to Start a Middle Eastern Band
or How The Arabian Knights Came About
The dream of having our own band came about when Jacques and I went to Egypt
together about three and a half years ago. We spent every night for three
weeks at a club or hotel watching dance shows, and fantasizing having musicians
at our command; ready, willing and able to play the "ultimate" music
to perfection so that our dance shows could also be done to perfection.
We argued about the possibility of realizing our dream. Would it be possible
to have musicians and singers be that consistent and (for choreography) play
the pieces exactly the same? Our conclusion, after repeatedly seeing some shows
at the same clubs, was that, yes! It was possible to have the same pieces played
exactly. The energy between musicians, singer(s) and dancer(s) might vary,
but the show would always be exact and good. Some shows could be memorable,
some exciting, some great, but at least, the they would always be good!
dreamed of a band that would play music to make us
look good always.
This dream band would feature
us just like the bands do for the stars in the Middle East! Also,
we dreamed of complete Oriental floor shows with choreographed pieces
for our group (The Aswan Dancers) accompanied by a band that would
really learn the music exactly so the Aswans would always look good.
We felt that if the music were arranged to the "T" for
our shows, we could perform at our best. There was a hitch, however;
how could we accomplish our goal?
Jacques and I also played drums occasionally, so we figured that if we could
control a band with our drumming (and counting out measure for measure all
the musicals and songs), then we could indeed have a band as exact and consistent
as the ones we saw in Egypt. Could we play drums and dance at the same time?
This was a dilemma. Of course we couldn't! Well, at least, we could take turns,
or maybe we could just play for the group. So we practiced earnestly and invited
various musicians and singers to come and practice along with us. Eventually
some of our enthusiasm started to wane
as various musicians quit on us. Really, it is not fun to practice songs until
at least two hours worth of songs are perfect and ready for performance. Finally,
when Jacques and I were left practicing to recorded music, we quit also.
A couple of weeks later Jacques
and I went to Rakkasah and wound up our day at The Cleopatra Restaurant.
Raed Zawaideh (now professionally known as Raed Tewfiq) and Hussein
Dixon were playing the keyboard and oud. Nobody was drumming that
night, so we ingratiated our way into (Ahem) "helping them
out." Because of our participation that night, we were able
to return to my studio and form yet another band. This time the
band included Raed and Hussein. We rehearsed every Wednesday evening
again, but to achieve a fuller Middle Eastern sound, Jacques played
solo drum while I played tambourine or duf. After a few months of
this type of rehearsal, we finally felt strong
enough to get a job.
working every Wednesday and Friday evening at the
Grapeleaf Restaurant in San Francisco. However, we
would still get together and practice new songs,
work on old songs and talk about where we wanted
to go. We did know one thing; we were no longer a "garage" band.
We were "THE ARABIAN KNIGHTS" and we would
Things went well for a little
over a year, but due to a disagreement with
the management at The
Grapeleaf, I quit. The rest of the "Arabian Knights" said
that they would quit too; however, we agreed that they would quit only after
we all found another venue in which to perform. This new venue turned out to
be The Amira Restaurant (also in San Francisco).
We were once again, faced
with another hitch; the stage and management couldn't accommodate
all four of us on the same night, so we all ended up working at
The Amira, but not altogether.
One night Loay Dahbour (the
original drummer with Raed and Hussein from the Cleopatra days)
came into The Amira, and he was excited . He wanted us to get together
and have a band meeting. We met a week later at my house: Jacques,Loay,
Raed, Susu, Hussein (by telephone) and me. Loay had heard of a place
that was looking for an Arabic band! It was a Latin club. So we
talked about our goals and decided we would go Latin/Arabic. We
found old Latinized Arabic songs and new ones like " Habibi
Nour al Ain" and we felt that, with lots of rehearsal (to which
were were already accustomed), and by using Spanish and Arabic words,
along with Latin intruments and a heavy percussion section, we could
promote our new fusion sound.
all bands need a leader. Jacques, a natural leader,
and the most charismatic person I've ever known,
became our leader.
Jacques and I were
the happy percussionists once again. Leaders sometimes
have to take other roles (such as the un-fun job of actually
managing and keeping a band together). We asked Reda Darwish
to join us so that Jacques would be more free to jump off
the stage to work on sound levels. Raed played keyboard
while Hussein played the oud and was our lead singer. Eventually,
we asked Fadi Hanani to join us as our main singer, with
Raed and Jacques singing back up and with me doing back
up lip syncing. It was so much fun! "The Aswan Dancers" performed
ensemble dances during the break and took turns dancing
solo. It was such a great feeling to be one happy family,
doing just exactly what we all wanted to do!
Jacques' dual role as both drummer and our leader is the best thing that happened
to our band. His upbeat energy, choice of modern popular songs, and even his
nagging to make us learn more new songs, sets us apart from other Arabic bands.
We are a lively dance band rather than a "sit down and listen" band.
We also are constantly adding new sounds. Our latest addition, Fouad Marzouk,
adds the traditional sounds of the kanoun to the band. Best of all, though,
is that we are developing a "following"! It is embarrassing, but
also wonderful, to get to our gig known as "Salamat
Sundays" at El
Valenciano Restaurant and
have some of our audience patiently waiting there before our arrival.
All of this
happened over a year ago, and we are still going
strong. We are still happy and still very excited
about doing what we always dreamed of doing: Dancing,
playing, and singing Arabic music. For me, our band
is my "dream-come-true".
Much has happened
in the year and a half since we, 'The Arabian Knights",
began our Salamat Sundays. Jacques is not only our leader,
percussionist and singer, but now he is also an expert
sound engineer and DJ. (He started playing dance songs "DJ" style
during the band's break, and recently started a "DJ" international
night called Kaza Blanka at El Valenciano on Thursday evenings.)
I have a place where I can play music, dance, lip-sync,
and have fun. But there is still the dilemma. Can we play
and dance at the same time? We're working on that.
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Marzouk, Interview by Amina Goodyear
I remember at first feeling intimidated dancing to one of Soheir Zaki's
on the Edge by Amina
from the first evening chasing Fatma around the stage that
in order to have a serious dance company in the Egyptian style,
I had to seriously play with the appearance of disorder.