Gilded Serpent presents...

Recreating the Live Sounds of Egypt

Yasmin’s "Dancing with Genies-Hafla al Afareet"

CD Review by Amina Goodyear
posted June 25, 2010

"Belly dance isn’t what is used to be…"

"Yet in spite of the globalization of Raqs al-Sharqi there are only four places in the world where the cabaret versions of the dance have evolved into unique variations: Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and the United States. Egypt is the birthplace of the dance as we know it today, and the Lebanese version is a recent offshoot from it. Turkish cabaret is much older, with roots going back to the migration of the Rom in the 1100s and the Ottoman Empire. The American version is a melting pot of many nationalities, combined with Jazz and Ballet. It first emerged in Vaudeville and was later refined in cities with large Middle Eastern communities, such as Boston, New York, Chicago and Detroit. Then, in the 1960s, California dancers developed modern fusion styles."

"For students and professionals alike, it is important to understand how the dance has evolved. No art form exists in a vacuum. Movements, rhythms and gestures develop within cultural contexts. Old ways quickly disappear. Societies change and their dances with them. Today global communication is homogenizing our world at lightning speed. Even this ancient art form is being adapted to fit the present accelerated pace. Yet no one style is right or wrong. The old forms are as valid as the new.  As Artemis Mourat is famous for saying, ‘They are all branches of the same tree.’  "But the roots of that tree must be remembered and protected. Without them the topmost leaves will wither from lack of water and nutrients. Their sap feeds us all. Change is inevitable, but amnesia is not." 

…"Let us conclude with the expression ‘AmCab’. In the fast food culture of America today, many students look for shortcuts. [The expression ‘AmCab’, meaning American Cabaret, is a perfect example.] Some want to perform before they are ready. Rather than go deeper into the dance, they gloss over important details. Rather than learn the movements and idioms fully, they layer one on top of the other so that the dance becomes a blur. Some performers so complicate what they do that their interpretation hardly resembles the original art form, or any other dance found in the Middle East. We respect the Evolution of Dance theory: newer styles are as legitimate as the older ones. We only want to emphasize that this dance is more complex than what can be learned in 6 months. We urge people to respect its roots and go to the sources first. Then we use solid technique as a springboard for creativity and fusion."
Artemis Mourat and Yasmin 

What you just read above are excerpts from an extremely thoughtful booklet that accompanies the CD: "Dancing with Genies". "Dancing with Genies"  was produced by Yasmin of Washington D.C. and is a collaboration between her, her lifelong friends, and her musical colleagues, the Henkesh Family of Cairo, Egypt. In addition to the accompanying booklet (in itself is worth the price of the CD), "Dancing with Genies"has two complete dance routines plus a bonus drum solo. The pieces are performed by The Sayed Henkesh Ensemble, arranged and recorded by Sayed Henkesh at Symphony, Cairo, and mixed at Mercury Studios, USA by Donna Sayada.

The First Set..

…brings to mind a show that could have been set in the 1970s or 1980s. This could be music for dancers such as Sohair Zaki–but most probably, Yasmin. This set begins with:

