"The Soul of Cairo" & "The Masters of Bellydance Music"
review by Amina Goodyear
posted April 17, 2009
Quite awhile ago Gildedserpent gave me two CDs to review:
“The Soul of Cairo”by Hollywood Music Center, executive producer Movses Panossian coordinated by Mher Panossian and
“The Masters of Bellydance Music” by Caravan Records, executive producer Movses Panossian, produced by Mher Panossian
Although under different labels, both of these CDs belong to a Panossian family operation also known as Hollywood Music Center. I know them as one of my main sources of dance music and videos and always seek them out at bellydance festivals. Although they have quite an impressive and easy to use online website and catalog, I am an old-fashioned touchy feely kind of person and like to see and handle the items in person. Lucky me, although I don’t live in their area, I get to go to festivals where they are prominent vendors. This may sound like a promotional ad, but actually it is not. This family is dedicated to producing (and also finding) the latest and most popular bellydance music as well as reissuing classic albums in a remastered format with updated liner notes. When I go to various dance festivals, I like to see what HMC has to offer as it often reflects the dance trends. (Yes, they are well-informed vendors.) Although I often don’t like or agree with these trends, at least I know what they are. While these trends seem to change from year to year, one thing that does not change is the fact that the music sold by this family seems to have pretty good – as in very high standard – sound quality. Being an “old-fashioned” and traditional Middle Eastern music lover I don’t always agree with the bulk of the music that is sold by Hollywood Music Center, but I will say that Mher Panossian (who is very visible at the dance festivals I attend), once informed of my personal tastes, has always only shown me music I like. The following two CDs are reviews of the type of music that I like. These CDs would be under the category of “Traditional”.
“The Soul of Cairo”
Composed and Conducted by Ahmad Gibaly
Performed by Ahmad Gibaly and Orchestra
Produced by Hollywood Music Center
- The Soul of Cairo (Bellydance routine) 9:04
This is a very beautiful and soulful bellydance routine – even though each melodic and rhythmic section stops completely (so you can actually make the piece shorter if you wish by cutting and pasting), each section flows naturally into the next section. The routine is very clear and well mixed. You can hear each distinctive instrument and rhythm played. However, to me, the Soul of the Cairo Bellydance is the heavy percussion section and this piece is treated like a classic song, not like a typical Cairo percussion heavy magensi*. But it is a very predictable, pleasant and easy to dance to piece.
- Intro: 24 sec
- Masmudi floaty entrance – veil
- Into beledy –stop
- Repeat Masmudi – into beledy –stop
- Beledy -gut -section 4x & maqsoum saeria
- repeat Beledy -gut – section 2x & maqsoum saeria
- Ayoub – haunting – repeat – shorter
- Mood change = rhumba 2 repeats
- No rhythm 2x
- Repeat Rhumba – 2x , 3rdx with violin taqsim
- speeds up and stop.
- Waltz rep. 2x, 3rdx with violin? accordion solo over rhythm
- Finale- like beginning 2x with tag extra.
Is this a modern dance piece with an underlying Bedouin debke feel? Or is it a Lebanese style “Saidi” cane dance?
Very interesting! I love the constant of the drum rhythm with the accordion playing throughout.This is not your typical accordion balady. When the rhythm changes and the accordion does too it is such a natural change you don’t even notice. The last part with the accordion playing is very reminiscent of a playful dance I saw on a video with the Egyptian dancer Hayatim. Although the piece is very driving, the way the accordion plays, there is plenty of room for the dancer to also stop and play.
This drum solo is actually a continuation of the accordion balady, but is on a different track so it can be used as a stand alone drum solo or be tacked onto another song. There are 3 distinct flavors and sections in this drum solo making this a complete dance. The end is not very exciting. It just stops. Although it has kind of a predictable ending, I wish it could have built more for a more dynamic ending.
This mizmar/rebaba piece conjures up images of being in the Luxor region and first watching two men “Ya booy” with their big sticks circling and taunting each other and suddenly in “shimmy march” a couple of Ghawazee dancers holding little sticks with both their hands playfully marching to and fro and ending by dancing with each other, skirts flying and shoes stomping while the men are now spinning and whirling with their gallabeyas becoming brown circular floating cones.
This piece dances. A girls runs onstage looking for…her Habibi, of course, She encounters the days and the nights (violin and nai) and then finally finds the elusive Habibi (accordion) who tells her stories of love and how he’s wandered the world and the days looking for…her. Finally she (kanun) understands and dances the adventure and happiness of love finally understood (resolved?) and not lost. There is such a beautiful conversation between the Habibi and the girl. In the end it all works out.
