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Sahar Hamdi does a drum solo

Gilded Serpent presents...
The Magic Sounds Studio of Cairo
3 Albums reviewed and Compared
by Amina Goodyear

Album #1: Talisman

Album #2: Nesma:Del Nilo al Guadalquivir (From the Nile to the Guadalquivir)
Album #3 :Nesma,
Memories of Cairo
Table comparing Musicians and Orchestration

Magic Studios is the magic name for mixing and producing high quality CDs in Cairo these days. So many great musicians seem to eat, live, breathe and play music there.

Twenty five years ago I went to Egypt to see non-stop dancing at all the major 5 star hotels and Pyramids Road Clubs; and, yes, I saw all the dancers of my dreams - from the major stars such Nagwa Fouad, Soheir Zaki and Fifi Abdo to the lesser known but equally remarkable dancers such as Aza Sharif, Nelli Fouad, Shu Shu Amin, Nadia Hamdi and even the infamous Sahar Hamdi. What I experienced was nothing short of wonderful, memorable and "life changing".

Sahar Hamdi and her musicians in 1991

Although I had gone to see, feel, live and breathe the dancing and the dancers, I found that my eyes and ears kept gravitating towards their musicians. Never in my life had I imagined the richness of the music and musicians such as I saw and heard…musicians of incredible energy, vitality and passion and ability. And there were many of them – so many on stage that at times it was difficult to even count how many.

In a world where Egyptian dancers dance in the "less is more" tradition, the world of musicians seemed to be - more is better and lots more is best.

I had come from the worlds of The Bagdad and the Casbah in San Francisco's North Beach where we had the best music in the West or so I thought. This meant that we had live music with 3 musicians, and on weekends we even had 4 musicians. For sure we had a drummer and a singing oud player, plus a violinist, a nay or kanun player. Some of our musicians had even worked with many of the famous dancers in Egypt such as Soheir Zaki and some of the others listed above.  And, of course, we dancers were also percussionists as we assisted the drummer with our virtual non-stop cymbal playing. We, at the Bagdad, had already had the privilege of working with tuxedo-attired non-English speaking Egyptian musicians straight from Egypt via London where they had worked with Mona al Said. They were a drummer who stood on one leg with the other leg balancing the tabla while supported by a chair; a sax player; an org player and a riq player. Yes, I truly believed that we had the best music.

But what I saw in Egypt was something I had not even dreamed of.

With the concept of more is better - if one violin sounds good, why not a symphony orchestra of violins. One drummer? Hah! In Egypt it was a full percussion orchestra (not a band). Once I think I even counted 58 musicians on the stage and a third of them were percussionists. Imagine - all these musicians supporting one solo dancer. OK, it wasn’t just a mere solo dancer. It was Nagwa Fouad. Yes, we may have, in my mind, had the best dance music in the West, but it sure didn’t even slightly compare to the dancers’ music in the East.

Well, outside of my poorly made, for my ears only, bootlegged cassette recorder in the purse recorded and distorted music, I never could find that big powerful sound duplicated until very recently. It came in the mail one day. It was Horacio and Beata’s Oriental Fantasy Vol. 12, also known as Talisman. I remember being in the middle of teaching a drum class when the mail came with that all too familiar looking package that cried out “open me, I’m a CD!” So, of course, I did, thinking, “ok, good, another CD for class.”

Big surprise! This was a CD that made my adrenalin kick in – actually go into overdrive. It had that sound: that big sound that said, “Jump up and Dance! You are here - in Egypt. The band is playing for You!”

Every instrument is clear and distinct and is driving You to dance. This CD had drums and duffs. Not just one, but multiples of one. This CD excited me and I wanted to know more about the musicians and the recording. This is when I discovered that the band in this CD was actually quite large and that the percussion section really was a large percussion section and not just one or two musicians playing over their own tracks.

So, with musicians, if more is better and lots more are even best, this CD certainly rates in the best department. 

Album #1: Talisman
 Recorded at Magic Sound Studio in Cairo, Egypt in 2006 and was directed by Ahmed Abdel Fatah, composer, arranger and musician who had worked with dancers Nahed Sabry, Azza Sherif, and Nagwa Fouad.

