Gilded Serpent presents...

Sabla Tolo I & II by Hossam Ramzy

Journeys in Pure Egyptian Percussion

Sabla Tolo 1 and 2

CD Review by Amina Goodyear
posted July 12, 2009

Hossam Ramzy came to San Francisco in the early 1990’s and it was a great treat to finally meet the percussionist who had created such a stir in the San Francisco dance scene with his music and percussion cassettes (my favorite was RoHe which still has one of my favorite beledy taqsims). All his cassettes were fun and danceable and his percussion cassette was also informative with spoken explanations of the rhythms preceding each rhythm. In a way he was a pioneer in the producing of drum rhythm albums that were useable for instruction and for dance or drum practice.

He had come to San Francisco to teach not a drum workshop, but a dance workshop.  When he arrived we quickly convinced him to also teach a drum workshop in my studio. His workshop was more informative and useful than most drum workshops I had taken. The class consisted of advanced level and professional drummers. 

Rather than going through all the basic drills that drummers already know or should know, he taught about playing – how to play and how to perform and he asked the class what they knew (this was not a test) so he could teach them what they needed to know.

However, when he taught the dance workshop he was met with some resistance. He had a dance assistant with him, Aischa of Switzerland, who was co-producer of his Stars of Egypt video series. The San Francisco dancers wanted to know why he was teaching the class and not Aischa. But this was his dance workshop, not hers. She was there to demonstrate how the movements looked on a female body – something that he could not do since he was a really a drummer in a large man’s body. He talked about the music and the phrasing, the instruments and what they said and what they asked the dancer to do and he talked about the drum rhythms. He then explained how and what to do with each.

He discussed listening, layering, interpretation, and translating movement.  Then he had Aischa demonstrate what he wanted us to do with the music. He was and is a dedicated and caring teacher.

Hossam and Hassam the Drum Maker
Hassan’s drum shop on Mohammed Ali street in Cairo in 1995. Hossam chooses a drum for the author by Hassan the drum maker, who stands by.

Since then Hossam has made and produced countless other cassettes and CDs. Many of them are Egyptian in sound and many are fusion of one sort or another generally with a Latin feeling. One thing that remains constant is his drumming – his style and his musicality and the high level of sound and quality control.

I have been involved with Arabic drums and drumming almost as long as I have been dancing. I got my first drum in 1966 and learned the basic rhythms. Through the years I studied drum and riq intensively and am a professional wannabe drummer.  Besides founding and co-founding several bands including the Cairo Cats and The Arabian Knights, I am a back-up percussionist for many local San Francisco drummers and have been playing constantly – weekly – for almost 15 years for Arabic dance bands that also include open stage dancing for 6 or more dancers an evening. Although I am not proficient enough in drumming to be the main drummer, I know how and what a drum solo is and how a drummer thinks and what he/she expects from the dancer.

There are several different structures of traditional drum solos. Here are three:

  • 2/4 to 4/4 – Standard Arabic drum solo with the malfoof riffs plus endings followed by masmoudi riffs plus endings, bridge riff, rolls and ending in maqsoum based solo.
  • 4/4 to 2/4 – Maqsoum riffs plus endings into double time maqsoum or fellahi
  • rolls into 4/4 (maqsoum or saidi) then 2/4 double time maqsoum, fellahi or ayoub.

The important thing to remember is that the drummer is working with you and you need to be conscious of this. It is a give and take. Inspiration brings more inspiration.

There are many different types of drummers. Each drummer I have worked with has a different approach. Some are dancer’s drummers and some are not. The ones that are not do not repeat the drum riffs. Hossam told me that he likes to play riffs or drum pattern combinations in sets of four so the dancer can hear, memorize and follow the drum.

Hossam is a dancer’s drummer. 

Hossam conceived, wrote, directed and produced the two CDs I am reviewing.

Sabla Tolo and Sabla Tolo II.

These are not just drum CDs. They are for the dancer and the drummer and as they are made by Hossam, the caring teacher and Hossam, the inspired drummer, they include much more than most CDs. The liner notes are actually small booklets.

In the booklets he wrote of his history and inspiration and he gave small introductions to each piece to provide you with an Arabic translation and a visual image to inspire you, the dancer to create. Also he broke down and counted out how many of this or that rhythm each piece had so you can readily understand, count out and choreography each piece.