Oh, those black eyes, it’s so nice to finally hear some vocals. If you read this Accordion Balady as a Balady Taqsim, read again. It is a balady and an accordion piece, but not what I call an accordion balady also known as balady taqsim. There are however nice vocals and nice question & answers and conversations with the voice, nai and kanoon.
This drum solo although on a separate track is meant to accompany the Accordion Balady. There are nice stereophonic effects with the drum and back-up percussion. The sounds of each are very fine and distinct and lend to the clarity of the stereophonic effects.
What better way to pay homage to such an icon of the Egyptian culture, pride and country than to continue to give her musical tributes in bellydance CDs. This song, by far, is the reason to have this CD. Although deceiving in it’s clean simplicity, it is nevertheless a very difficult piece in composition and rhythmic structure. The violin as the voice is very moving and, if interpreted properly, will aid the dancer in creating an emotional bridge between her and the audience. We can only hope that the Mother of them all understands our desire to dance to and translate her beautiful songs.
This song may be fun and danceable, but I never would have had such a song follow the serene classic beauty of Ansak. What a shock! It was very difficult to even want to listen to this repetitious piece of pop after Ansak. More attention should have been paid to the placement of the songs in the CD. Just as it is a curator’s job to dress an art gallery, it is a producer’s job to tastefully arrange the song order.
Again, how could this piece of remix gotten into this (up to track #9) absolutely beautiful CD. And, until I heard this remix, Ah Ya Zein (along with Zuruni) was one of my absolute favorite little short songs (of all time). But not like this. How could such a beautiful classic song turn into a “Mohamad el Bakar – Klezmer “ditty. Yes, I know, Arabs and Egyptians are famous for turning their backs on their wonderful heritage and trying to fusionize their songs, but Ah Ya Zein? Please! How I wish I never heard this version.
What a fun Shaabi song. Could this be a song for a street wedding? Certainly the mizmar brings the the Beledy to the City. But it sounds a little sanitized like it was composed for a movie. Too organized and smooth. Not enough noise or raw enough to make it believable, but I like it.
Tracks 5, 9 and 12
Tracks 1, 3, 4, 6, 8,
Please, no – why?:
Tracks 10 & 11- These tracks should be in a different CD.
Zil Rating for The Soul of Cairo:
Soul- 3.5 zils
“The Masters of Bellydance Music”
A great compilation of favorite bellydance songs produced by Mher Panossian. This CD is a sampler to music available on other CDs produced by HMC.
- Dr. Samy Farag: Rakasni ya Habibi (Classical Egyptian) 5:38 From “Rakasni ya Habibi”(Dr. Samy Farag)
This is a popular and favorite Oriental Dance opening for many dancers who either use it as a stand alone 5+min. piece or as the first song of a complete dance routine. It has diverse mood and rhythms changes and can be a fun and exciting dance. It is easy to dance to as each rhythm change is intuitive and predictable. The composition follows the standard formula where the first repeat is usually (but not always) longer than second repeat.
- instrumental intro to 0:20
- malfoof to
- music intro 1x
- drum break
- balady hellos 2x
- accordion & violin q&a
- nai & violin q&a 2x
- drum break
- khaligi – nai – violin
- drum intro into
- dellae girls sing “dance for me oh my darling”
- men respond – music responds
- repeat – girls, men, music
- chifte mood change – into accordion layered over chifte
- pickup drum beat into malfoof finale 2x
- into dynamic faster “turning” ending.
- Setrak Sarkissian: Layali (Egyptian Balady) 4:25 From “Arabian Nights” (Setrak Sarkissian and Toni Frangieh)
If this CD were to be used as a complete dance routine, this next track with the solo nai taqsim would be the perfect next selection. The emphasis on only one instrument playing makes the audience sit up and pay attention to this strong mood change. After such an exciting ending to track #1, track #2 puts you into a completely different mood. While the focus is on the nai, gradually other instruments are introduced totally in keeping with the quiet spiritual mood of the dance. Then about halfway through there is another mood change as a solo accordion taqsim again forces one to sit up and listen and change to yet another mood. This time it is earthy and more raw as it gradually becomes the accordion balady taqsim that is so familiar to the ear.
- Salatin el Tarab Orchestra: Aziza (Classical Egyptian) 4:36 From “Rakset Algazala (M.A. Wehab)
My ear usually wants to hear a driving drum solo after an taqsim balady, but in this CD that is not the case. Instead, I am treated to “Aziza,” and it kind of works as a 3rd song if this CD were to be used as a whole rather than just individual cuts. It is a nice arrangement – very classical sounding, but if one is used to hearing the original version, it can be rather difficult to adjust to the differences in the repeats. Aziza is usually a song that is played “exactly” like the original. This is not. The second repeat is not there and then the balady section (without the vocals) is played twice. Once memorized in this way, it could be kind of fun. It’s just different. But then, it does end in the same “William Tell” way to make the song complete and Abdul Wehabish.