This CD includes 10 violins, a cello, oud, kanun, nai, accordion, tabla, dahola, duffs, riq, keyboard, an additional drum group and singers - over 2 dozen musicians and singers! It is a CD that inspires dancing, dances and choreography.

It begins with a typical Beata and Horacio piece that is indeed an Oriental Fantasy. I can just see a balletic scene with 2 strangers (Beata and Horacio?) in paradise in an ethereal stage suffused in blue and purple light dancing a loving pas de deux adagio. This is piece inspired by Alexander Borodin’s (1833-1887) Polovetsian Dances and is called:

  • Overtoure to Talisman 2:13
  • Talisman 5:35
    was created in collaboration between Beata and Horacio Cifuentes and Mr. Ahmed Abdel Fattah and is a wonderfully upbeat Classical Oriental Dance piece. If a dancer had a 6-minute or less time constraint, this definitely would be the piece to use.  It has an extremely strong, attention-grabbing entrance and finale. The various sections within the piece can be playful, pensive, soulful, fun, moody and exciting depending on which instrument is taking the lead. All this and a drum solo too is included in this dance piece. There is quite a lot of dance action packed into this 5 1/2 minute piece. I must admit that as soon as I heard this piece I immediately choreographed a dance for my class and then for my dance group.
  • Ma besalsh aleya 5:05 She never thinks about me.
    This song uses 2 tracks on the CD. The first is with vocals and the second is instrumental only. Although I personally enjoy the vocal version best, I believe that Beata and Horacio understand the need to have a choice of dance music with and without singing. It is also nice to use the instrumental version as a karaoke version. This medium tempo song, originally sung by Mohammad Abdul Muttaleb, is very lyrical and sentimental. Horacio and Beata’s Oriental Fantasy 12 version has a more danceable tempo with many natural rhythm and instrumental changes such as maqsum, malfoof and wahedeh and the violin, the accordion and kanun become the reason for mood changes. There are nice drum pops just waiting for hip accents. In the vocal version there is a nice exchange between the solo singer and the chorus. This is a very heartfelt romantic love song. She never asks about me, my eyes never see her. I cannot bear being away from her…never!
  • Saidi 4:43
    Violins in a Saidi song? and with the nay answering the violin?
    The dufs and drum have very clear pops and include a tabla baladi sound, but it is still a mellow song. I can’t quite picture it as a folkloric Saidi dance, but it is good for teaching Saidi dance with a clear Saidi rhythm. The melody does not stray, the rhythm is steady, but there are no high points to the song.
  • Mahbobty 3:48
    This light song features the kanun, violins and keyboard. The nai and violin have a nice question and answer interlude and the violins do talk and also have a conversation with the keyboard, drums and kanun.  I can see a group dance performed that floats across the stage emphasizing graceful arm movements with arabesque and grapevine steps and circular flowing formations. There are also nice drum sections and a short “simple to dance to” drum solo.
  • Baed Anak 7:51
    This is also a two-track song. The first is with vocals and the second is karaoke. It is a very familiar version. It is just like Om Kalsoum’s original version, except it has a great and powerful duf section. It is Driving! It has that Egypt sound. The singer, of course is not Om, but has a nice voice. I left sleep and it’s dreams. I forgot it’s nights and days. Far from you my life is hard. Don’t let me be far from you! I absolutely love the dufs and the drum accents. This makes it different from the original. This makes it VERY danceable.
  • Hagallah 4:55
    This Hagallah song is like the Reda Troupe version, but it has better sound and is very upbeat. It would be great for a group dance. This folkloric dance is from Western Egypt. It too has great drumming. It also has a tag for finale.
  • Pink Lady 12:55
    This is a grand Oriental solo in the classic style of the 1970’s. This majestic score reflects the Golden Period in which a large orchestra, which performs long Oriental overtures featuring a variety of rhythms, moods and levels, supports the soloist. It was one of Soheir Zaki’s favorite dances. It has a great Big Sound duff back-up section. There are typical short taqsims between the sections featuring solo instrumentation. There is the kanun, accordion and of course the multiples of violins. In the Chifte section there is a nice nai taqsim, which is followed by ayoub and the kanun. There is the question and answer between the instruments and the musical phrases. There is also a great accordion solo and cymbal exchange. Towards the end, the chorus enters and it is a great place for back-up dancers to come in and frame the solo dancer and perhaps build the excitement for a grand finale. There are many drum breaks during the ending.

