this Tuesday night for the Bandshell in Golden Gate Park. I worked with
Hana and Kim tonight for Sunday's performance.. This time it was my friend
Sausan of El Masri who invited me to perform. She will be featuring various
dance teachers from the area for this performance. Since I will have to
attend an Aswat rehearsal - we have two important performances coming
up - I asked Hana and Kim to dance. It sure sounds like a fun show. I
wish I could go. If you happen to be in the area, you should check it
out as it is a city event and will be free. Showtime is 2 pm on Sunday.
Except for an occasional vacation now and
then, I have spent over thirty five years of Tuesday nights in my studio
rehearsing. Tonight was no exception. It was just another Tuesday night
working on just another performance. I don't know what I would do on a
Tuesday night if I didn't have a rehearsal..Home
October 10, 2011
yaba yaba - oh dad oh dad
Lately I've been working with cymbals in
class. I don't know why, as they're too noisy, but I guess it's because
we all need to be able to play them - at least for dancing in restaurants
or at private parties. I've been using Ganal Hawa as the practice song.
It's not too fast, is pretty repetitious and also has some rhythm changes.
When I teach I like to use various adaptations of the same song so people
don't get stuck on just one version. If possible I always use and compare
the dance versions with the original singer. In this case, it's Abdel
Halim. But the singer I've been using most recently is Nur Mhana. He has
a great rendition that sounds live and is lively and dynamic. Plus there
are plenty of musical sections with no singing. I try to not have the
cymbals play while there is singing going on.
I just went on the internet to find a translation
so I could reference a couple of words because I was too lazy to go down
to the dance studio to find my translated copy. Funny thing - I found
two sites with two translations. One crediting me for the translation
(actually Nicole Ibrahim, one of my Arabic teachers translated it). The
other site didn't credit anyone, but it was the exact same translation
including all the very same typos. I just love the internet! I didn't
know I spoke Arabic. I guess I must. haha. The funniest incident was when
I got a request to translate a song and it came from an Egyptian living
in Cairo. Ba olek eh!! Let me tell you! I just wish it were true and I
did speak Arabic. But I do think I am getting better at understanding
song talk. Sometimes in class when someone asks me what the song means,
I say "I don't know, but I'll blurt the words I know and you translate."
Oftentimes we get a pretty reasonable translation by people who really
don't even speak the language.
I love the words yaba yaba. Literally
it's oh father (ya = oh, abu = father). This is in the song. Actually
the line is "da Habibi, shagal balee, yaba yaba. It's my beloved
who has preoccupied my mind - oh my father. There aren't too many Arabic
songs without the word Habibi - my darling, my beloved, my sweetheart.
The Shagal balee part is sung by the chorus and that is a line to remember
so you can sing along while dancing.
Ganal Hawa was in a movie called "Abi
foq il shagara" My father up a tree. Not in the song but equally
memorable is yama yama (om - mother or ami = mom).
This movie was produced by Abdel Halim
in 1969 and starred himself and Nadia Lutfi who was 1/2 Egyptian and 1/2
Polish. This was to be his last film and held all box office records that
still remain to be broken. It was/is the longest running film to play
in Egypt. In the movie, Abdel Halim is a student on spring break who goes
to Alex (short for Alexandria aka Iskandaria) and meets and falls for
haram aleiku (shame on him) a "belly dancer". This was Nadia
Lutfi (1938-2011). In the film they run off to Lebanon for a vacation
and he sings "ganal hawa" in a kind of video clip style. I'll
show the clip in class sometime if requested. In the film Abdel Halim
and Nadia Lutfi *KISS*. A kind of long passionate kiss. This isn't usually
done in Egyptian films. Besides it being an Abdel Halim movie, that could
be one of the reasons why it enjoyed such a long run. Also it was probably
more permissible because Nadia wasn't entirely Egyptian. She even had
blonde hair. Well, in the film, Abdel Halim's father hears of his son's
waywardness so he goes to Alexandria to rescue him, but instead gets caught
up in the tree and eventually needs to be "rescued" by his son.
Of course in the end all's well that ends well - except for the poor belly
dancer. Moral of the story. Do you really want to be a belly dancer? But
she does have a sympathetic role. Home
October 9, 2011
These boots are made for walking
"Our Limo driver", Husain called
to see if we needed a ride to the zeffa. But Hana and I decided that we
liked the freedom of going and leaving on our own time. After all - we'd
just do a 10 minute drive to Union Square, park and walk acoss the street
to the hotel to do the zeffa.
I decided to instead park at a cheaper
garage about 3 blocks away from the hotel. Well, this we did and then
we jaunted down the hill dragging a huge suitcase with heavy mike stands,
cords, mikes and other equipment - plus other miscellaneous large bags
containing vests and tarbushes for the guys, costumes for us and dufs,
mazhars and riqs. Plus, of course, our heavy purses with required necessary
extra makeup. But this was to be an easy gig and the walk would be all
downhill - no sweat - we'd even arrive 15 minutes early.
