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3 Music CD Reviews: The Dancer’s Choice

Amera – Asal: Music for Arabic Dance
Soul Nahawnd – Music for Kitty
Leila presents Sukara: Egyptian Bellydance Music Vol. 2

by Tracy Benton
posted May18, 2010

It’s always intriguing to find music presented by or influenced by a particular dancer. What does it mean for the album in question: was the music composed for the dancer? Did the dancer participate in the composition or recording of the music? Perhaps she worked with the musicians to select the arrangements… perhaps she chose already-recorded tracks… without inside information it’s difficult to say, except to conclude that certainly the dancer’s taste is on display. Here are three such CDs for your consideration:

Amera Asal

Amera – Asal: Music for Arabic Dance

Amera of Australia has been dancing for more than two decades and has performed all over the Arab world; this CD probably reflects what she likes to see in an Arabic music album. First of all, most of the songs have translations in the liner notes! The first track, a majensi, is an instrumental version of "Min Gher Leh" — but she includes the song lyrics anyway, with the note

"This is the actual wording of the song, though not sung as a vocal track on this CD, it is always good to know what the original lyrical version conveyed." Amera knows dancers need to understand what the music is about.

This CD has a variety of types of music on it: the opening majensi, the perky "Ya Wad Ya Eskanderany", a driving drum solo, and the title track, the classic Sabah song "Zay al Asal" (Like Honey). The CD also offers three Khaleegy numbers: two modern-sounding songs and a drum solo that will start you moving! (I believe the CD is a companion to Amera’s "Learn to Dance Khaleegy" DVD.) The tracks are of varying lengths, from under two minutes to just over seven. The music does sound synthesized, but the "instruments" were not tweaked into sounding too unnatural. While the CD doesn’t offer a standout "star track," it’s a solid addition to a collection, particularly for those wanting to add more khaleegy music to the library.

Rating: three zils
Zil Rating- 3

Purchase directly from the artist here:


Soul Nahawnd* – Music for Kitty

This Yousry Sharif production was assembled for dancer Kitty Lam, a longtime protege of his who performs and teaches in Hong Kong. Yousry Sharif’s CDs over the years have added many a "standard" to bellydancers’ sets, most notably with the Wash ya Wash series. This album has a similar feel, jumping right in to the "Raqset Kitty! Oriental." Composed by Reda Saad specifically for Kitty, it includes several tempo changes and solos by various instruments, a wonderful entrance for your restaurant set. It’s followed by an upbeat "Medley" featuring smooth vocals, then "Taqsim Rainbow" including ney and violin solos.

The taqsims were a little disappointing; they did not need to be laid over peppy synthesized drums during the last third of the track–I thought they would have stood alone nicely.

A rumba track is thrown in as a bonus before the sparkling "Raqset Kitty Finale."

The usual short drum solo, "Samah Huss!" throws variety in the face of the usual by layering some very deep drum sounds against the doumbek, and later adding vocal sounds and cymbal crashes. It is certainly memorable. The last four tracks present another set of music that could be used together; "Amar el Layali" is another orientale composed for Kitty, this one by Mounir Abdel Aziz. In this set I found the Nubian folk tune "Trilla" to be particularly catchy and fun. At 4:35 it would make a great basis for a class choreography, but one might wish for a translation of the lyrics. Overall, this album offers some fine options for the solo dancer if she is a fan of the Yousry Sharif production style.

Rating: three zills
Zil Rating- 3

Leila presents Sukara: Egyptian Bellydance Music Vol. 2

Leila of Cairo started her bellydance career in Seattle . She has danced in Cairo since 2002 and this is one of two CDs she has sponsored. The opening majensi, "Leila Sukara," was written for her by Reda Saad (whose work appears on many modern CDs — no coincidence that he composed for Kitty’s album as well).

The remainder of the tracks on this album are big, lush full-orchestra arrangements of favorites – old and new — just as if you were to see Leila in a fancy hotel in Cairo!

While the liner notes give an idea of the song lyrics, I did wish that the play times appeared somewhere. This version of "Esmaooni," for example, turned out to be over seven minutes long, and the Abdel Halim Hafez classic "Mo’aood" is eleven.

The sound on this album is perhaps not as crisp as it could be. It’s almost as if the orchestra was recorded in one of those huge hotel ballrooms, despite the fact that it was recorded in the same studio as Soul Nahawnd. But if you’re looking for big-sounding recordings of very traditional dance music, from "Beledi al Wad" to Oum Kalthoums "Ansak," you are likely to find something to like on this album. My favorite was actually the original "Leila Sukara" with its encyclopedia of rhythm and mood changes.

Rating: two zills
Zil Rating- 2

No matter how deeply a dancer is involved with album production, the resulting CD bears her name (and usually photo!) for all to see. Even if your taste and hers do not agree, you may rest assured that the music on the CD will be danceable — and that’s not always the case.

*We found this spelled variously “Nahawnd” and “Nahawand.

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  1. Amina GoodyearNo Gravatar

    May 17, 2010 - 10:05:47

    Personally I love Leila’s Sukara CD. I use it in my classes all the time. Partially because I like the CD, but mostly because my students always ask for certain songs in it. There aren’t too many CDs out there that have good sound AND have a “live” feeling. We especially like the way the tabla plays the accents. It can be a bit challenging to pick up all the pops and slaps (without memorization) but that’s what makes this CD so exciting and ALIVE. It’s like working with a real drummer, not a machine.
    And we love the singing.
    Our favorites are Esmaooni, Salamit Om Hassan, Ansak, Min hob fik ya ghari with Taht il Shabak and Mo’aood.
    Actually the majensee is our least used track in the piece as it is so typical and  predictable.
    Tonight when I mentioned that the CD only got a 2 zil rating, my students couldn’t believe it because it’s at least a 3 1/2 in our dance school. A number of my students have also used a number of these songs in shows – especially Mo’aood and Esmaooni. They just used their music software to adjust to allotted time requirements. They would rather do that than find a piece of lesser music because it is the requisite 5 min.
    Also, I know  that Leila has put out at least 3 CDs not 2.

  2. Yasmin HenkeshNo Gravatar

    May 19, 2010 - 08:05:00

    Sukara is Leila’s 2nd CD – Helwa was first and Om al Dunya, her most recent release, is third. I too, am curious as to why the reviewer only gave this album 2 zills. Of all Leila’s CDs this one was the most popular, selling over 2000 copies (a blockbuster for belly dance music). Obviously many people thought it was worth buying and from feedback I have received would rate it higher than 2. Beauty is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder –  but I am curious to see what would rank a 4 to this reviewer.

  3. Tracy BentonNo Gravatar

    May 19, 2010 - 11:05:25

    I am happy to explain further why I did not give this CD three zils: it was the fuzzy sound of the recording. (Two zils, incidentally, is “average,” not bad.) When I compared the CD with the sound clarity of the other CDs I had to review, I could not give it the same rating.  The CD also lacked track length times printed on the CD cover, which is something many dancers have mentioned as something they really want to know before purchasing a CD.
    Reviews are highly subjective. It’s all what you like. But I think clear sound quality on a CD is very important.


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