- Aboud Abdel Al: Afrah Al Said (Folkloric Egyptian) 5:50 From “Belly Dance for Arabian Nights”(Conducted by Aboud Abdel Al)
Wow! This is probably one of the first important Saidi songs ever – at least it was one of the first Saidi songs that was put out and used – on vinyl – and not even by an Egyptian. This song is a classic. Like many Lebanese musicians of that time, (and even today), they felt that Egypt and Egyptian music is where it’s at. (Even today many Arab singers still use the Egyptian dialect.) Also there was the feeling that (in the past) in order to make good quality sounding music, one had to go to recording studios in Lebanon, Greece, France and Germany. This particular song was recorded on probably one of the most popular and classic records (vinyl 33 1/3 rpm) of all time. Many other songs on this album have set the standard including another Egyptian classic – Sahara (City).
- Cairo Orchestra: Henna ya el Henna (Classical Egyptian) 5:10 From “Belly Dance Classics” (Folklore/Conducted by Dr. Sami Nossair)
- Oud taqsim 0:57 min. no rhythm
- Violin taqsim with chifte rhythm
- 2:00 masmudi intro to Henna ya el Henna
This is a very beautiful song but…Although there is a very strong beginning with the oud and violin taqsims the actual song part becomes too repetitive and goes nowhere. Maybe that is why Mohamed Abdul Wehab borrowed it, changed it and gave it structure.
- Mohamed Ali Ensemble: Enta Omri (Classical Egyptian) 4:53 From “Music of the Diva Om Kalsoum” (M.A. Wehab)
Mohamed Abdul Wehab was probably one of the most prolific musicians, singers and composers in Egypt and yet there was a sense of competition with the Diva – Om Kalsoum. So, what better motto than “If you can’t fight ‘em, then join ‘em.” They did make a great team. And this song truly is the “voice of Egypt,” and this version with the kanun as the voice is extremely powerful in an exquisitely quiet and understated way.
- Hamouda Ali: Nagwa (Classical Egyptian) 5:15 From “Princess of Cairo”(Hamouda Ali)
Where I come from – San Francisco– this song, “Raks Nagwa,” is still in constant demand and is still a challenge for the musicians to synch up in the 6/8 section. It may appear to be an easy square song – much like it’s accompanying song “Princess” but it’s rhythm structure and uneven repetitions belie that. It is a beautiful song that makes for a beautiful dance.
- Samir Srour: Soher Zaki Fi Balady (Egyptian Balady) 4:36 From “Cairo Plus” (Samir Srour)
Once upon a time the mizmar and the tabla joined forces to create the Egyptian Balady and then this style moved to the city and the accordion became the instrument of choice. Sometime later the Saxophone also vied for a spot in the Egyptian taqsim balady. Cairo in the 80’s probably supported hundreds (maybe thousands?) of kiosks that made and sold what I call “drum tapes.” These are cassettes that have improvisations with the tabla and usually one and sometimes two instruments. These were generally the accordion and/or the saxophone. Many of the cassettes had Sohair (my spelling) on the cover as she was considered the epitome of dancing this balady style music – The Egyptian Taqsim Balady. And Samir Srour (r.i.p.) was considered to be the master of the the saxophone. Put two masters togethers and what do you get? 4 minutes and 36 seconds of the finest Balady with Samir Srour and Soher Zaki .
- Upper Egypt Ensemble: Saidi Party (Modern Saidi) 3:22 From “Ya Halawa”(Upper Egypt Ensemble)
And now we have the origins of the sound of the Balady taqsim straight from the Said. This is a pleasant sounding Saidi piece, but it sounds too organized and composed for my Saidi sensibilities. Although I think it would be a little boring to use for a solo performance piece, I think it would be excellent and maybe even exciting for a group choreography.
- Bassil Moubayyed: Sahra (Classical Egyptian) 4:44 From “Bellydance Vol. 2”(Violin by Bassil Moubayyed)
Just like the version of Aziza in this CD, once a standard has been set – it is very very difficult to accept anything but the original. As I said before, the “official” version of this song Sahara City aka as Sahara and in this case, Sahra was released in the vinyl put out by violinist Aboud Abdel Al. This is the version that all the musicians I know, know and use. Although this version by Bassil Moubayyed is very good, I can’t help but be put off by the very few and subtle differences. It is good, but it isn’t Aboud Abdel Al’s version. However, I am sure that dancer’s who haven’t had the pleasure of knowing “my” version will love, accept and use this version with great gusto.