We got to the appointed street which I
thought was the service entrance to the hotel, only to find it was the
wrong street number. No, we're not perfoming at Ruby Skye. Then I checked
the address again and realized that I had read the wrong hotel name. It
was not the one at Union Square which is called the St. Francis. It was
the Fairmont which was only 4 short blocks away on the same street. However
it was 4 blocks on a vertical incline. If you know San Francisco - the
two hotels at the top of the city where the cable cars clang and give
you a thrill of a lifetime climbing up to amazing views of the city and
the bay - well, this Fairmont hotel was one of them - at the apex of the
huge, gigantic hill famous for cable cars and is always in the movies
with thrilling car chase scenes because it is such a steep street. Yes,
this is The Farimont, home of travelling dignitaries and hotel for the
stars and visiting royalty and location of the zeffa. Yes, this was to
be a fun and an easy zeffa...if we could get there in time.
OK - at least it was a straight shot -
as the bee flies - just up this little tiny hill...if we don't get a heart
attack trying to do this. (But if we ended up at the ER, we'd certainly
be beautiful since we had all our stage makeup on.) You know, I really
admire those guys who climb Everest. But they don't have to drag heavy
sound equipment and heavy inlaid musical instruments and jewel encrusted
costumes up to the top wearing red high heeled boots. Well, Hana was wearing
the high heeled boots.
Huffing and puffing and nearly expiring
at each intersection, we were grateful we'd have to wait and catch our
breath during the 30 seconds it took for the light to change and signal
that we could cross the street. Finally - heroically, we finished the
ascent - who needs porters, sherpas or donkeys when we have ourselves.
Triumphantly we walked up to the hotel expecting accolades for our feat.
But we were only met by a shiny big black empty limo parked in front of
the hotel reminding us that it might have been better to accept the offer
of limo door-to-door service.
The entire day spent at the Fairmont was
certainly interesting. When we weren't chatting with DJ Raffy, looking
for Faisal in the coffee shop, or Husain and Jalal at the bar, we were
socializing in cushy sofas or just standing around looking at photos of
the history of the hotel.
We performed music is two different areas
- The pre-banquet reception was in a garden with palm trees and orchids
galore. It was so interesting to watch the guests stroll around and look
important. It reminded me of Fashion TV's pre-runway events. I don't think
we ever saw so many beautiful women (and men) in couture gowns in such
a beautiful serene setting and it was in the middle of the city. All was
quiet except of our music - love songs of Abdel Halim and the occasional
clanging of a cable car bell. All the gowns were definitely one of a kind
fashion creations and if they weren't encrusted in jewels and sequins,
they were for sure special made and dyed fabrics of the finest silks,
satins and brocades. Ah yes, the Middle East certainly can claim the fame
for amazingly beautiful colors, gossamer sheer fabrics and jacquard brocades.
And the shoes! They defied the heights we had just climbed. Three inch
heels? Hah!That's flat! Only reserved for the elderly. These amazing shoes
were 4", 5" 6" and thensome. Maybe it's the filipino shoe
festish in me that is coming out - but the shoes definitely matched the
gowns in beauty, design and architecture.
After the zeffa and doing some serious
fine dining in the Garden Pavilion Room surrounded by orchids, pearls
and glistening crystal chandeliers, we performed in the Gold Room which
sort of reminded me of a miniature version of the gilt and crystal splendor
of the grand ballroom at the Mina House in Giza.
We then realized that we had to trek back
to reality and to our car. This time - high heels going down the serious
incline. No way, Jose'. We can climb any mountain, but going down is another
story. Fortunately, Younes, "our other Limo driver" was also
"at our service". So, we decided to not be independent but rather
take advantage of "door to door" service. Home
October 8, 2011
Riding in Style and Halal pizza
When I went outside at 3 this afternoon
to wait for my limo, I saw Shakeeb, the new oud player in Aswat standing
in front of my house smoking a cigarette. He, too, was waiting for the
limosine. About 5 minutes later Jalal and Husain pulled up in the limo
and we all took off for our sound check and performance at Skyline College.
We were to be the second half of a program. The first half was a play
in Arabic "Ana Hurrah" (I am free) that was touring the U.S.
from Palestine. In the ride to the theater Shakeeb told me that he moved
here a couple of weeks ago because Kan Zaman, the group he played with
in Los Angeles is on a break. Their director, Wael Kakish, is working
in Aman for six months. Shakeeb's cousin Houda, a former singer with Aswat
convinced him to move up here and join Aswat. So he did. He already likes
the weather here better than in Los Angeles. So officially we have two
new members - Shakeeb originally from Casa Blanca and Jalal.
Sound check went well, except that our
two tabla players - Susu and Najwa were both missing. Susu was still in
Santa Rosa playing with Vince and Coralie for a belly dance event and
Najwa and her friend Yvette were stuck on the freeway somewhere with a
flat tire. Not too important, I guess but a little stressful for Sandy
and me trying to figure out what would happen if the drummers didn't make
it in time and we didn't even have a drum to play on. Not important -at
least not yet. We wouldn't worry until 8:30 curtain time.
Well, Susu finally made it at about a quarter
to 8 and she immediately started rehearsing some of the more difficult
(song arrangements/rhythm changes) songs. Besides only coming to one short
rehearsal for this performance, we all were at the disadvantage of not
really having a director on stage. Younes was to be our director, but
he was also one of our violinists. Therefore he directed with his eyebrows.
Lift one eyebrow once - start with vox - lift it twice - play balady -
lift both eyebrows and add a chin drop - do wahedeh - add the eyes looking
towards the ensemble and choir - end it!
