with the Legends - Honoring the Musicians who
Shaped our Dance World...
Kochak, the Sheik, the Man
Mourat, and Christy
I : Introduction
by Elizabeth Artemis Mourat
my life, if I wanted to do something, I usually found a way
to do it. If I wanted to experience a place, I eventually got
there. The reward of living this way is that I have very few
regrets. I rarely say; “I wish I had…” There are a few notable
exceptions to this. I wish I had visited New Orleans before
Katrina and I wish I had met and danced with George
Abdo. As for New Orleans, she will make a fine comeback
and I will go and enjoy her splendor. But, George Abdo has
passed on and there can be no comeback for him.
are wonderful musicians who are still with us who I know
or who I want to know. These legends still walk among us
with dignity and brilliance. They each have their story
to tell and they deserve our respect and admiration. This
is what inspired me to write the "Dancing with Legends" series
began my dance career 35 years ago at the tail end of that
magical musical era when every club had a band. It's been my
great fortune to perform with some of the fabulous legends
of that era. They were a bridge from the Old Country across
the ocean to the New World. The nightclubs were a respite place,
an oasis for home sick immigrants. This was before electronic
technology synthesized the sound of music and separated the
hands from the strings, the bows from the hands and the breath
from the wind instruments. This was before there were elevator
music and drum machines, before disco beats became integrated
into anything we dance to and before fusion styles had come
into our dance world. These musicians were mostly right off
the boat and their sound was truly indicative of their lives,
their cultures, their joys and their pain.
are many fine things about our technological world and the
music it created. We have a lot to thank Leon Theremin and Robert
Moog for. New musical styles and sounds and fusion
dance forms are springing up like mushrooms after a good hard
rain. Pop is really, really fun to dance to. All this fresh
blood is pumping new life into a generation of artists and
they are colorful and creative and rich with ideas. But where
would we be without our roots? None of this would exist without
the origins of the traditional music. Before there were CDs
there were cassettes, before cassettes, there were records
but before there were records, there were human beings on every
stage where there were dancers. When those musicians went into
the studio, they played together as a band, just as in the
clubs and the villages back home.
played with each other and to each other and the recorded
music was alive and real and totally in the moment. The
synergy was palpable. That music was cohesive and true
to that adage, the “whole is greater than the sum of the
parts.” The recording industry does things differently
today because each musician sits in a booth accompanied
by only headphones.
his recorded contribution is combined later to tracks recorded
by others who also sat alone in that booth or another booth
just like it far away. We can thank technology because many
of the old records are now available on CD. The snap, crackle
and pop of records are gone and the music shines brightly and
rings as true as it did the day it was recorded. This music
continues to vibrate with a passion and soul that reaches across
decades, over oceans and even beyond the abyss that separates
us from those who have crossed over. The music of the era of
legends can still seize the hearts that know how to listen
and charm tired commuter feet out of their world while bringing
them into a fiery dimension of dance joy. It has become my
mission to rediscover the stories behind the legends and share
them with the next generation.
owe special thanks to my friend and colleague Bonita
Oteri who helps me with my writings. I also want to
thank Christy Guenther (1)
who wrote one section of the original version and helped in
ways. She was a baby dancer when we wrote this piece and she
is now a professional dancer in the Baltimore and Washington,
DC areas. This article begins with a typical Eddie experience,
which we wrote in 2001 (2).
Then progresses to show you how his music continues to inspire
the new generations
of dancers and ends with an interview with him.
Typical Eddie Experience in 2001-
have been in love with Eddie Kochak’s music
since I was a “baby dancer” over thirty years ago. Now,
I often see how the same music speaks to my students. I thought
it would be interesting to write an article with one of my
students so that we could combine her impressions with my own.
was perfect, since a lot of his music is now available on CD (3).
We interviewed him in 2001 shortly after he received the prestigious
Little Egypt Award from the International Academy of Middle
Eastern Dance (IAMED) (4). He was honored
for a lifetime of achievements and for his dedication to the
community. It is valuable to see how the world looked to my
student Christy Guenther back then.
had lunch with Eddie in his Brooklyn apartment not too long
ago. I could not help but notice the awards, the plaques
and pictures of him with famous people. How humble he
is and how gracious. We ate humus and olives. We drank a little
wine and the nostalgic story of his life unfolded. He is a
lovely man and he charmed me thoroughly. He played and sang
for me and drew me cartoons. We reminisced and he did not remember
the first time we met, but how could he? I was still a pup,
a small face in a crowd of new dancers and that marathon show
was my first big concert. I was so scared that I could hardly
speak. He called me “Habiba” and warmed me with his smile.
