Gilded Serpent presents...

In the Land of Big Sound

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The Masters of Bellydance Music, Vol 2
The Farha Tour, Sydney 2008
The Essence of Bellydance

CD by Tracy Benton
posted November 4, 2010

All three of these CDs I am reviewing here are for the fans of big, full, sound, with lots of variation in instrumentation, changes in volume and tempo, and plenty of drama–in short, the music you might want for your big show! When you want to fill the room with music, these CDs are exceptional choices.

MastersThe Masters of Bellydance Music, Volume 2  by many of today’s major players in Belly dance music has a little something for everyone. From “Set Al Hosen” to “Shik Shak Shok” and from Gizira Band to Mosavo, it covers the bases. Need a drum solo? How about the classic “Sahra Saidi” by Gamal Goma? If you desire a fun sha’abi number, try the slightly naughty “Shokolata” by Sami Ali. If you were buying a CD as a gift for a dancer and you weren’t quite sure what she liked or what she already owned, this would be the one CD to buy for its sheer variety. With 14 tracks from three to six minutes, it’s a great show builder… if you can settle on your favorites, which might be difficult!

The most successful tracks on this album for me included the drummer Said el Artist’s “Afrah al Tabla”, which I understand roughly to mean joy of the drum. I’m not generally a drum solo fan, but I very much enjoyed this percussion piece with multiple rhythms, unusual finger cymbal patterns, and a lot of exuberance. I also enjoyed the Ahmed Abdel Fattah version of “Daret Al Ayam”; it’s lyrical and short without excessive complications.

The liner notes on this CD should also be given special praise for including brief bios of most of the included artists, a great jumping-off point for the dancer who wants to hear more.

Product purchase information:
Hollywood Music Center

Rating: 4 Zils
Rating: four zills

Amira CDFarha Tour – Sydney 2008 is a quite different collection. Recorded at a Sydney performance of dancers and musicians from the Farha festival in Egypt, it’s an album full of absolutely faithful live music, not a prepackaged or remastered promotional item. If you were lucky enough to be at the performance, featuring Randa Kamel,  I can only imagine that this would be a wonderful keepsake to have. While the Fer’et El Negoum Orchestra seems to have been small (keyboards, violin, nai, accordion, percussion, and two singers), it certainly sounds like they filled the auditorium without a problem. This CD would also be a good choice for someone who wants to reminisce about seeing Belly dance in Cairo, because the flow from song to song, from vocalist to soloist and back, certainly gives the feel of the professional shows in Egypt. As a set or choreography builder, this album might not have the sound clarity you want, but it’s undeniably authentic. When I first listened to it, I wasn’t too sure what to make of it, but it’s turned into something I appreciate listening to. “Kareat el Fengan” with themes from Scheherazade insinuated into the Abdel Halim Hafiz song, is very pleasant indeed.

Product purchase information: Amera’s Palace

Rating:3 zils
Rating: three zills 

EssenceThe Essence of Bellydance by the Al-Ahram Orchestra is a great find for those who want a mix of old and new in modern orchestrated music. Their slinky and sinuous take on “Tamr-Henna” is the cure for someone tired of the grandiose; “Sahrawi Ya Wad” is the answer for the dancer who wants weight and languor in a beladi. The fun “Soublil Alashra” is included for your khaliji collection.

The Al-Ahram Orchestra has been popping up on compilations here and there for some time (including the first volume of Masters of Bellydance Music, in fact), spreading their musical reputation through the dance community. Their own albums are generally well-recorded and feature a wide range of music, and also do the dancer the service of marking the type of music for each track on the liner notes (“Classical Egyptian,” “Modern Egyptian Balady”, et cetera). Any one of their albums would be a good addition to a collection, and Essence is a fine choice.

My attention was instantly drawn to the opening track, “Leylet Al Naseeb”, a seven and a half minute track marked as a “routine” but which is, I believe, actually a majensi. It has a wonderful flowing introduction for veil and arabesque work, then a fun bouncy theme for some saucy hips; a slow section with some gooey accordion changes the pace before giving way to a bouncy Beladi beat and a violin solo. Then there’s an interlude of waltz rhythm before returning to the opening theme for a sweeping finale. This tune would make a great class exercise in changing moods as well as a fine restaurant song. While I ought to point out weak spots in this album, it’s so much to my taste that I regret that I am unable to do so.

Product purchase information:
Hollywood Music Center

Rating: 4 Zils
Rating: four zills

When you consider your collection of Middle Eastern music, a lot has to do with your mood.  Some days you want to hear an intimate little ensemble with a handful of virtuoso musicians, but some days you want to wrap yourself in a rich, warm, room-filling sound. Let these albums envelop you and keep you warm this winter!

Available for purchase also through Amazon.com

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