Gilded Serpent presents...

Three New Music CDs: New York, Lebanon, and Worldwide

Sayyah, BDSS 6, BD New York

Tracy Benton reviews 3 Cds

Reviewed by Tracy Benton
posted February 4, 2010

Three good albums came to me for review:

  • one a fine choice for a student,
  • one a good choice for lovers of original music,
  • and another for the dancer who wants everything!

"BellyDance New York with Amir Naoum" is the companion CD for the World Dance (New York) instructional DVD: "Bellydance Show Basics for Beginners". Companion CDs for instructional videos are excellent tools for students, and this particular collection of music would be particularly valuable for a dancer starting her own CD library. The 14 tracks on this album include many Bellydance classics, from the decades-old "Mustafa ya Mustafa" to the centuries-old "Lama Bada", as well as several original compositions. A small ensemble, led by drummer Amir Naoum Chehade, performs on oud, violin, bazouki, qanoun, bass, a range of Middle Eastern percussion, and some synthesized instruments. The synthesizer is not prominent, but well-balanced with the live instruments.

This album is notable for its structure. The first track, "Bellydance Mini-Show", is a good example of how a short multi-part show might be put together: entering to "Mustafa ya Mustafa", segueing to the rumba "Bir Demet Yasemin", then the more upbeat, traditional "Ya Ain Mulayatain", followed by a dreamy chiftitelli, an upbeat drum solo, and ending with a fast finale to the Armenian song "Soode Soode". There you have it in 6:34 minutes! However, full length versions of each of these tracks is also available on the CD. This makes for an excellent lesson to a newer dancer on how a multi-part routine comes from sections of longer songs, and it also demonstrates how a live band can easily transition from rhythm to rhythm and tempo to tempo.

The CD is otherwise full of very useful musical tracks, with the standouts being the "Hagallah Drum Solo", featuring several tempo changes, and the vocal and instrumental versions of "Lama Bada" in languorous 10/8. "Ciftitelli Takasim 2" includes winding oud and violin solos that would make it a natural for floor work. This is an exceptional building-block CD.

Rating: three zils

Modern Bellydance from Lebanon: Jalilah represents a recent entry in Emad Sayyah’s long series of Bellydance CDs.  If you like them, since these come out almost annually, you have the pleasure of snapping them up on a regular basis! One thing most of these albums have in common is extensive liner notes, including translated song lyrics — something many dancers appreciate greatly. Sayyah wrote and produced all the music on "Jalilah", and the tracks have a very modern sound despite full use of traditional instruments like hand percussion, oud, qanoun, and violin. Some tracks include synthesized keyboard sounds and modern drum set. (I was a little surprised to hear a bit of cowbell in one song.)

The sixteen tracks here range from two to six and a half minutes, so lengthwise, they provide several choices to work with when creating a performance. Of the drum solos, my favorite was the very short "Mona Mona", which starts off slowly and gives a dancer several different tempo changes to play with and many rolls to interpret as desired. Of the longer instrumental songs, I found "Akhtar Min Sihir" danceable and energetic with many tempo changes and thematic repeats–not to mention one very catchy musical theme I caught myself humming later. While most of the tracks on the album have an insistent-pounding-drums feel, "Salina" begins with a lyrical cello solo and slides into a dramatic ciftitelli-type Wahda Tawila rhythm. The finale features call and response between the percussion and the band is fun, but the band seemed a bit shortchanged at only one bar of response between drum fills.

The songs featuring vocals on this album were not very much to my taste. The backing vocals on this album are mixed as if a large chorus is singing harmonies standing quite far from the microphone in an echoing room, and I don’t personally care for the effect. However, only five of the songs on "Jalilah" have vocals at all, so it’s scarcely an album-wide situation.

If you have enjoyed Emad Sayyah’s other CDs, you are in luck; you will probably like this one too. If you are seeking crisply-produced modern-sounding original music, "Jalilah" may very well have the music you are looking for.

Rating: three zils

Bellydance Superstars Volume VI is a recent entry in Miles Copeland’s series. As usual, it is a compilation of songs from various artists. Compilation CDs are by their nature a mixed bag, but represent a great chance to hear from an unfamiliar artist and perhaps meet a new favorite. My clear number one on this album is the second track, "Aiwa Ah" by Manar. The song crosses heavy folk feeling with a pop sensibility for an irresistible mix. All I know about Manar is that she’s Lebanese, and that’s one place I would take the Bellydance Superstars albums to task: scanty liner notes. It would be great to know more about these highly varied artists.

Tracks on this album are clear and feature a full dynamic range, but are well-balanced; while some compilation albums make you adjust the volume constantly between tracks, no such problem exists here! This is fairly remarkable when considering the transition between the raucous "Netgawez" of Ameina and the sweeping orchestral "Tribute to Um Kalthoum" of Ahmed Bergaoui. At just under four minutes, the "Tribute" might be a good choice for a dancer wishing to add just a taste of the classic to a routine, though it might not satisfy a purist.

This CD also brings back some favorite artists from the previous volumes of the series. Issam Houshan is back with "Baladi Accordion", which begins with a traditional accordion taxim, adds a conversation with the drum and finally some backing instruments; this manages to sound traditional and modern at the same time. Modern fusion from DJ Elie Attieh returns with "Deja Vu" and driving beats from Saad with "Salam Alaikoum"guaranteed to start the crowd dancing. Wrapping things up is Beats Antique, showing off tribal fusion concepts with "Escape".

"Volume VI" is a mixed bag of music indeed, with only a few obvious holes: no real candidates for an Orientale, few slow tempos. However, the wide range of styles means there’s something for nearly everyone on the album.

Rating: three zils

 

Good dance music comes from all around the world. Travel to destination of your choice next time you’re seeking great songs, and keep these ports of call in mind!

 

 

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