    The song plays like the dances we saw in the old Trytel video series. It is not as exciting or up-tempo as the Talisman piece as it seems to be deliberately mixed down to make it sound like a period piece.

My disappointment with this CD is that the CD doesn’t have a dedicated drum solo with the big drum and duf sound it is capable of having.

Album #2: Nesma:Del Nilo al Guadalquivir (From the Nile to the Guadalquivir),
Recorded at Magic Sound Studio in Cairo Egypt in 2001.
It was recorded, mixed, mastered and arranged by Ahmed Abdel Fatah and remastered in Spain by Gabriel Gutierrez in 2005

  • Nesma’t el Nile (6:28)
    This is an Eastern Classical Dance. It has that Old Style sound and begins with sounds like a clarinet. It is a very old Eastern, almost Turkish sounding Old Style.

    The violins play the entrance in a medium tempo that would be good for a walking or arabesque entrance. The body of the dance is ‘Shades of Farid’s” classic song "Leila" and even includes the clarinet section and the kanun question and answer part. There is also another familiar sounding song with a nai and violin question and answer and also cymbal and riq cymbal exchange.

    After this is an accordion “slow down” with drum answers. It is not exactly a baladi taqsim, but is nice. It is actually kind of cute. All the changes naturally change and the stops are also natural so that a dancer can actually intuitively follow this song.
  • Del Nilo al Guadalquivir (5:44)
    This Andalusian piece was written especially for Nesma’s dance company. It starts with a 7/8 rhythm and goes back and forth between that and a 10/8 rhythm. There is a drum section that also includes a 6/8 rhythm. Old sounding Andalusian song starts with the nai then travels to the oud, back to the nai, then the kanun and a chorus. It is a very beautiful, slow song.
  • El Gourya  4:32
    This song starts with the sound of bells.  The violin and nai play a romantic and flirtatious melaya lef song.  Those who are going to El Gourya. Take a gift for my love. Buy a suitable necklace that is very nice and bears her name. And a scarf, a shawl, a bracelet and an ankle. Find the most beautiful. Help me to choose. This song is probably my favorite in this album as it takes me on a very sentimental journey through the back streets of love. It just makes me want to dance!
  • Sukari 4:53 By the Nubian Band
    Written/composed By Ali Hassan Kuban.

    “Your eyelids are sweeter than honey, you are the queen of all women. During my sleep I dream of you and when you are by my side, my heart starts to fly. Sugar, sugar, sugar... Your eyes makes all men go crazy. And your smile is melting me. Sugar sugar sugar.”

    This is a happy love song. I was told that the Nubian music is based on a pentatonic scale and although one may not be able to read music or identify scales, it is easy to identify this sound. It sounds very “Chinese” to me. The rhythm is both upbeat and also very laid back. It reminds me of a time when I was in Aswan with my daughter Susu and we were eating in a little restaurant and spontaneously the help – the waiters, the cook and the owner -- started clapping hands and drumming on the tables and insisted we join them in a little dancing. So we did - we just ambled lazily about in a “conga” line strolling and swaying between tables humming, singing and clapping. Different places bring different musical memories. Alexandria is Abdul Halim Hafez singing on the taxi’s radio and Aswan definitely is drumming, humming and polyrhythmic clapping.
  • Lamouni Ligharou Menni 5:27
    This beautiful traditional Tunisian song is a true story of a singer in love with his dark slave girl. You shouldn’t blame, those who are jealous of me. You are completely ignorant of my heart. You shouldn’t have. To those who rebuke me out of jealousy, I reply “see her through my eyes.” I am charmed just by a sidelong glance of hers. To her I am an Adam, as she is my Eve.  The rhumba rhythm, oud and violins are typical of many Tunisian songs, white sands and warm winds.
  • Raks el Shamadan 4:43
    The Shamadan (candlelabrum) dance, with its roots in the Sebuaa or the Egyptian celebration held seven days after a baby is born, is now quite commonly done at wedding zeffas. In keeping with the theme of this CD, this playful song combines the rhumba rhythm with maqsum to make a very playful and sentimental song. The kanun and nai taqsim create another romantic dimension to this song. This song is a favorite among my students as its many moods and rhythms provide easy keys to following the music in an interesting and appropriate manner.
  • Lamma Bada 5:33
    Lamma Bada Yatathanna is an Andalusian song known as Muwasha. Among belly dancers it is probably the most known of the “10/8” songs as it appears in so many different albums. When she begins to sway. My beloved’s beauty drives me to distraction. Surrender, surrender. My beloved’s beauty drives me to distraction.  The nai and kanun bring a very spiritual and haunting dimension to the song and the voice crying out aman, aman, aman, aman only adds to the pain.
  • Raidak 3:56
    In this Eastern Classical Dance piece, although there are the familiar maqsoum and wahedeh rhythms, the rhumba beat is again the dominant rhythm. The riq (tambourine) playing on this piece is especially wonderful. The rhumba and solo instrumentation also are in keeping with the romantic theme of this Andalusian flavored CD.
  • Shakawet el Bannat 5:50
    Drum solo with cymbal and other percussion accompaniment. The drum talks and it’s easy for the hips to listen and answer this arrangement.
  • El Reda wel Noor 4:34
    Beginning with the lilting strings of the kanun, this song - again another rhumba, maqsoum and wahedeh rhythm combination intertwined with the many strings of the violins - sings of love and arabesque memories.
  • Nesma’t el Nile Finale 2:51
    This mostly violin upbeat malfoof finale is an exciting ending song for this CD.

