Reflections on North Beach
in Alameda, California
Musicians-left to right-George (?) on oud, SalahTakesh on dumbek,
David on tambourine, unknown audience member on def
From North Beach
to the East Bay
(Part III of III):
Hillary was dancing at a restaurant
in Alameda called the "Casbah International Restaurant".
She danced with the stage name of Zamora. Sam Qutab owned the
restaurant. Sam and Fadil
Shahin had more than angry words over the name "Casbah".
It was alleged that Sam wanted to capitalize on the trade of Fadil's nightclub.
I heard Sam say, "I don't know why Fadil is so mad at me. He should
be happy and tell his customers, 'Please visit my other place in Alameda!" Eventually,
I went to dance at the restaurant in Alameda, after a dancer named Tasha re-emerged
at the Bagdad. I danced at the Alameda place five nights per week.
Feirouz was another dancer that worked at the Casbah International
during the week. She also had a job as a stripper. Sam featured an
oud player named Samir Tawil, the self-proclaimed "King
of the Oud" as his star.
Samir insisted that a
big poster of himself be placed in the display in front of the restaurant
for his many fans. He felt that he was irresistible to all females
within a 100-foot radius.
One of Sam's nephews played the drums
at the club and he was very good.
A few weeks went by and a dance/teacher came to work at the restaurant named Ariadne.
She was one of Rhea's
students and she danced three nights per week. She was unusual with her facial
gestures. She quickly bumped out the other two regular dancers, and filled
their dance slots with her own students.
She tried desperately to
keep me from dancing on the same nights that she was dancing, but Sam
always played both sides of the fence.
That year Ariadne held a big recital.
She did not want me to be anywhere near her recital because Rhea and Jamila were
not speaking to each other. The cause of that rift was that the PBS Channel
on television was planning to air a dance class taught by Rhea. It was rumored
that during Rhea's program that Rhea never mentioned her teacher, Jamila,
and that she had somehow taken credit for the entire terminology regarding
dance steps, and zill patterns by saying, "Something I call it is.." There
was the opposing rumor that Jamila just gotten angry because Rhea had taken
on this program by finding and developing it alone, without asking for Jamila's
permission and participation. Whatever the cause, the lines were drawn in
the sand of San Francisco Bay.
I decided that it would be fun to tweak Ariadne before I left to dance in Japan.
I invited all my friends to the restaurant to see Ariadne's student night.
I chose to dance in a pearl beaded costume that I had purchased at Sula's
Belly Dance World Boutique. Ariadne was floored by the costume!
Not only did Sam hire me
to dance on her student night, but I was also D.W.W.B. (dancing while
Weeks later, when I returned from my
dance tour in Japan, Ariadne was no longer dancing at Sam's Casbah. I asked
one of the patrons what had happed to her and he told me, "Ariadne's
husband came looking for her one night, long after she had left in the company
of another man, and her husband threw her out." After several more months
passed, Sam decided that the business was not what he wanted and he sold
it to someone else. Then it really failed. I heard that it burned down almost
immediately after that.
About the summer of 1975, my mother and I went to a restaurant in Berkeley
called the "Aitos Greek Folkdance Taverna". I went there to
see Roman "Bert" Balladine who
was teaching late afternoon classes there on Wednesday and Friday nights. We
stayed on and that is where I saw Najia perform
for the very first time. My mom and I sat in the corner having coffee. I wanted
to look as non-Belly Dance involved
as possible. A Greek-American man named Ted Sofios and his brothers
owned the restaurant, which was in a converted U.S. post office and had a huge
hardwood dance floor and walls decorated with large flags of the world nations.
Najia danced at the Aitos every Friday afternoon at lunch and at the evening
and Saturday nights for five years.
Najia doing lunch
at the Aitos
My mother really liked the way Najia
danced! Back then, Najia had her own style of Belly Dance that was a fusion
of Turkish, learned from Bert, and gypsy fantasy.