Just before going on stage, Susu asked
to see the set list and realized that she wasn't even aware of one of
the songs she would be playing. Of course she didn't know it and hadn't
heard it before. But we all reassured her that all would be ok. Drumming
for a rehearsed choir and music ensemble is very different than just playing
with a pick-up band at a club or even a wedding or hafla. It's like jumping
in and doing a choreography with an already rehearsed established group
and you've never seen the dance before. Thanks to Younes' eyebrow conducting,
all went well.
--A couple of comments made while waiting
to perform:"I just finished my prayers, so now I can dance."
"Don't wear the keffiyeh on your head, you'll look like a terrorist."
"This is so stressful (soundcheck) I have to wear sunglasses."
"Do I really have to wear this (ethnic) dress, I'll look like an
After the show a bunch of us went to Nabila's
house to play more music. She ordered pizza from a Mexican restaurant.
It turned out to be pepperoni, bacon and ham and pineapple. As the guys
were eating it (all Moslems) they kept remarking - but this is pork. They
were told, no it's kind of like made from turkey. Really? Yes, of course!
All this meat is halal. As they continued to gobble it and feel bad wondering
if it really was turkey they said ok yes it's halal. Bismillah - halal
pork! But it really was halal turkey. (Halal is an Arabic word meaning
"lawful" or "permitted," but it is generally used
in reference to food that fulfills Muslim dietary rules.)
Nabila told us that we were invited to
perform at City Hall for Arabic Heritage month. The Moroccans in the group,
Shakeeb, Younes and Hassania started singing Arabic songs. But Husain
said, no we should take advantage of the Moroccan songs we know and he
promptly started singing Moroccan songs. Since it will be in a couple
of weeks, I just hope it is something familiar sounding to the group.
Sunday - the Iraqi zeffa at the Fairmont
October 7, 2011
Shaabi Sharqi and Limosines
Today I got a nice email from
Leyla Lanty and I asked her if I could copy it onto this blog because
I thought it might be interesting to share.
"I just read your new blog - wow!
You've been busy! I admire you for working tirelessly on the sha3abi
timeline and all the rest! I'm inspired to write to you because
of your comments on "sha3aby/sharqi." Do you remember
my informal performance of sha3aby style at Carnival of Stars in the lobby?
I was "channeling" Mdm. Shadia (not our Shadia), my friend
in Cairo who is the best sha3abi/sharqi dancer I've seen. She and
the other ladies in Ahmed's extended family who were taking turns dancing
for each other in the back bedroom at my going-away party this summer
are supreme examples of sha3abi/sharqi - the style of dance that goes
easily from true sha3aby: "get down and dirty" sexy, cheeky
earth-oriented fun, to **almost** Mahmoud Reda's more refined high and
ethereal style and back to sha3abi. They all watch dance videos
of the stars on TV and, of course, know what they do and emulate them.
They also know what's popular "on the street" and dance like
that too. They put it all together when they dance to sha3abi music.
Leyla just returned from spending the summer
(hot hot and Ramadan too - even with an air conditioner in your apartment,
how do you do it Leyla?) in Cairo. She's been doing this every year for
too many years to count and it was fun to see her interpretation of the
Shaabi style dancing. By the way - Leyla spells it sha3aby because the
number 3 is the typewritten symbol for the letter "ain" which
we don't have in our English alphabet. It kind of sounds like baaaa (as
in baaaa baaaa black sheep). There are some other symbols too such as
the number 7 for the aspirated "H" that is in the word Habibi
or more correctly written - 7abibi. (there are two letters that are "h",
a Hah and a heh). Who said Arabic was easy. If you would like to know
more about Arabic in an entertaining and unforgettable way, you can go
to Leyla's web and order her DVD
"Habibi you are my what?" It is really great and also kind of
funny in a very entertaining way. But if you can't learn by DVDs don't
worry, she is teaching a workshop this Wednesday, October 12, in Millbrae.
Not only will you learn a little Arabic, but you might end up singing
a little too. Call 650-302-4543 to reserve your place! It's at Diana's
house - same place where Georges and Tony sometimes present their little
drum/music nights and dance parties.
Tonight was a special Aswat practice because
tomorrow we have a performance. Faisal has been coming to rehearsal, but
he won't be in the show as he needs to stay home and babysit. Susu just
got back from teaching and performing in nine shows in two weeks in Minneapolis
and tonight was to be her only rehearsal. I'm glad she's such a good drummer
because they were bombarding her with one song after another to learn/know.
As the lead drummer she is responsible for keeping the 4 person percussion
section together, plus keeping the tempo and knowing all the rhythm changes
(and some of them are complex) for the other musicians and the singers.
Some of the new songs we only did once and Susu sat there furiously writing
down the rhythm changes while Faisal played them. Then Nabila, our leader
would say - ok that's enough for that song, let's move on.
Poor Susu - I'm sure she's still a little
jet lagged as she went straight to work (daytime job) without even having
a day off to recuperate from her intense marathon two weeks. And tomorrow
she's participating in the North Bay Belly Dance Bazaar. She'll be playing
with Vince and Coralie until 5 pm and then will have to dash down to the
peninsula and be calm, cool, in charge and ready to perform and lead Aswat
for our performance Skyline College at 8:30. All of us were wishing Faisal
could be with us too since he's come to all the rehearsals. I'm sure Faisal
was wishing the same as tonight he was drumming, playing riqq and duf,
singing with the chor and dancing the debke. In fact he only snuck out
once for a cigarette break. But since he is now Abu Safi he needs to juggle
his life a little. I'm sure all this will change when the baby is old
enough to accompany him to his gigs. I think he's planning on that happening
pretty soon. hmmmmm. I wonder if the peripheral percussionists will do
double duty as baby sitting in the wings.