I requested my songs and later that night I danced. I never
forgot his patience and skill at releasing the butterflies
from my young stomach. Eventually we became friends and I cherish
my connection with him.
were the days when the only music available was on records
and we had to piece together songs on cassettes in order to
perform to it. Eddie had the great idea to put an entire show
on a record. He named each song and briefly described it to
and there was a lot of information on the record jackets. We
all used his music. The dancers learned from him and
I continue to learn from him now. When I left the interview,
he pressed into my arms a carefully wrapped picnic. He said,
“Artemis, Habiba, tonight after your show, you’re gonna be
hungry on that long train ride back to DC.” Late that night,
while I ate my picnic on the train, I felt blessed to know
the Eyes of a new dancer (2001)
As one of Artemis’ “baby dancers” and a music teacher
myself, I feel privileged to have the chance to write about a
man who has such a deep love of music and a real affection for
the women who dance to it! Eddie has taken the rhythms
that so many of us find difficult to grasp at first, and he has
made them more accessible. I will never forget the day that Artemis
used one of Eddie’s rumbas for our class’s warm-up. I had heard
rumbas before because my mother used to compete in the Latin
dances, but I had never experienced any with such a haunting
clarinet soared around and through me and right then, I
felt something “click.” For just a moment, I was no longer
an uncoordinated beginner. I had a glimpse of what it was
to “feel” the music, without thinking about which arm was
supposed to be raised or which direction the figure 8’s
were supposed to go. It was a gift!
that this was what the “good dancers” felt when they danced.
This was what it felt like to “get it.” As soon as the moment
came, I thought too much about it, and it was gone. I realized
that I was again doing everything exactly backwards. But still,
it had happened! I laughed and asked Artemis what she
was playing. “It’s Eddie Kochak – a rumba,” she said. “It’s
a shame that people aren’t putting out as many rumbas as they
it was Eddie Kochak who had helped me reach that temporary
state of grace and I was to learn that there was something
unique about his music. So that evening after class, I bought
his cassettes from her. I went home and discovered that the
rumba was only one of many gems he had recorded! Every song
seemed to have a life of its own. Each was its own tiny world
and upon entering it, I found I had to dance. Eddie’s songs
would never be “background music” for me! They held me and
moved me and I was happy.
in the months that followed, I saw myself beginning to move
in a way that pleased me. There were times when I look in the
mirror, and I saw a woman dancing with freedom and joy. In
those moments I forget everything else. And most often, those
occasions of grace came to me while dancing to the music of
Eddie the Sheik. For that, I owe him a debt of gratitude!
is the best way to speak to a woman’s heart? History
tells us that it depends on who she is. Solomon gave his courageous
and intellectual Queen of Sheba his ideas, and then immortalized
their passion in his beautiful song. The lover in O. Henry’s
famous short story sells his pocket watch to buy a comb for
his wife’s long, lustrous hair. And in the movie “Phenomenon,”
the main character falls in love with a woman who makes chairs.
Of course, he buys every one! But what if the women you
admire are dancers -- if their heartbeats have somehow become
entwined with the passionate rhythms of beledi, karsilama and
ciftetelli? How do you show your love for these women?
Well, if you are Eddie Kochak, you communicate the rhythms.
III:Interview with Eddie in 2001
by Artemis and Christy
Eddie was born in Brooklyn of Syrian parents. He has
a deep love of the rhythms he grew up hearing. This is second
only to his honest affection for the women who dance to them,
including his mother and sister. He says, “We had a happy, happy
family with music and dance and fun. Most of the time was spent
in the house, always entertaining. My mother and sister used
to sing and dance around the house. Whenever we had relatives
and friends over, we always had a ball, a party. And if
there wasn’t a party, they would create one (he laughs) and have
a good time! I think I take a lot after my mother, who was talented
with singing and dancing. I am happy for all these little house
parties we had. Just a happy home, thank God!”
of his early experiences with percussion instruments, he laughs!