The CD, Del Nilo al Guadalquivir is a wonderful mix of Andalusian muwashahat and classic old style Oriental music. All the pieces, with the exception of one, seem to naturally fall into place in this CD.  Even though I very much like the Nubian song Sukari used in this CD, I question why it was used, as it didn’t seem to fit into the general mood or geography of the CD. Since this CD was made as a result of a show, probably Sukari was used to change a mood in Nesma’s show.

Album #3 :Nesma, Memories of Cairo
Was recorded at Magic Sound Studio in Cairo Egypt in 1998. It was recorded, mixed, mastered and arranged by Ahmed Abdel Fatah and remastered in Spain by Gabriel Gutierrez.

  • Nesma Ouverture 0:47
    This is the piece that prepares the audience for a performance. It doesn’t necessarily need to have a dancer. It might be nice to use it for chorus dancers to introduce the audience to the solo dancer who would then dance the second song.
    Drummer: Said el Artiste
  • Nesma 9:58
    Complete with crash cymbals this dynamic upbeat modern entrance dance allows the dancer to show off her many different dance styles and techniques in a grand manner as the instruments, moods and tempos change.
    Drummer: Said el Artiste
  • Negm’s Solo 4:06
    This is a drummer’s drum solo, starting out with familiar breaks with the duffs and tabla doing a question and answer, then transitioning smoothly and seamlessly with changes from one rhythm to another. The difference in the sounds between the dufs and the tabla are very enjoyable to listen to and, even better, they are more exciting to dance to.
    Drummer: Negm Hanafy
  • Nesma Finale 1:22
    The chorus dancers again appear as they sing and exclaim how happy they were to get to know you.
    Drummer: Said el Artiste
  • Hobbak Ala Feyn 7:37
    Where is your love? This peppy, popular song made famous by the late great dancer Naima Akef and the singer Mohamed Abdel Muttalib has a great special arrangement with the two solo singers and the accordion and the drum  that just inspires the dancer’s personality to jump out and reach the audience. The second part of the song – when the singer sings to the night with his leiliyas calling for dancing, and with the accordion answering the call – is truly delightful.
    Drummer: Zahaar Hussein
  • Haniin 9:28
    This song creates many different moods with the different rhythm and instrument changes and is also another complete dance routine that includes both Oriental and Baladi styles.
    Drummer: Zahaar Hussein
  • Hussein’s Solo 5:24
    In this solo the ard played by the duf(s) provide a solid base for the tabla to lock into. The clapping and cymbals provide an interesting other feature as the drumming segues into an accordion baladi.
    Drummer: Zahaar Hussein
  • Baladi Accordion Piece 4:33
    This typical Cairo baladi style accordion piece probably was originally played with traditional Saidi folk instruments. In this piece a dancer could utilize her hips and arms and also go through the motions of the dancing Arabian horse.
    Drummer: Negm Hanafy
  • Daret El Ayam I 4:34
  • Daret El Ayam II 3:35
  • Daret El Ayam III 5:08
    What can I say about these three pieces except that Daret el Ayam is one of my favorite songs and this version is more than wonderful.  It is nice that it is broken up into three sections to aid in editing if necessary, but the stops between the tracks are a little too long. All the instruments, the violin, the guitar, the accordion, the nai, the kanun, the drums and more make this arrangement the best piece in the CD. Nesma did indeed save the best for last!
    Drummer: Said el Artiste