- Sami Nossair Orchestra: Tamr Henna (Classical Egyptian) 5:56 From “Cairo Delight”(Conducted by Sami Nossair)
This song, once a very earthy and balady dance piece performed by Naima Akef, has now become a mainstay for many dancers to use as an entrance piece for their Oriental dance performances. This particular version is quite beautiful, and with the kanun taqsim it becomes an entire Oriental dance performance in one song.
- Fatme Serhan: Ala Warag il Foull (Egyptian Balady) 4:41 From “The Queen of Balady” (Vocal by Fatme Serhan)
Fatme Serhan – just hearing her voice makes the body want to move and dance. I’ve always felt that you are only as good as your support (musicians and singers) and with Fatme as your support, you’ve gotta be great. Her album “The Queen of Balady” is a wonderful album and this piece “Ala Warag il Foull” with her “Mawal” and “Taht il Shibak” from the same album are just that wonderful combination for the great and powerful show that you are capable of doing with your Fatme support system.
- Al Ahram Orchestra: Layalli al Sharq (Modern Egyptian) 8:00 From “Layalli al Sharq”(Ahmad Gebaly)
Yes, this song truly does evoke images of an Oriental Night. Warm winds and light sand, camels in the desert racing to the next oasis, a campfire with tea and coffee brewing, and dancing girls. Then in come the men accompanied by the Iraqi chobi rhythm, not doing a line dance but with promises of love and laughter. There’s an accordion flirtation with an invitation to…as the winds howl in the distance. But there’s resistance to enter the tent of love without sufficient knowledge of what’s in store. As you waltz, tease and keep your distance you find your resistance lowering as once more persuasions and promises are made until finally you know this is Layalli al Sharq.
- Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak: Raks el Sheik (Arabian Cabaret) 5:06 From “Strictly Belly Dance Vol. 5”(Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak)
At one time every Middle Eastern dance teacher worth her salt had her extensive collection of Eddie “the Sheik” records. He (and George Abdo) probably had more influence on the Arabic dance world entering the mainstream with their Amerabic versions of Arabic music. Transition music to make it palatable to the foreign (American) ear. Now we finally can and hopefully do understand something of this odd sounding music. This piece “Raks el Sheik” is a beautiful song and in many ways sounds like some of the beautiful music from Zanzibar – an island, a people dedicated to preserving and presenting the old and a time-machine. This is what Eddie did. He gave us Arabic and Amerabic music with memories of the glorious past.
To sum it up –this CD is a great sampler CD.
If you want to hear some of the best and can’t afford to buy all 14 of the above albums, you’re in luck. These are all great pieces. Of course, you’ll like some of the songs more than others, but really, they’re all great. And if you really like one of the songs, then you most probably will like the rest of the album from which it came.
Veils off and quadruple drum rolls and zaghareets to Mher Panossian for his taste in putting together this album.
Masters 1- 4 zils
*Magensi-Use here to mean the entrance song to a typical Oriental dance routine such as Mashaal or Princess of Cairo.
Ready for more?
- 3-15-08 The Magic Sounds Studio of Cairo, 3 Albums reviewed and Compared
CDs- Oriental Fantasy #12- Talisman, Nesma:Del Nilo al Guadalquivir (From the Nile to the Guadalquivir),Nesma, Memories of Cairo.
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.
- 12-6-07 IBDC- Part 1 A Brand New Idea for Belly Dance: The Festival Idea in its Formative Years
I’m speaking of a festival and its promoters that promised more than they were able to deliver.
- 1-7-08 IBDC Part 2:- A Gilded Serpent tale, Alex in wonderland,
Unfortunately, the event did not draw the amount of vendors he had expected and, I believe, because he himself had not yet made a reputation for himself as a credible festival producer, he did not get the numbers of the dancers he wished for. Belly dancers are special people and Alex personally did not understand their basic nature.
- 1-25-04 Chapter 1: One Ad Changed My Life
I was very desperate and determined to get back to my old self.
- 3-24-04 Chapter 2: "I’d Rather Stay Home with my Kids"
I asked her how to take it off, and she told me to figure it out when I was on stage. Then I heard – "Our "guest" dancer, Amina, all the way from upstairs!"
- 4-17-07 Chapter 3: A Marriage Made in North Beach
The stage was alight with the flames of the candelabrum’s candles and the eerie glow of her costume. Fatma’s costumes were always comprised of material that glowed in the dark as her show began with no light—except for “black light”.
- 9-17-07 Changes: Egyptian Dance – Has it crossed the line?
Both festivals, held in Giza were isolated and insulated from the people and the Cairo that I know and love.