The Greek musicians loved
her in the East Bay, but when she tried to sell that dance style in
Broadway nightclubs, the Arab musicians complained, "Why can't
you just dance like everyone else?"
Out of the blue, one evening Sam called
me and told me that a new place was going to open in Berkeley and it was
going to be called "The Casablanca". Sam said that the owner
used to own a restaurant in Alameda, which was down the block from his restaurant.
The owner of the Casablanca was Roland Reghadi, a Moroccan, and he
was fond of telling people, "I am an entrepreneur!" The restaurant
was quite different from any others in the area. It was split into two sections
in the manner of restaurants in Morocco, one side formal French, the other
elaborately tiled Moroccan. Roland was a lady charmer and created his own
mystique. He said that he was French but born in Morocco, a descendant of
the prophet Mohammed, and that his Arabic name was actually "Aziz".
He also claimed that his father, a former multi-millionaire, was relieved
of his assets when the new king of Morocco took over the government. Now
the French government no longer ruled Morocco.
I auditioned and was hired to dance in the Casablanca five nights a week with
another dance, who was one of Najia's students. An older, wealthy Jewish man
eventually found her dancing there one evening and upon learning that she was
Jewish, too, he convinced her to leave America and her family to work on a
Kibbutz in Israel. As soon as Roland heard about the plan, he became angry
and fired her. It was shortly after this incident that Najia was called to
work at the Roland's Casablanca after completing her set at the Aitos, which
was quite nearby. Thus, Najia and I became "belly buddies".
She and Taka,
another one of her many talented and beautiful students, were openly
conspiring against me to loose my "cookie cutter" dance appearance. "We
need to lose those Cleopatra bangs!" Najia announced one evening.
I felt like "Seven of Nine" when Captain Janeway made her
back into an individual!
Several times, all the dancers, including
the owner of the Casablanca, would pile into our cars after closing the restaurant
(early in Berkeley) and head out to the Casbah and
the Bagdad in
San Francisco. One Saturday night, Aida was
dancing. She saw me sitting with Najia and Taka. She shimmied up near Roland
for a tip and gave me the "How dare you sit with THEM?" look that
she could do so well. Roland spoke to her, and told her that he was displaying
her picture at his restaurant and that seemed to thaw her out a bit.
About six months later, I folded my tent and left California for about one
year. I returned in August of 1978 and reconnected with my "belly buddies".
I sat down to watch Naji Baba.
Lo and behold! There was
a dancer who was my clone! She even used the name "Salima",
which is an abbreviation of my former dance name. Consequently, I chose
a new name, changed my style of dance to comply with the Egyptian dance
to which I had been exposed and reconstructed my dance wardrobe. Like
the Phoenix, I was reborn as "Satrinya".
I went back to the Bagdad in San Francisco
and found Jad Elias managing
the nightclub for his brother George.
I danced under my new name, "Satrinya Gamal." The first night
I danced, Jad called me Najwa Fouad (the most renowned dancer in Egypt
at the time). I danced sometimes five nights a week along with the new regulars.
About this time, there was a great influx of Middle Eastern nationals in
San Francisco. Some of them were entertainers. There was a very short and
older man at the Casbah who tried valiantly to become a singer. He was certainly
one of the characters of the moment. He had no teeth, but still, he believed
himself to be the best singer since the great Enrico Caruso. He kept
telling us, "I need good musicians to back me up". One evening
while waiting for the Bagdad to open, I heard the best drumming that I had
heard in a long time. I turned to see who was playing and found that there
was a new face in town. The bartender said that the new man was hired and
flown in after the highest recommendation from Prince M. His name was Khalil
Abboud. Immediately Tony boasted to me, "Fadil hired him
because I need a good drummer to back me up!"
That same night I heard Khalil sing, and, in my opinion, in that instant, he
could sing with a cleaner voice, a greater vocal range, and with more feeling
than could any of the other singers on Broadway!
To be Continued.