Sabla Tolo — Drum Changes for Choreographies

  1. West Naima: 3:21
    Starts with question/answer, is natural and intuitive with a medium tempo that builds to a good finale. Good for class.
  2. Kholkhal Taheyya: 3:23
    Begins with a malfoof standard drum solo and is faster than the first solo. Bambi and other rhythms provide good breaks. In the middle there is a roll that turns the solo into a zar (spins and head tosses) and it ends with a Brazilian inspired fellahi finale.
  3. Khatwet Serena: 3:50
    Intro begins with drum breaks that become masmudi, then maqsoum and repeats until it becomes samba complete with bells. The saidi section has good endings and has an accented conversation with maqsoum. This piece builds to a great rolling end.
  4. Amiret el Sahara: 3:41
    This is a very melodic piece with drum breaks and a driving beat. The bambi beat breaks it up in the middle with questions and answers until saidi and then aadani rhythms drive the piece to an exciting end.
  5. Sha-awit Katie: 4:05
    The drums call out and are answered in karatchi. This conversation goes on for awhile. There are good repetitions that make the solo easy to follow. Bongos enter with lots of mood changes and the dialog gets more and more energized until it finally reaches a full and exciting conclusion complete with crash cymbals.
  6. Samya’s Solo: 3:17
    This starts with drum breaks and continues with trades between drum and cymbals – both crash and finger variety. There are many quick drum roll spurts until finally the saidi section turns into a samaai and a wahedeh that brings to my mind Sohair, not Samya. As usual, there is a driving finale.
  7. Brazilian Pearls: 2:52
    This is not my solo of choice as it becomes too Brazilian in sound for my traditional ears. However, I am sure that it is a favorite among many, including, of course,  Brazilians.
  8. Belhadawa walla Belshaawa: 3:34
    This starts with drum breaks and slowly eases its way into malfoof.  There are a lot of breaks and other accents and a dancer could really go wild with this piece. Just be careful to not hit every beat or you might look like a mad-man.
  9. Lucy, The Magnificent: 3:20
    I had the pleasure to go to Lucy’s nightclub The Parisiana with Hossam and got to see the two in action together. This elegant drum solo that starts off rather slow and dramatic with a riq solo can be very powerful. There is a good use of drum – cymbal exchanges, question and answer and an accented ending that makes this solo as memorable as seeing Lucy and Hossam in the flesh.
  10. Dalloua: 3:47
    This flirtatious solo is so cute and animated I can almost hear the drums speaking Arabic. Some of the riffs sound like words to me. Seems like there are two people communicating. A great piece for a duet. Cute!
  11. We Baadin Ommaal: 4:04
    This solo has nice breaks and trades. The bambi in the middle with the question and answer section has a settling effect.
  12. El Genneyya: 3:56
    The drum roll announces a special solo filled with various rhythms that gently roll into each other.
  13. Ghareeb: 4:00
    This is Hossam’s special treat for himself and other drummers and can be a challenge to dancers. In this piece we too are treated to new and special rhythms created just for us!

In conclusion Sabla Tolo is a CD for dancers and teachers to listen to while reading its accompanying booklet.

Take advantage of the solo breakdowns and learn the names and time signatures of the rhythms used, then use it as a guide to make a choreography. 

Sabla Tolo II –Drum Grooves and Get Down

  1. Wana Be-ied Annak: 5:06
    This solo inspires a dancer to just dance as each section flows into the next.
  2. Harrira & Basboosa: 3:15
    This special solo starts with another of Hossam’s own rhythms. It is unique and catchy. Hossam deftly morphs the odd rhythms of Morocco and the even rhythms of Egypt into a very danceable piece.
  3. My Brazilian Pearl: 4:06
    This solo is not the same as “Brazilian Pearls” from Hossam’s first Sabla Tolo album. He composed this for his Brazilian wife, and while it has some samba in it, it is less Brazilian and more Arabic fusion in feeling.
  4. El Esma wel Ma-soom: 4:09
    A great piece for teachers to use in class.
  5. Amar el Sahara: 4:31
    I love the way the rhythms fall into each other.
  6. Wady Samba ala el Malfuf: 3:24
    This is a true marriage of the Egyptian to the Brazilian.
  7. Halloween: 4:16
    Hossam had fun composing this.
  8. Oyoun el Fallaha: 3:46
    Did Hossam’s arm break off playing back-up for his fast rolls and spurts?
  9. Ya Gama-a: 3:42
    You’ve heard of drum circles? Well in class, we have dance circles and each change challenges a different dancer to do her best.
  10. Hawary al Qahira: 4:12
    Opening with another of Hossam’s new rhythms this lively piece cleverly goes from one rhythm to another. The middle section conjures up images of groups of people talking, dancing and playing.
  11. La’ Bel Hadawa: 3:08
    This is a great piece to dance to – just flows and goes at an easy pace yet it has nice accents to keep it interesting.
  12. Ya Saha-eyya: 4:17
    Yet another drum solo for the dancer to play with – go easy on the accents as this is not just a drum solo; it is a dance that happens to have drums as the only instruments.
  13. Rakataka: 3:59
    If the drums could sing, they would be singing rakataka and more.

In conclusion Sabla Tolo II is my favorite of the two CDs reviewed. I very much like the more spontaneous feel this CD has over the overly composed original Sabla Tolo. Although it, too, has many rhythm changes, it feels like it keeps going back to the same theme. I would compare Sabla Tolo I to an Oriental dance opening song and Sabla Tolo II to a more traditional song.

Hossam is a true master of the rhythm and the instruments he uses to make it happen. The above two albums, while composed for dance and choreography, and are great lessons in learning drum rhythms and structures are Hossam’s vehicles for subconsciously training the dancers’ ears to the nuances of rhythmic progressions.

Zil rating
3 for Hossam’s Sabla Tolo 1,
3 zil rating
3.5 for Hossam’s Sabla Tolo 2,
3.5 zil rating


Return to intro for Heartbeat of the Dance: Review of 4+ Drum Solo CDs by Amina Goodyear

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