“Well, they would be having these parties, and the records
would be playing, and they would be dancing and singing, and
they would give me one of my mother’s pots or pans to beat
I was breaking too many pots and pans. My mother’s pots
and pans were getting scarce! And they all saw that I had
the feeling in me, that I was gifted with music and tempos.
So my sister went out on my birthday and bought me a dumbek.
I was about twelve years old.”
became a professional musician specializing in Middle Eastern
music. He was in the Special Services Division of the Army
and in this capacity he entertained American troops in the
Italian, Greek, and Egyptian theatres of war during World War
II. He did it all - as a vocalist, a comic and an emcee. He
balanced this with a performance career back home, since his
immediate success in these overseas arenas led to many offers
to perform on both Arabic and American concert stages. As he
says, “I entertained, sang, played drums, danced, emceed, did
comedy, all of that. I always had my own American band, and
we entertained at many parties where people wanted a combination
of Arabic and American, Greek and American or Turkish and American
music. This is all before the belly dance scene came out.”
Eddie also made over 100 recordings in Arabic, Armenian, Greek,
Turkish and Israeli music
his entire career and still to this day, Eddie has contributed
his performances to innumerable charity events. In this capacity,
he appeared at the Dean Martin "City
of Hope" telethon, where he was given the Award of Hope.
He also worked with Danny Thomas for ALSAC,
which is for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
the late 1960’s, Middle Eastern dance gained popularity
in the United States. After having seen the dances done
with the freedom they were meant to have, Eddie was concerned
when he saw how some American dancers struggled with the
decided to create recordings that made Middle Eastern rhythms
more accessible to the American dancer. He explains; “The sounds
of the Middle East were a little different, a little harder
for the beginner. I felt the need of the girls who were getting
into the belly dance field, because they were not able to enjoy
the music of some Middle Eastern recordings.” So, in Eddie’s
recordings, he helped to showcase the heart of each rhythm
in a way that truly expressed its beauty. He helped the dancers
to find their joy!
busy performance career included a 5-year tour with Anthony
Quinn, as part of the play Zorba the Greek.
“From coast to coast,” he says, “I was visiting the belly dancers
and the belly dance schools. It hooked me up with my music
and albums and cassettes, and my music was running hot, thank
God. And I was visiting most of these schools and participating
in belly dance seminars here and there.” Eddie found that because
of the nature of the play, belly dancers would never be far
from his life on tour with Zorba the Greek. When asked
how he became involved with the production, Eddie reminisces,
“I was called by the Anthony Quinn people. They were looking
for a percussionist, a dumbek player to play in the show. They
wanted somebody who could play with a Greek and Arabic feeling,
for Anthony Quinn. Well, they got in touch with most of the
musicians’ unions from coast to coast but they couldn’t find
what they wanted. And here I was, Eddie the Sheik, local 802
(his union chapter number), in New York, making belly dance
albums and working in the recording studios. I got the call
from the president of the union, and he said, ‘Tell the people
that only one man could do this, and that is Eddie the Sheik.’ Well,
my president told me about Zorba the Greek with Anthony
Quinn, but at the same time I was recording one of my Strictly
Belly Dancing albums, and it was going real fine.
But, I’d have to audition for Anthony Quinn, and I didn’t think
I wanted to audition for anybody. Well after they told me what
the salary was, I said, ‘Maybe I’ll give it a shot.’ (He laughs),
which I did and I landed the job.” When asked how it was to
work with Quinn, Eddie remembers fondly, “He was a pretty good
guy. I was with him most of the time. He would invite me to
play my dumbek, while he sometimes danced. I was like his steady
accompaniment when he was invited to restaurants and different
affairs. So I had a good time with him.”
being of Middle Eastern background,” he explains, “I had the
feel for how to make the music easier for the new dancers.
I was the first musician to put together routines, along with
my partners Hakkie Obadia and Freddie
Elias – two great musicians. Hakkie, being from Baghdad,
joined me about forty years ago, and Freddie is a great violinist
from Manchester, New Hampshire. We worked together to get our
music down the way we wanted it at all the recording sessions.