I asked Husain if were going to go together
- many times I drive. He said yes and Jalal would go too. Jalal, who lives
in San Rafael will go to Husain's house and then the two of them will
pick me up in the Limo (Husain's). So we will arrive in style! Kind of
reminds me of another time when Loay picked me up in his Limo and we waited
at a designated corner of Franklin Street to meet Younes in his Limo so
we could all go together to do a zeffa. Another funny story was when Ozi
wasn't ready in time for us to pick her up for the Real Doner Petaluma
gig because she was still sewing her costume. When we were all in Petaluma
playing and worrying that she wouldn't be able to find a ride (from San
Francisco to Petaluma - about an hour's drive) a huge shiny black Limo
pulls up to the curb and out pops Ozlem with her new costume in her bag.
Moral of those stories is: Be kind to your
Limo drivers or you might not get good music. Home
October 6, 2011
"Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition."
The news today was pretty much filled with stories
and obituaries on Steve Jobs. One story I read really hit home and I'd
like to share it.
In the 2005 Stanford speech, in which Jobs
frankly confronted his own mortality, this man of few apologies evidenced
"Death is very likely the single best invention of life," he
said. "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's
life. ... Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They
somehow already know what you truly want to become."
Talked to Georges today about our show
next Sunday. He has his new CDs and will bring them to Pachamama to sell.
But it won't be a CD release party. He is going to do that at "the
castle". More about that when I know more. Our lives are so busy
these days that there doesn't seem to be time to schedule a weekly Pachamama
gig. Possibly we might just do it once a month for now. We will probably
be doing Sundays as we can start earlier and also because Khader is available
to play keyboard on Sundays. Georges also mentioned saving December 3
for a show - but not at Pachamama. Since he is still out of state, I guess
I'll find out next week sometime.
Spent the day doing a back and forth with
Rose, Debbie and our iphones. Rose had forwarded an article in which she
said Debbie was quoted about music in afropop.org Here's the link
Check it out - it's kind of neat. The article
of the npr broadcast (you can also listen to it) is about Egyptian street
music and in the article they interviewed Debbie on the music. Debbie
told me that:
"The guys who do the afropop worldwide
came to Cairo for a month, and they interviewed me. I made them some CDs
of stuff that was hard to find and we talked about different singers,
I told them about how Amina and I have basically been investigating this
music for some time. No one in my family could believe that I was actually
being sought out to discuss this as an expert!"
"Yes isn't that crazy? They actually
put links to some of the tracks I gave them. They are two music geeks,
of course, just like us. I told them about our attempts to creat a "timeline"
of shaabi music and they couldn't believe it."
If you'd like to see the timeline that
we created. go to timeline The timeline is about
2/3 down after the shaabi article. Actually now the timeline is incomplete.
We have been adding to it as we've gotten more material since our workshops
and the article was written but I haven't changed it on the page yet.
Another item of interest is the documentary
night, they dance" will be playing at the Roxie on Oct. 21. This
will be a movie to see. I've been trying to buy this movie for a year
now and they've been giving me the runaround. Finally they said it would
be available for sale in October. Now I know why - because it's still
doing the festival circuits. Here is a short synopsis taken from their
An award-winning director duo sweeps us into the chaotic world of
a family of voluptuous female belly dancers in working class Cairo as
they struggle to practice an art in danger of disappearing. The film centres
on Reda, a charismatic widow and ex-dancer with seven children and one
on the way, her wise confidante, and three of her daughters, who now dance
at raucous all-male celebrations for a living. Reda has all-out fights
with her own mother about money, argues fiercely with her daughters about
their love lives and drug use, and acts as an agent for their contracts,
but she just as passionately defends them from dangerous clients, bails
them out of jail and dispenses advice about love and life. Music, dancing,
a blistering daytime sun and the magic of Cairo nights pulse throughout
this astonishingly intimate and rare portrait of women whose art is desired
but no longer considered reputable." - Lynne Fernie, HotDocs (Special
Well - I am planning my Giza film series
starting the following Friday on Oct. 28. I need to sit down and figure
out the films I want to show. I have some shorts and documentaries plus
regular movies. Just don't know what order. I figure I will show one short
and one feature length each evening. But I am only doing 3 screenings
- Oct 28, Nov. 11 and Dec. 2. Hopefully by the weekend I will have the
films figured out. For sure I will show "Rakasa" from Israel.
Would love to show "Kabareh" from Cairo but it is in Arabic
only. Last film series I showed "El Farah" which also was only
in Arabic. Do I still have the "hard core" geezers willing to
do it again? Please let me know. It's a great movie with some dancing
and lots of music - mostly shaabi and muled shaabi. Home
October 5, 2011
Not Enough time fee youm we leila (in the day and the night)
I think I'm getting
to like that phrase. Fee youm we leila. Whatever happens in the day seems
to keep going into the night. Yesterday it seemed that I spent the entire
day into the evening working on the review for the movie "Hawi"
for the AFF. It is a great movie and I'm wishing I could get to the Film
Festival (Oct. 13-23) to participate in some of the events - like opening
night will be with Georges Lammam. He plays great music even when I'm
not there. Just in case you don't know - I'm not in his official band.
