Pirating Recorded Music
by Horacio Cifuentes
posted February 1, 2011
“But others do it, too!” was the answer we received from a well known International Belly dance instructor, Khaled Mahmoud. The Egyptian born dancer, now residing in London, felt that with that statement he was free of any kind of wrong-doing concerning pirating of music, a subject that has served for many discussions among the Belly dance community recently.
In order to explain how we even arrived at the point of receiving such an answer, from Khaled Mahmoud, I would like to tell you a little bit about how Beata and I ended up becoming music producers at all:
The idea of producing music was the furthest from my mind when I was first learning how to dance. I have been in love with dance since my childhood, and attended several dance academies throughout the world in disciplines such as classical ballet, modern dance, flamenco, etc.
While I was a member of the San Francisco Ballet, I used to enjoy a relaxing yoga session at the Baptiste Center after the long rehearsal days, and it was there that I discovered the legendary Magana Baptiste and her Royal Academy of Bellydance. Soon I found myself taking her lessons. That was the start of a life-long passion for Oriental dancing.
On the other side of the globe, another passion was being born about the same time. Beata walked into a book and music store lured by the sound of Om Kalthoum. She studied at a performing arts school in Berlin. Her focus was mainly Modern dance, Jazz, Ballet, Tap and Flamenco. However, once discovering Oriental dancing, Beata knew that she had found home. It was during this period that Bert Balladine had begun to travel to Berlin, and they became friends. Bert became Beata’s teacher and mentor, and through him, she was introduced to the dance world in the United States.
Several years later, I met Beata, and we became dance partners. Shortly thereafter, we married, and I transferred to Berlin, Germany, where we co-direct an academy for Oriental dance, Ballet and other dance styles.
Our first trip to Cairo together took place in the early nineties. Beata had been to Cairo several times before, but for me, it was an awakening experience to see a dancer framed by a 35 piece orchestra! We realized then that Egyptian dancers draw from their musicians, and their ability to deliver such strong performances lies within their magnificent orchestras.
After I saw my first Egyptian dancer (Mona Said), Beata and I went on a quest, searching for the kind of music we had heard in that elegant Cairo Night Club–unsuccessfully. We searched and searched, and learned that the Egyptian divas were not interested in recording their music, for which they paid handsome fees to the composers, because they did not want it stolen. In our naïve enthusiasm we embarked in the mad undertaking of hiring a composer and a full Egyptian orchestra in order to reproduce the sound with which we just had fallen in love. With hard-earned “shimmy money” funds, which we had diligently saved after many gigs and workshops, we commissioned our first CD.
It is not uncommon knowledge for those of you who have been to Cairo, even if only to shop for tourist artifacts at the Khan El Khalil Bazaar, that hustling and haggling with foreigners is one of Egypt´s national sports!
Well, to make a long story short, we learned many things about the Egyptian culture by embracing the music industry. Sometimes, it would take three days to agree on a price. Another time, after the recording was finished, the composer demanded several thousand dollars more than we had agreed upon, or he would not give us our master CD. During one recording, the engineer placed the violin too close to a percussionist and the recording ended up with type of ”Wooomm, wooom!” on each beat during the final recording.
All musicians had been paid, the composer had gone home, it was 5:00 a.m., we were exhausted, and the engineer just said, ”Mahalesh” (Nevermind). The recording was expensive and useless.
Yet, these difficult experiences were dwarfed by glorious moments in the recording sessions, when masters such as Saad Mohammed Hassan hypnotized everyone present with his violin during a recording of “Ana Fintizarak”! We discovered the richness and complexity of Oriental rhythms and nuances and became more mature dancers for the experience. Beata, being as passionate as I am, was my “partner in crime” along this journey. We would return to Cairo again and again, in love with this song and that the song, and ended up working with some of the most fantastic recording artists and composers in the field.
The result is the Oriental Fantasy Music Series, Volumes 1-12. I can honestly say that each music CD is done with the dancer in mind. We were present at each recording for many, many hours (while being practically poisoned from cigarette smoke). Yet, we were able to contribute our dancer knowledge concerning the type of sound, tempo, beat, and accents, which are required for a good dance performance.
I figured we were investing in our future. “One day”, I thought, “we can retire from dance and collect the fruits of our efforts as music producers.” For a while we were able to retrieve our investment and go into profit. Unfortunately, this has changed now.
A group of international teachers have developed a very easy way to make a lot of money out of other people´s productions. They make pirated copies of our and other music, put their picture on it, and sell the CDs at workshops. This practise is accepted by many organizers of events. Apparently, if a teacher makes a lot of money by selling CDs, he or she might accept lower fees for teaching at the event.
We consulted lawyers, only to learn that suing someone internationally is a lot more complicated than one might expect, and the costs are higher than any value we could gain. These teachers are aware of this limitation and that is why they continue with their criminal activity, doing very well at convincing themselves that, because some of their colleagues do it as well, it is permissible. Khaled, one instructor alone, has sold our music on one thousand CDs, (one thousand times $20 –well, you do the math)!
When I realized finally that our latest music CD entitled “Talisman” (It includes 30 top musicians and fantastic new compositions.) had not even retrieved its original investment, I fell into a deep depression. “I had such good intentions!” I thought. “After two decades of investing all our shimmy money in this music, all these thieves are just stealing it!” We were both torn between anger, fear for the future, and sadness.
Khaled Mahmoud, this same dance intructor (who stands at the top of my list of music pirating, along with several of our other colleagues such as, Mohammed Kazafy, Lubna Imam ,and yes, even Randa Kamel copied “Baed Anak”) in the past, has been invited as a guest teacher and instructor at our dance academy as well as the international Raks Sharqi Festival in Berlin. After his third guest performance in Berlin, and many (quite personal) conversations, we had been under the impression that we were friends.
When one of our students bought a CD copy from him at the Cairo Nile Festival for the outrageous sum of 20 dollars (US), she was up in arms when she found out that she already possessed two of the songs from our music series, especially the song “Talisman”. Another dancer was upset because her copied CD did not last long, but she never got a response when she requested a replacement.
We have also received news from musicians in Cairo who complain that, lately, they don’t get enough jobs recording and they and their families suffer financially.
I emailed the offending instructor several times but received no answer. I phoned him. Unable to reach him personally, I left messages in his answering machine. “Khaled My friend,” I said, “this problem will not go away by remaining silent!”
He phoned back and said to me, ”I am not the only one doing this! Besides, it will cost you too much to sue me! What do you want? I already said that I am sorry.”
So, that is our music story. The limits of the law have a way of protecting criminals and those who offend at times. We have decided not to release our latest recording, more than one hour of marvellous music with full orchestra. At the prospect of being robbed like this, we have decided to use some of it for our performances, and the rest will remain un-released, until, through a change in consciousness and methods, teachers and organizers come to the understanding that they are destroying the music business. Also, we have made a lot of our music available as a download from our web page.
In the summer of 2010, we had the great Jillina as our guest. She was selling original copies and was prepared to purchase music from us at a wholesale price. We wish that more teachers would do ethical business like Jillina does, in a considerate and professional manner.
Beata and I appeal to the dance community not to support music pirating and to understand that such activities kill the very source from which they benefit.
Beata & Horacio- http://www.oriental-fantasy.com/english/musik.html
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