As noted, Nesma used different lead drummers for different pieces and in this way she created many different moods as each drummer brought his own particular personality and style to each piece he played in. The melodic instruments and percussion section are all mixed so that one is able to distinguish and enjoy their individual sounds as they come together as one complete sound.

It is evident that Ahmed Abdel Fatah has the magic fingers, mind and ears, as he was able to mix all three of the three above CDs and give them three completely different personalities. And ALL are mixed to perfection.

Table Comparing Participating Musicians and Orchestration
Oriental Fantasy Vol. 12-Talisman

Nesma-Del Nilo al Guadalquivir

Nesma- Memories of Cairo

Recorded:Magic Sound Studio, Cairo, Egypt 2006

Directed by:
***Ahmed Abdel Fatah, composer, arranger and musician who had worked with dancers Nahed Sabry, Azza Sherif, and Nagwa Fouad.

Violins: 10- including Hazem Kasbgy, Mustafa Aziz

Cello: ***Yasser Taha

Oud: **Mumduh El Gebali

Kanun: Magid Askn, Mostafa Abdel Khaliq,

Nai: ***Mohamed Foda

Accordion: **Ahmed Abdel Fattah

Tabla: Ismail Gebi

Dohola: Nasser George

Duff 1 : Mohamed Hadida

Duff 2: Ramdan Mahmoud

Riq: Salah Asal

Keyboard: ***Ahmed Abdel Fattah

Singer: Ahmed Murad, Hosam Sakr

Drum Group: El Gebi Drum Group

Recorded: Magic Sound Studio, Cairo Egypt, 2001

Recording, mixing, mastering and arrangement:
***Ahmed Abdel Fatah (composer and arranger, musician,
Remastered in Spain – Gabriel Gutierrez 2005

The Cairo Music Ensemble
Violin: 8 including Mustafa Aziz (1st violin Hazem Kasbgy) + Mohamed Mougy, Mohamed Eid, Mohamed Kotb

Violoncello: ***Hassan Motaz, Yasser Taha

Bass: Salah Ragab

Oboe: Tarek Omran

Nai: ***Mohamed Fouda

Kanun: Magid Serour, Maged Aragi

Oud: **Mundouh el Gebaly

Accordion: ***Ahmed Abdel Fattah

Tabla, Dahola and Duff: Khamis Henkish, Ahmed Bendir, Mohsen El Swaf, Ismail el Gaby,

Riq: Hisham el Araby

Cymbals: Noor

Nubian Music: Nubian Music Ensemble

Singer: Noor el Wasalaty, Hamdy  Hashem + more

***Keyboards and sequences: Ahmed Abdel Fattah

Recorded: Magic Sound Studio, Cairo Egypt, 1998

Recording, mixing, mastering and arrangement:
***Ahmed Abdel Fatah (composer and arranger, musician)
Remastered in Spain – Gabriel Gutierrez

 The Cairo Music Ensemble
Violins: 6+ Mohamed Mougy, Mohamed Eid, Mohamed Kotb

Violoncello: ***Yasser Taha

Nai and Kawala: *** Mohamded Fouda, Mohamed Ali

Kanun: Said Ragaab

Accordion: ***Ahmed Abdel Fattah

Saxophone: Ahmed Yahia

Tabla, Dahola and duff: Said el Artiste, Hussein el Zahaar, Negm Hanafy

Riq: Mohamed Omar, Abdulah Fahmy

Cymbals: Noor

Keyboards and Streams: ***Ahmed Abdel Fattah

Chorus: Amr, Abdel Halim Abdel, Hamid, Saida Shagan,

Vocalists: Sami and Ensherah

Note: Said el Artiste is probably the most prolific of the Cairo studio drummers and is well known for his crisp, fast “machine-gun” type rolls.

***= appears in all 3 CDs
**= appears in 2 CDs

Purchase information:

Beata & Horacio-

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