If you see his band and I'm not there, chances are it's more serious music
and no dancers. But, if you see me in the band, then you know that you'll
have fun watching dancing. Like at Pachamama. (Hope to see you there on
Unfortunately I have
this daily routine called dance class and Aswat rehearsal and can't ever
seem to break away to do fun things like go to the festival. However,
I've been having my own private festival at the AFF office screening the
movies that will be showing. Of course my own private cup of coffee or
bottle of water plus a handful of jelly beans is adequate for my viewing
but it would be so much more fun with a huge bucket of hot buttered greasy
popcorn sitting on my lap and dribbling down my hands and getting into
everything. Hope you can make it to some of the movies. They're great.
But, some of the documentaries are sort of sad. It's no wonder there are
so many maqams that are in the sad mode. It's no wonder the songs are
so sad. But then, it's ok to be sad, in fact, we can feel a sort of happiness
in our sadness.
Fee youm we leila. Today
I spent the entire day and the evening doing what I like best. Listening
to music, planning, thinking about, talking about dance. Also having these
great email exchanges with Debbie about dances, music etc. regarding our
classes for Raqs Egypt. These iphone emails have really changed our lives.
Debbie emailed me her music - one sharqi written by Said Makawi and one
shaabi. Boy are they complicated. I think both of them are sad. I don't
know how she's going to manage to teach both of those in the two hours
allotted her. Made me feel insecure. My two songs are so simple and repetitious.
I hope that doesn't translate to boring. But - I guess I need to keep
to my decision on the songs or I'll never get anything choreographed.
I hate choreography!!!!!
I had put all my workshop
music on one CD and was so immersed in the music that I forgot to go to
Ayman's house at 3. Ayman called me at 3:45 - 45 minutes after class was
to start and asked me if I forgot. Yikes! I wasn't even dressed. So I
threw on a pair of shoes and dashed over to his house and we listened
to my workshop CD and discussed the words. I swear - I knew every single
word in the song and kind of translated it too, but it was too too literal.
Ayman made it make sense and more beautiful. Of course then it had to
take a sad twist. Hobi eh.
Did you know that the lyrics were written by Abdel Wehab Mohamed? He also
wrote Fakkarooni. And he was Nadia Hamdi's brother-in-law. And Nadia was
one of my teachers. I'm sure he knew Om Kalthoum. Small world.
Enta fein wel hobi fein
- where are you and where is love. I remember once that Marcela called
me on the phone and over the phone she played this song for me. (The CD
cover says Enta fein.) She asked
me "what's the name of this song?" I said "enta fein".
She asked "what does that mean?" I said - "where are you?"
She said "I'm at home".
Word of the day: dunya
= world - but it can mean life, or paradise, the world you live in.
After Ayman's I went to
the Mission Cultural Center and did the business with Jason and Dannhae.
Complained about the lack of cool air. Found out why it was so hot. MCCLA
had just gotten a new air conditioning system, but no one knew how to
run it.This sounds like the makings of a Latino/Saidi joke - How many....does
it take to.....?
Jason said that the video
would probably be ready in a week or so. I went to the third floor media
room and saw it. Totally HD and the sound was great. Wonder when it'll
air on the TV.
Then Dannhae and I went
to get a taco and Jason met us. We talked about when we would do another
show at the MCCLA. Probably in May. We all need to check our calendars.
Jason asked me when I would get news of "the grant". I told
him I wouldn't know if we got accepted until December. Keeping our fingers
crossed till then. Then Jason hit me with a doozy. He handed me information
on yet another grant. Should I or shouldn't I? Maybe I should ask Debbie,
since she was the one who did most of the work on the last one. Well -
I guess I'll go on to the website and see if it's even do-able. Of course
the deadline is almost now.
fee youm we leila.....
Hana and I will do a zeffa on Sunday at the Fairmont Hotel. As musicians!
We'll play with Faisal, Jalal, Husain and Younes. Now won't that be a
great combination. Besides do'ol mazahar - playing the mazhars - for the
zeffa we will do the pre-reception - with love songs - mostly Abdel Halim
of course, and then the reception with debke and 'yikes' jorjina. This
should take a day and a night. Home
October 4, 2011
Written and Directed by Ibrahim el Batout
A feature length award-winning Egyptian film called Hawi (2010)
is one of the entries in this year's 2011 San Francisco Arabic Film Festival.
It was directed by a youngish former war correspondent turned director,
Ibrahim el Batout. It is an independent film with no budget meaning
the actors and crew was paid with a promise. Kind of like profit sharing.
The director/writer went to Alexandria with just a camera recorder and
some living expenses. His immediate message was "It can be done."
The film's location is the seaport city of Alexandria, which is quite
different from the filmmakers previous and first movie, Ain
Shams (2009) which took place in a crowded chaotic Cairo in an iffy
neighborhood of the same name. Both of his movies have social and cultural
commentaries specific to the individual cities but also specific to Egypt
in general. In "Hawi" the director intertwines the characters
of the film as they live out the words of the film's theme song, which
is "Hawi" The Magician. The words are: "I have become a
magician...Accustomed to not expressing my feelings...I have learnt how
to pull a loaf of bread from the heart of poverty...An expert at hiding
my tears when in pain...I have become content with sleeping upside down
like a bat..."
As for the actors - most of them relatively unknown actors or regular
people from the street, live the pain, the struggles, the conflict and
are continually reaching out to find comfort and ease of life.