  • Leyali Rouqash, a typical Oriental dance opening, complete with rhythm and mood changes. It has the requisite taqsim beginning followed by a drum and def, heavy entrance with breaks and plenty of opportunity for turns, sections to greet the audience and to enter like a star. The melodic walk-arounds introduce more breaks that lead to another melodic section with a phrase from Sitt el Hosn an old familiar – which was popular at that time. The piece builds with playful excitement and ends as it begins–with the drums playing out more opportunities to finish like a star. Thus the stage is set for the show to begin and enhance the energy.
  • Cry to the Moon – This Nay taqsim brings a calm to the audience and helps to bridge the entrance to the next transition.
  • Adulla 3 3ala Keefik, which is a favorite song of mine. (Idellaa aala Keefek is how I personally spell it. ) **note: the number 3 = the Arabic alphabet "ain" sound which has no equivalent in our language except in the baaa baaa of a sheep.) I first found this song on what I call "taqsim beladi drum cassettes with Sohair Zaki on the cover and it is such a cute and memorable song. The word dellaa has no real translation in English but it means something like a Betty Boop type character who is kind of spoiled, coquettish and gets her way through manipulation. In songs, she may have a high-pitched or whiney voice. So, you can see that this song can be a lot of fun to dance and is open to lots of "cute" and self-expressive response. Actually, I don’t  know anyone who doesn’t like this song; it’s a real crowd pleaser. Best of all, Yasmin has a great translation of it in her booklet.
  • Miasia’s Beladi is a very familiar and comfortable beladi taqsim that Yasmin calls beladi progression and that is exactly what it is. It progresses from a "foghorn" drone with sax intro to the typical accordion voice that builds in speed and nuances while conversing with the tabla. Some say that only an Egyptian is capable of playing and drumming a beladi taqsim so that is has the proper feeling. This piece says it all, and, of course, it is played by Egyptians.
  • The next piece, Saidi Medley is a Metqal Qanawi cocktail (minus the Saidi singer) with some reference to Mahmud Reda‘s signature men’s stick dance (Tahtib). It is an upbeat piece that invites you and the audience to hop, jump, dance or just hum along.
  • Pulse of the Sphinx is a drum solo by the one and only Khamis Henkesh. This is a great example of why he is such a popular drummer; his drumming is concise, elaborate, quick, slow; the tones are clear, light, soft, sharp, varied; the rhythm is simple and complex; the tempo builds and best of all the solo is grouped in fours and very easy to follow.
  • Finale Leyali Rouqash is exactly that. It is a continuation of the entrance piece and lets you end and exit as you entered. Like a star!

Additional comments on First Set:
Some pieces sound like they were additions to an original dance set such as the Cry to the Moon nay taqsim piece, which also seemed a tad too long.

The zagharut in Adulla3 3alla Keefik seemed too predictable and not loud enough or long enough. Was it done by a human or a keyboard?


The Second Set…

…is my favorite of the two sets. It evokes music and dance from even an earlier time–perhaps from the Golden Age of Egypt.

  • Al Radwa, the opening piece, is very classical and sentimental in feeling and could be used as stand-alone music in a dance festival (6 min. 40 sec.) There is a nice mood-setting prelude. When the dance begins, it is with drums and defs playing a typical malfouf entrance with the violins calling the dancer to enter. A melodic section with masmoudi rhythm continues the romantic mood until the next section returns with malfouf and double time maqsoum changes the tempo and mood to a more exciting and slightly folkloric feeling. A nay taqsim follows and returns the romantic mood as it introduces a segment in 3/4 waltz tempo which gradually escalates in intensity and speed as it shifts to a malfouf finale. More star time!
  • Pixie paradise is a typical yet beautiful taqsim on the qanoun and the qanoun taqsim segues into the next track.
  • Ya 3aziz 3eini the music of Sayyid Darwish.(1892-1923) As Yasmin mentions in her booklet,
    "This piece is an ideal example of why a dancers should know the lyrics of a song before performing to it. A happy melody does not always imply that joy is expressed in the words." Please read the translation she provides in the booklet.
    Sayyid Darwish, often called the father of Modern Egyptian music, managed to marry classical Arab forms and Egyptian folklore with Western harmony and musical instruments, creating thus the model for the music we know and love today. This is the music that would later be created for the likes of the incomparable Om Kalsoum and her composers such as Mohamed Abdel Wahab. (Picture electric guitar and cello next to qanoun, oud and riq.) Like many of Sayyid Darwish’s songs, this song may sound sweet and flirtatious, but it’s really about social unrest.
  • Raqsa Masriyya al Helween is a short song by Sayed Henkesh. It sounds sentimental, proud, and patriotic, following in the tradition of Sayyid Darwish’s song and is a smooth bridge to the Beladi that follows. In my opinion, less than a minute is a trifle short. I would like to have heard it at least twice as long.
  • Beladi Melody is a beladi taqsim or progression. It’s roots are probably in the Said because it starts with the "horse".  The accordion (which replaces the rababa as the instruments became urbanized) is calling the dancing Arabian horse to "do it’s thing", dancing and prancing. This taqsim continues on to Aminti Bellah and Ya Hassan (two pieces that are typically used in beladi taqsim) and it ends with an increasing sense of urgency as the drum and melody play question/answer until finally the music arrives at a fulfilled climax.
  • Saidi Cane follows the beladi taqsim and is suitable for a relaxed "walk-around" type cane dance with audience interaction.
  • 3 Minute Mona – This pleasant drum solo by Ramadan Henkesh shows yet another talented drummer in the Henkesh family. It has a very strong maqsoum base (with defs) and Ramadan treats us to lots of quick rolls and riffs on the tabla which like Pulse of the Sphinx by Khamis, are fun and easy to follow.
  • The Finale completes the second set with the same malfouf ending as in Al Radwa. Again–exit the star!
  • Pulse of the Sphinx, played by Khamis Henkesh, is a longer version of the drum solo from the first set and is constructed for the dancer who enjoys long drum solos. It is not mixed as well as its shorter version, but makes up for it with the additional drum riffs, enabling the dancer to do more. Also this (as well as the other two drum solos in the album) is an excellent piece for practice as it is dancer-friendly with solid predictable repetitions, building progressions, and finale.

