Gilded Serpent presents...

“But Others Do It Too!”


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.

Comparing song listsA 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-

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  1. Barbara Grant

    Feb 2, 2011 - 02:02:38

    I was revolted by the subject matter in this article. To think that one artist could profit from the fruits of another’s hard labor is horrible. And yet I know that it happens all the time in other fields of endeavor (including engineering), in which the original creators have worked very hard, at great financial cost, to deliver a great product. The reason we have such things as copyright laws on the books is because many will not, voluntary, do the ethical thing and only fear of legal retribution stops them. In a case like this one, the original creator is faced with a double-whammy–stolen product, mega legal obstacles to resolution.
    I suggest that known (that is, _proven beyond the shadow of any doubt_not just “suspect”) pirates, particularly repeat offenders, be shunned by the larger community. Don’t book them for workshops, don’t take their classes, and make sure your colleagues and peers know who they are. “Everybody does it” is not an acceptable response to piracy.

  2. Jumanah

    Feb 8, 2011 - 09:02:01

    I’m with you, Barbara. It’s horrible to think that there are instructors out there (especially the masters, who we expect to set good, ethical examples!) that pirate music this blatantly. We need to make it known who these instructors are – if they won’t be punished by international copyright law, we need to hit them in their pocketbooks by no longer booking them for classes, performances and workshops.
    I know many teachers that will provide a single song to students for choreography, which might have made sense when asking students to purchase $30 CDs for a single song was asking a lot. But now, when many songs are easily available on iTunes and websites for a dollar or so, even this needs to stop. There is no excuse for unethical behaviour.

  3. Catherine Ryder

    Feb 16, 2011 - 07:02:17

    Thank you for writing this.  I am so sorry to hear what happened.  This has always been a big issue for me.  Now, more than ever, people are taking music from everywhere. How on earth can musicians ever get paid for their efforts?  No one seems to think twice about saying, “oh, can you burn me a copy”  blah blah blah.  No, I will not burn you a copy, but I will give you the artist’s name and website so you can order your own!!!!

  4. Grace "Lennie" Clark

    Feb 16, 2011 - 08:02:47

    An important issue.

  5. hallah moustafa

    Feb 17, 2011 - 01:02:40

    what goes around comes around…xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

  6. Zahra Ismail

    Feb 18, 2011 - 10:02:30

    This is heartbreaking, I am so sorry to hear of your loss, and saddened to think that this happens so often.  I will spread the word and hopefully we can all help to educate dancers about this issue and refuse to buy these cd’s.

  7. Raqia Hassan

    Oct 30, 2011 - 11:10:13

    Beata and Horacio, why you say and write that arabic people steel your music and why you try to take money from other people who use this music?? You steel the music from Cairo and you are not the composers, you do not have any rights! Stop it!

  8. Beata & Horacio Cifuentes

    Nov 2, 2011 - 10:11:48

    Stealing is taking something that does not belong to you without paying for it.—- We did comission music in Cairo, we paid the composer, the musicians, the studio, the engineers, frequent trips to Cairo and many other things connected to this. We had music composed especially for us, we added our input, experience from many years of dancing and producing music. We spent many nights in smoky recording studios and had to a LOT of shimmies to pay for it all.
    During our first recording in Cairo we overpaid dramatically due to lack of knowleagde of prices , so Raqia herself introduced us to Mr Mokhtar El sayed. We talked about money and contracts in her living room, so she knows exacrly what we paid. In the follwing years the prices went up and we have invested most of our income on the music and costumes for our shows. If then some teachers just copy our music and sell pirate Cds with their picture on it- we are not happy!!
    Being professionell is more than a pretty costume and nice steps. It is also about being honest and reliable, having a heart that enables you to be an artist.

  9. Raqia Hassan

    Nov 5, 2011 - 02:11:50

    Beata and Horacio, yes it is true that I introduced you to Mokhtar al Said, but he is not the composer of the songs. Also you did not  paid the composers, you only paid him for arranging your older CD, the last CD with him it was approx 12 years ago. You speak about the new CDs and the CDs after Mokhtar al Saids death, that egyptian artists are stealing from you, but all these CDs are arranged by Abdul Fattah and you have no contract with him and no licence for nothing. He is also not the composer of the songs on your CDs and nothing was composed especially for you. Fact is the same, you steal music from the egyptian composers and you do not have any licences.
    Raqia Hassan

  10. Najah

    Nov 5, 2011 - 10:11:10

    Now I think Raqia is a genius and a complete living legend BUT…

    I asked Dr Samy Farag about his song Gawaher, and about the re-recorded version of it used on one of Raqia’s CD’s as I wanted to know who composed it.

    Dr Farag told me himself that and I quote directly “i did compose the music myself and unfourtauntalyRakia hassan stole that music and put it in one of her taching CDs and called Masriya something like that , i contacted her by emial she never responded, but all my music are copyright in the United Staes Congres Library,I am a memeber of the American Society or Compser and Publisher,what can i do , so i let it go”.

  11. Najah

    Nov 5, 2011 - 10:11:41

    And if anyone wants to verify that, or speak to Dr Farag about it, he can be found on Facebook at

  12. Raqia Hassan

    Nov 5, 2011 - 05:11:42

    I found this song in Cairo at the street! Some people were playing it!  I will contact Mr. Farag.

  13. Pamela Sklavos-Jaque aka Mish Mish

    Nov 6, 2011 - 01:11:44

    Hearing this really upsets me too! I retired from dancing some years ago after having a wonderful career of 25yrs and making a living at it.
    After retiring fell in love with another art form and culture from So. America in which I formed my own band that plays music from Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.
    We have 3 recordings and similar situations arise with all the other Andean Groups. You must have some sort of copyrights and papers or contracts signed with these people (artists) that you paid and worked for you stating that you have exclusivity (solo and rights) and all proceeds to be yours after reproduction. Its hard to believe that anything should be placed on a word of honor basis.
    If songs have been written and passed down from older generations there is a time stature of I believe 10 years or more, the right to play or perform these pieces and record them without written permission Example: like a Beatles song can be copied, replayed & recorded.
    In this case, I’m believing that some of these compositions were composed strictly for you? And in that case you have all of the rights! Especially if you have something in writing to say so. If not, then sorry to say that there is nothing you can do about it. (unfortunately).
    But it is a matter of ethics! Shame on the people copying, selling and making profit off of your hard work!
    If I were you, I would try to find a good friend/ lawyer to help you in this situation because if it were me, I would definitely try to SUE the pants off of them not matter the cost.  With all of your connections over the years, you must know or have met a good lawyer willing to help.
    Sincerely…..your friend….Mish Mish

  14. Najah

    Nov 6, 2011 - 03:11:36

    Thank you Raqia for doing the right thing.

  15. Yasmin Henkesh

    Nov 6, 2011 - 11:11:33

    Copyright law says that exclusivity rights are in force for 70 years after the death of the composer in Europe and the USA, 50 years in Egypt … and that copyright is in force from the moment a work is registered with ANY world entity – in Dr Farag’s case, the USA copyright office. He does not need to register his work in Egypt for it to be protected – particularly if DVDs containing his pirated music show up on the USA market. There is a maximum fine of $250,000 for piracy…

  16. Habiba Dance

    Nov 11, 2011 - 06:11:49

    It really saddens me to see to many people who wish to call themselves artists disrespecting the artistry and hard work that goes into producing the very recordings that they dance to.

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