The film released shortly before the January 25 revolution addresses many
of the issues that the youth of Egypt expressed regarding discontent about
life in the times just prior to the revolution.
The cosmopolitan city of Alexandria, somewhat liberal and always cutting
edge on top of the latest trends, especially as regards to the arts, has
been home to many new and innovative music groups.
The underground band, Massar Egbari inspired El Batout with the lyrics
of their song "Hawi" (The Magician). Basically the lyrics told
him - "yes, he could make something out of nothing". And this
is exactly what he did. With just a camera, and a dream, he shot "Hawi"
in just under four months. Through cunning, ingenuity and accidental lucky
situations he managed to get past permits and other obstacles.
The film opens in silence and the mood is set with film noir lighting.
An unseen narrator and a prisoner who may or may not be a terrorist about
to be interrogated create the suspense. The scene cuts to a horse and
cart walking at dawn along the corniche. Little by little, bit-by-bit
through short scenes we are introduced to all the characters in the film.
It's kind of in the style of introducing the characters in a "disaster"
movie. One of the scenes draws us into a discussion about music, songs,
and lyrics, being an artist and finding the poets. There are more personalities
introduced and again we are brought into another discussion about the
music process, the "makan" or place, the lyrics and singing
At this point it is about 10 minutes into the movie and I am wondering
what the movie is about. I am then shown the former prisoner choosing
to sleep on a mat on the floor rather than on comfortable looking beds
in what seems to be a hotel. We next see some very real scenes of a hara,
an unpaved (dirt) street in an alley and possibly a flashback to the protagonist
having numbers tattooed on his back. I am quite taken with the high def
colors and use of lighting.
Throughout the film we meet and re-meet characters as their lives intertwine,
weave in and out and link with other characters in the story. Each character
seems to have a history that eventually is revealed and becomes just another
piece in the puzzle. And the puzzle as a whole is the common interlocking
thread of poverty, struggle and a promise. This is the same promise that
was offered the actors and production team in the film. In other words
- there is a hope, a dream that can become a reality as played and manipulated
by "the magician".
As this film is being reviewed for lovers of Egyptian dance, I would like
to tell about one of the characters that is named Hanan.
This character, Hanan, is a belly dancer and in the movie she along with
other characters in the movie address the issues of shame and haram
(forbidden) versus dance and the love of the dance. In one scene, after
being mugged, the dancer, Hanan reports the crime at the police station
only to be called a whore, a prostitute, a slut and more kindly, just
a bitch. The director was being very daring to address within his own
culture, this controversial issue about the treatment of belly dancers.
The woman, Hanan, points out to the police that she is educated and that
dancing is a profession that she has chosen because of her love of the
What is most interesting is that I had just seen an Israeli produced documovie
called Rakasa (2006) in which these very same issues were
foremost in the plot. In that award winning film, Rakasa,
the three real life protagonists, an Israeli, a German Israeli and a Palestinian,
all dancers in various stages of their careers, discuss and interact with
relatives and friends regarding the same issues Hanan has in Hawi.
That is the love of dance versus the stigma of being a raqasa. It is interesting
to note that although the Palestinian woman has the hardest time
the Israeli dancers also suffer - maybe not from living a life of slutdom
as much as just losing out in their personal life if they want to follow
their dreams. The German Israeli dancer chose to just postpone parts of
her life until the time was right. The other Israeli dancer, Orit, on
the other hand, seems to be following her dreams at the expense of a fulfilled
Another scene in "Hawi" which is very very touching is the scene
between the old man Jaafar and his horse Dergham. They share the same
sleeping quarters - a room - not a stable - and Garfarar is very upset
because his horse Dergham has bad heart valves. Jaafar tells Dergham that
he is "like a son" and he worries about Dergham's future in
case he, Jaarar, dies first.
The movie has too many characters, each having a back-story and a present
situation, for me to divulge in detail in this short review, but as each
story unfolds, we clearly see that in the end "The Magician"
will indeed manage to give each person more than just "a promise."
This movie shows that it was inevitable that the Egyptian youth is the
hope of Egypt today. And just as "Hawi" is to be an inspiration
to future filmmakers, so will it be an inspiration to the new youth of
For more information: www.hawithemovie.com
San Francisco Arabic Film Festival October 13-23 2011
For schedule http://arabfilmfestival.org/
October 4, 2011
Emotional Sugar Crash
The feeling of depression, tiredness and absence of purpose that you get
after an 'emotional high' of any kind.
When one returns from vacation oftentimes there's a mild depression that
follows especially when having to return to the regular routine of life
After producing a workshop or show, there can be that feeling of emptiness
when you wake up and say to yourself, the show's over - there's nothing
to stress over. Where's the fun. Hana, isn't that what you said? Yes,
where's the fun? Apathy, lethargy are these just words? Or does this describe
my state of mind and body a couple of days after Tarabiya. No more deadlines.
No nothing. But then it hit me. I can just relax, kick back and get into
the humdrum of my life.
Monday - I look at my calendar and realized that I've got to get the word
out that we're doing a show at Pachamama in a couple of weeks. I have
the dancers lined up and it should be fun especially since I am signing
myself up to dance also. I'm going to use it as a practice space for my
show with Raqs Egypt which will be in exactly a month and 2 days. Georges'
band will be playing so I can ask them to play the same set for me. Now
there's the decision of what type of music do I want to dance to. hmmm.