Additional comments on the Second Set:
If the qanoun taqsim is used as part of the dance set, it seems a bit too long.

The Saidi Cane piece seems to go nowhere; however, "interaction with the audience" could also be translated as a good "tipping" song.

Regarding the 3 Minute Mona: used as a straight maqsoum solo, it does not build. Also, the tabla is mixed differently and doesn’t pop out with clarity. It doesn’t have the same effects and reverberation as Pulse of the Sphinx.

General comments:

cdUpon first hearing this CD, I liked, no, I loved, the way it sounded like a live show. Exciting! Nevertheless, I question why some tracks sounded like they were recorded in a sterile studio. As a CD with different tracks, this wouldn’t matter, but as a CD that is actually two dance sets with a bonus drum solo, it didn’t make sense to my ears or feet and body.

Regarding the sounds that recollect all those great bands in Egypt, (the big def sounds): These sounds mean the adrenalin is kicking in, and you’re salivating from excitement and anticipation! These are the major sounds that I (and countless other dancers) have tried to capture with recording devices in purses and under tables in clubs. These big def sounds are there in this CD, recalling many memorable ear-splitting smoky evenings on al-Haram Street.

Somehow, they get killed somewhat by the sterile studio mixes of some of the other pieces. I know that Yasmin was trying to recreate the shows that she lived. In my opinion it might have been better to implement the solo instruments between more of the pieces through short modulations as bridges for the moods and maqamqat. It would have balanced the piece better to use them as a stand-alone longer solo taqsim in only two instances.

While the pieces as separate entities are wonderful, some of the pieces linked together to form a complete dance unit feel uncomfortable. A short (exceedingly short) taqsim added here or there would make a smoother transition.

I wish she had listed the instruments and the musicians; however, I surmise that she probably would have, had she known.

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  1. Barbara Grant

    Jun 26, 2010 - 02:06:12

    I was very happy with my two previous purchases from the same vendor (Serpentine) and if this one incorporates a booklet, like the CD on the Zar did, so much the better! I’ve received high value for my money so far from this organization. If this is anything like what I’ve previously purchased, it is likely to be a gem.

  2. Nepenthe

    Jul 1, 2010 - 06:07:01

    This is one of my favorite reviews of all time. Al Radwa is one of my favorite songs, and I listen to this music a lot.
    Great review – the booklet is great but your review added even more to my understanding.

  3. Barbara Grant

    Jul 4, 2010 - 03:07:10

    Nepenthe, you’re right! I’ll try to use this review as a model if I do any!

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