I first took some old songs from the Middle East – public domain
songs, especially from Aleppo (5).
found that the melodies from Aleppo still spoke to him
as an adult. He continues, “I thought I could take some
of these melodies, put my feelings to them, and create
what we now call the Amer-Aba sound. We created simple
routines for the teacher to teach and the student to learn.”
speaks like a man in touch with the heart of our dance. He
says, “In Arabic, there is a word; ‘wati’ which means ‘tempo’
and also a word ‘halawi’ which means ‘the sweetness of the
way you move and come across to the audience.’ That is what
we wanted for the music and the dancers.” He seems to relish
every word as he explains. “That’s how it all came about. It
started with the musical gift that God gave me and the knowledge
to put it down for the American girls so that they could get
the feeling. It was all there for them to hear, to feel and
they would pick it up more easily.”
sees his work as something of a calling – one that has benefited
many dancers over the years. He speaks of this calling with
great joy. “So they danced to Amer-Aba with Eddie the Sheik!”
of Eddie Kochak’s albums are now available on CD. His
website is www.eddiekochak.net Please
feel free to contact him to order CDs and other products directly
from him by calling (718) 858–3212. He loves to chat and
he might even sing for you. Or you can write to him at:
1 Christie Guenther is also known as Bijou and she is a dancer
and music teacher in the Washington, DC and Baltimore
areas. She is a founding member of Levialora Drum and
Dance and of
Baltimore’s first tribal troupe, Shivani.
The 2001 parts of this article are courtesy of WAMEDA
Eddie has a new CD coming out this year.
Eddie is about to receive another Lifetime Achievement award
form the Chronicles
Aleppo is a city in northwestern Syria.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Bilezikjian Where Old World Charm Meets Musical Genius by
Elizabeth Artemis Mourat,
in the series- DANCING WITH LEGENDS…honoring the musicians
who shaped our dance world
For One, Two very different DVDs on Turkish Dance reviewed,
DVD review by Surreyya
Love Turkish Dance by Sarah Skinner & Turkish Style Belly Dance
by Elizabeth Artemis Mourat
Karioka, Queen of Oriental Cabaret Dance by Sausan
the 1980’s, the spread of Islam and its fundamental militancy
proved to be a big blow for Egypt’s belly dance industry.
As a result, several dancers publicly renounced their pasts and
donned the Islamic veil.
Loved the Old Days at the Bagdad! by Habiba Nawal
think I was making about fifteen or twenty dollars a night plus
tips. It was all about the tips! The girls from New York made
twenty-five, if I remember right. Bert sometimes got me shows
for about thirty or seventy-five dollars for what he called “The
Furry Animal Clubs”, like the Lions, the Elk and the Kiwanis.
Belly Dance From Burlesque by Miles Copeland
it is traditionally understood, I do not find Burlesque, (meaning
nudity—no matter how hard one pretends it does not) amusing or
creative in the slightest when it comes to including Belly dance,
an art that has suffered too long with such unfortunate associations.
I find it completely irresponsible and detrimental.
the Hip Hits the Fan by Princess Farhana
fan dancing is not considered traditional in raqs sharqi, due
to the increasing popularity of fusion, many Oriental dancers
are exploring fusing the many styles of fan dancing and Belly
dance with stunning results. When used onstage, fans are FAN-ciful,
conveying various emotions to an audience, as well as being a
spectacular visual treat. They can be dramatic and stately, or
coy and flirtatious and are always a crowd pleaser!
along the Nile, Part 1: Raks Al Asaya by Gamila
El Masri, Reprinted with permission, from Bennu, Issue
is strength in the cane twirl but not aggression, extreme rapid
twirling should be held as an additional sensational feat, less
is more. Have your body of twirling be moderate so that you can
vary from slow to climatic; always reflecting the music, it's
mood and tempo. Get down without getting crazy.
New Venue for Rakkasah Festival West by Susie Poulelis
retail, there is a saying that having an item sell out was a
happy problem to have. You want to keep your customers yearning
for more, making sure they won't hesitate to buy the next time
they see something they want.
Buy or Not to Buy –A Guide to Mass Market Belly
Dance Instructional DVDs by Yasmin
producers ask or hire others to write glowing reviews. You will
often see the same people reviewing a producer’s entire
line of product. Those are suspect. Look for the one-off comments.
They will give a better overview, along with anything less than