I wonder if Khader will perform at the Raqs Egypt show too or will it
be Elias? Wonder what the other dancers will do. Would like to make sure
that the show is properly balanced.
Debbie and I are finally working on our Mohamed Ali workshop. Today I
sent her the revised timeline and short history of Mohamed Ali Street
plus various bios of the dancers, singers and musicians who performed
in that area. It's just a matter of deciding how much information we can
include in such a short amount of time.
Now I have to decide my two 20 minute each panel presentations. Friday's
panel is "The Role of Dance in Egyptian Society and its Future"
and Sunday's panel is "The Americanization of Egyptian Dance."
Both of these topic are interesting and should create good healthy discussions.
Karim will be the moderator. I will write up my presentations to make
sure that I don't get an attack of stage fright. I guess I will need to
start my outlines this week.
The Monday class got treated to me working out choreographies for the
dance class portion of the workshop. Karim decided I would teach Shaabi/Sharqi.
First, I don't even know what that means. If I don't know, maybe no one
else will either so I can just make up anything I want to do. The class
and I decided what songs I would use and I feel a great weight got lifted.
In the morning I will put all the music on one CD so I can have a dedicated
teaching CD. We/I chose 2 songs - Hobi Eh aka Enta Fein and Ghanilly Shwaya
Shway. Two old Om Kalthoum songs. I will use the Om versions for mental
warm-up, discussion and translation, then will move to George Wasoof and
Fatma Sirhan for the choreographic versions and finally use a shaabi version
which will not/should not be choreographed. My poor classes will all get
various versions of these songs and choreographies non-stop for the duration
of this month. Hope they all understand. And I hope this will qualify
My review of "Hawi" for the Arab Film Festival should be finished
today. I can't let myself do anything else until it's done. Home
Blogs: Arabian Knights Band, Lebanese dancers Nadia Gamal,
Amani, Nabila Metwalli, Zar, Mohamed Fawzi, Ismail Yasin, Taheyya Karioka,
Leila Murad, Sabah, Badia Masabni, Shadia, Adriana, Dina, Do'a, Fifi,
Lucy, Angelica's Bistro, Sabriye Tekbilek, "At Night they dance",
Husain Resan, Ahmed Adaweya, Jalal Takeh, Younes el Maqboul, Susu Pampanin,
Faisal Zeidan, Sami Aly, Abdel Basit Hamouda, Kulu aal Kulu, Samiramis,
Naz Minassian, Zildjians, Georges Lammam, Bagdad, Casbah, Al Masri, SFSU,
Pasha, Soheir Zaki, Hossam Ramzy, Capp Street Music Cener, Hoda el Artiste,
Jad Elias, Cairo Cats, Daria, Gregangelo, Dalal, El Valenciano, Soraiya
Zaied, Mohamed Abdel Wehab, Ya Msafer Wahedek, Om Kalthoum, Pachamama,
Pak Oriental Rugs, SOMA, MCCLA, Tarabiya, Dance Brigade, Brava Theater,
York Theater, Tony Lammam, Dannhae, Kim, Hana, ART, Grapeleaf, Powell
Station, King Tut, Ramadan, Sherihan, Mohamed Ali Street, Fawazeer, Sharia
al Fan, Omar Khorshid, Firsan al Kurdi, Michael Jackson, Reda Darwish,
MultiKulti, Sausan, Mohamed Amin, Nieman Marcus, Saks, Designer Consigner,
PETA, Shik Shak Shok, Lessa Faker, Nagwa Fouad, Merryland, Seahorse, Rebecca,
Sherry Brier, Arab Cultural Center, Elias Lammam, Linda,Walgreen's, Angela
Ramzy, Arab Film Festival, Khader Keileh, Vince Delgado,Coralee, Shaabi,
Andak Albi, Nass el Ghiwane, Gnawa, Djemaa el Fna, Rolling Stones, Sufi,
Karim Nagi, Debbie Smith, raqs Egypt, BDUC, Chakib, Rachid Halihal, Deborah
Kapchan, Rai, Maha Marouan, University of Alabama, lila, Museum of the
African Diaspora, Michael Frishkopf, "Music and Media in the Arab
World, "Traveling Spirit Masters", Mitchell's Ice Cream, Blum's,
Atlantis, "Wahedeh we Noss" , Aswan Dancers
Blogs: Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Saad el Soghayar, El
Einab, Sittu Bess Basbusa, Ahmed Adaweya, Shokolata, Sami Ali, Mahalabeya,
Hakim, Khokha, Riko, Koskosi, Essam Shabula, Koshary, Barur, Eshta, Said
el Artiste, Khamra ya 'uta, Vitaminak, Hari Kari, Manga, El Hantour, Dinga,
Giza Films, Gregory Burke, Jannah,Stasha, Karim Nagi, Susu Pampanin, King
Tut, Sphinx, Yousef Mustapha, Hallah Safi, Hanan, Zizi Mustafa, Bagdad,
Om Kalthoum, George Dabai, Hobi Eh, Lemby, Mohamed Saad, Fadil Shaker,
George Wasoof, Nur Mhana, Nancy Ajram, Georges Lammam, Khader Keileh,
Husain Resan, Gabriel Navia, Hala, Aisha Ali, Debbie Smith,Ghawazee, Rose,
Pachamama, Mohamed Ali, Nicteha, Nicole, Rahda, Reabecca, Kim, Hana, Judi,
Sausan, Giza Club, Terri Anne, "Rakasa", Sameh Abdl Aziz, Mission
Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Tarabiya, raqs Egypt, Randa, Dina, National
Geographic, Banat Maazin, Aswan Dancers, Aswat, Fort Mason, North Beach,
Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Aziza, Amira Restaurant, Enta Omri, Fantasy Nahawand,
"The White Rose", "Wheat Song", "Satin Rouge",
Zikr, Zar, Aswat, Arcane Dimension, Pepper Alexandria, The Ghawazee Gazette,
Carnival of Stars, Sahara Sands, Cory Zamora, Mahsati, Susu Pampanin,
Yousef Koyoumjian, Fatma Akef, Elena Lentini, Atlantis Long, Shu Shu Amin,
Seahorse, Al Masri, Sinda, Rhea, Rana, Dr. Sary Dowidar, "Zahma dunya
Zahma", Jesus, Tarabiya, Shaykh Sayed Makawi, Ya Msarahni, Koran,
Sex Pistols, Frank Sinatra, Reda Darwish, Azza Sharif, Casino Opera, Badi
Masabni, Farid el Atrache, Mohammed Abdel Mottaleb, Mohamed Fawzi, Taheyya
karioka, Samia Gamal, Katie, Hoda Shamsadine, Naima Akef, Beba Ezzadine,
Ibrahim Akef, Jodette, Kamellia, Busby Berkley, "Raqs el Hawanim",
Kristo Klaadex, Naguib el Rihani, Sayed Darwish, S.K.Thoth, Nadia Hamdi,
Najib Bahri, Basem Yazbeck, Katherine Dunham, Zack Thompson, Jimbo's Bob
City, Perez Prado, "Drums on Fire", "Caravan", Art
Blakey, Ahmed Khalil, "Kabareh", Samiramis, Nabila Mango, ICCNC,
"Zikrayati", Hilda's, Mohamed el Qasbji, "Wedad",
"I Loved you for your voice", Ahmad Rami, Glen Miller, Dexter
Gordon, Elvis, Frankie Lymon, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Janis Jopliln,
Sid Vicious, Selim Najib, Guitar Center, Marriott Santa Clara, "Du'ul
Mazaher", Hamza el Din, Feiruz, "Arjii ya alf leila", "lamma
bada yetathana", Mary Ellen Donald, Mahmoud Reda
Blogs:Arab Film Festival, "Hawi", Mohamed Ali,
Karim Nagi, "Hobi Eh", "Ghanilli Shwaya Shway", George
Wasoof, Farma Sirhan, Om Kalsoum, Ibrahim el Batout, Mission Cultural
Center for Latino Arts, Dannhae, Hana, Fairmont Hotel, Faisal Zeidan,
Jalal Takesh, Husain Resan, Younes el Maqboul, Abdel Halim Hafez, Mohamed
Abdel Wehab, Nadia Hamdi, Marcela, "Fakkarooni", Abdel Wehab
Mohamed, Raqs Egypt, Georges Lammam, Steve Jobs, Debbie Smith, Khader
Keileh, Skyline College, Vince Delgado, Coralie, Loay Dahbour, Ozlem,
Real Doner, Susu Pampanin, Georges and Tony Lammam, Leyla Lanty, Carnival
of Star, Mahmoud Reda, Nabila Mango, SF City Hall, Hassania, Skyline College,
"Ana Hurrah", Kan Zaman, Aswat, DJ Raffy, Mina House, Nadia
Lutfi, "Abi foq il shagara", "Ganal Hawa", Nicole
Ibrahim, Kim, Al Masri, Sausan, Bagdad, Aswan Dancers, Firqet Aswan, Devi
Ja, Aswan Cultural Center, Jazayer, Mimi Spencer, "Lailet Hob",
"Alf Leila wa Leila", Gawaher al Fan, Ahmad Rami, Tarabiya,
"Zahma Dunya Zahma", "Du'ul Mazaher", Mahmoud el Leithy,
"Eh il Hakaya", ART, "Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt",
Ahmed Adaweya, Michael Jackson, Cassanova, Travolta, Pasha Restaurant,
Arabian Knights, Jacques al Asmar, Reda Darwish, El Valenciano, Cairo
Cats, George Dabai, Fadil Shahin, Yousef Kouyoumjian, The Farm, Sir Lawrence
Washington, Tropical Heat Wave, Tropical Outer Space, Sunset Scavengers,
Carnaval, El Faro Taqueria, Marlene, Cole Valley Gym, Karem Mahmoud, Adela
Chu, Tower Market, "Habibi Lasmar", Fee Youm we Leila",
Hossam Ramzy, Chalo Eduardo, Jacque Barnes, Jose Lorenzo, Laura, Amr Diab,
"Habibi Nur el Ain", Aisha Ali, "Procrastination",
Zawaya, Omar Abbad, Curves, Hakim, Saad el Soghayer, Edwina aka Qamar
el Moulouk, Habibi, Santa Fe Folklore Museum, SF Free Folk Festival, SF
City Hall, Mayor Ed Lee, "Ya Zalemni", Riad al Sombati, "Salama",
Munira al Mahdiya, Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Dancing Drums - Live at the
Giza Club, Sahar Hamdi, "Daret el Ayam", Samir Sumaidaiie Iraqi
Ambassador, "Secret Ballot", gildedserpent.com, Faruk Sarsa,