October 3, 2011
Random comments about the Tarabiya show.
- “This feels like Cairo.
- “If this were any other show and it was hot like this, I would have left. But I stayed till the end. I didn’t want to miss the music or the dancing.
- “The hair on my arms was standing on end when the singing started.”
- A sign was displayed by Will, the sound and light technician, sometime during each dancer’s performance. I was on stage and couldn’t see what he was trying to tell us. After the show I asked him. He said “Oh my god!” (it turned out that the sign read OMG). Then he said, “And when all the girls came out in the end, wasn’t that song Fakkarooni?” (Yes, it was.)
- “I knew Husain could sing, but this was the best kept secret. His voice is so moving.”
- When Jalal started playing (Kanun taqsim), it was like heard the Jimi Hendrix of Arabic music.”
- “Why doesn’t Husain sing like that at Aswat?”
- “Younes and Jalal totally made the tarab.”
- “This was wonderful, you need to do it again!”
- “Everything was great, but where’s the air (conditioner)?”
- “I’ll never forget this night for the rest of my life.”
- “It took my breath away when I saw all the beautiful girls dancing together in the finale.”
- “It was wonderful how every dancer understood the lyrics and was able to convey the meaning with her dance.”
The general consensus was – they all enjoyed the show and most totally got the “Tarabiya” of the night. Unfortunately we found the hard way that the house had no air conditioning. No, we were not trying to replicate hot Cairo nights.
After the show many of the audience came up to thank me for Tarabiya. One woman said it was a real milestone of a show in the sense that the mood and continuity from the first dance and music to the last dance was clearly evident. Sitting on stage under the hot lights in that sweltering heat, I had been worried that the sold out house using their programs as fans would just get up and leave. But they stayed and even came back after the intermission. Being neither a purely music nor a purely dance show, the responsibility for evoking the sense of tarab was with the musicians, the dancers and Salena the emcee. It was pretty amazing to learn how many people already knew the words of the song and knew when the dancers were in total synch.
Aswat practice went well. Husain picked up a new musician, Shakeed from the airport. He used to play with Kan Zaman in Los Angeles, but he is moving to the Bay Area. It’s great to have another new musician. Jalal seems to have joined Aswat also. We practiced for the show next Saturday with Faisal drumming. However, Susu will be our drummer on Saturday. She is still in Minneapolis so Faisal is filling in. Susu will get one rehearsal to get it together for this show.
She’s due back tomorrow or the next day. That means that Georges (Lammam) will be back too. I guess I will get together with him soon to talk about Pena Pachamama and future performances at PPM. For sure we will do a show on Sunday, Oct. 16. It will be with Khader playing keyboard and I will schedule myself in to dance also. Since I am supposed to perform at Karim’s Raqs Egypt seminar I want to get back in performance mode. The Georges Lammam Ensemble will be performing for Raqs Egypt also. I wonder if I will play along or just dance. I need to ask Georges.
Fee Youm we Leila – In a day and a night. Sue from Al Masri has a performance spot at the bandshell in Golden Gate Park on October 16. (Also the same day as Tito‘s workshop.) She asked me (and other teachers and friends) about performing with her and her dancers in the park. I have Aswat practice so I can’t go. But Hana and Kim will dance “Fee Youm we Leila“. They’ll do daytime at the bandshell and later in the evening dance again at Pachamama.
I heard from Debbie Smith. She just got back to Cairo after working in Aswan producing 2 weeks worth of music workshops and shows with seventeen musicians. Now she is working with the same musicians for some shows in Cairo. She, too, is starting to realize that Raqs Egypt is right around the corner. We may have to talk on the phone to coordinate our workshop. There will have to be some major cutting of our material to make our workshop fit the required timeframe.
October 2, 2011
Mohamed Ali Street
Well, I guess I’m still kind of high from the Tarabiya show. It’s over and we all felt pretty good about it. Last week I was worried that we wouldn’t have a big enough audience to inspire the musicians and dancers but it turned out that we had a turn away crowd. I couldn’t quite believe it. They literally had to turn some people away. We sold out! and then some. I felt that the band was purely magical and the dancers matched them. Not going to go on about that as I’d rather leave that to other people’s opinions, but one last comment – I do believe I accomplished what I set out to do – and that was to do a night of Tarab. Thank you Younes, Jalal, Husain, Sandy, Faisal, Salena, Dannhae, Nicole, Ahava, Hana and Zahara.
One of the songs we did was Daret el Ayam. There is a great line in that song.
“Dda sabr ayiz sabr wahdu” – patience itself needs patience to tolerate. Like you need to take medicine to tolerate medicine.
At Aswat practice we will have to finalize the musicians for our show next Saturday at Skyline College. Big dilemma – Faisal aka Abu Safi will need to babysit. Loay is in Jordan and Susu is still with Cassandra in Minneapolis. Sandy and I have played drum for small shows but this will be a pretty big all Arab crowd and neither of us want to take the responsibility of leading the ensemble and choir because if we mess up ….. We are hoping that Susu will agree to do it even though she will just be barely back from her two week gig with Cassandra.
This morning I started watching another candidate for the winter Giza Film series. It’s a Turkish period movie called “Harem”. So far it’s pretty interesting. I may show it with a DVD/video copy of an old Giza talk by Leo Mahsoud. He was a very interesting character who died about 10 years ago (of old age – he was in his nineties). He was born and raised in a Turkish harem – for real – and he was taught music and played the oud in the harem. When he gave his Giza talk we had the foresight to video tape it. It should make for an interesting evening. Of course this should all be research for my Mohamed Ali Street talk. Oh yeah, I meant to continue on about that and Mohamed Ali Street’s other name – el qalaa.
The fortress high up overlooking the city of Cairo known as the Citadel (el qalaa) was built in the 12th century . It went through three main periods of history. The 12-13th century when Saladin fought against the Crusaders in the name of Islam – the 14th century Mamluks who were soldiers descended from slaves and were considered to be “true lords,” with social status above freeborn Muslims – and the 19th century Ottoman period with Mohamed Ali who was considered to be the founder of modern Egypt. When Mohamed Ali lived at the Citadel he built many palaces within its walls including Mohamed Ali’s mosque that is an exact replica of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul reflecting Turkish influence in Egypt’s architecture. In 1845 he planned a grand avenue to lead from the Citadel to Ezbekeya Park which is at the other end where the musicians and dancers lived and performed. This avenue was to divide modern Cairo with historic Cairo. This grand avenue, Sharia Mohamed Ali (Sharia = street) which was eventually built by Mohamed Ali’s son, Ismail is now known at Sharia el Qalaa (Citadel Street).
[ed- Clicking link will bring us the map in its own window, on the map owners site.]
(check on the right side of the map showing a street called shari el Qala – this is Mohamed Ali Street)
October 1, 2011
Mohamed Ali Street and Hasan Ali
Tonight is the Tarabiya show at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. I’m so relieved that it is finally happening. Nothing more to stress about except hoping everyone comes on time and the sound check works to our satisfaction. As far as the dancing and music goes – I guess it’s all on automatic for now and I hope that we pull off the dance and music and make the magical marriage between dancers and the music and songs just like I envisioned. But it’s too late to worry now. AND, best yet – since I don’t have to dance, I can eat right up to the last minute. Just need to remember to show up after class today and get ready to hang a few pieces of fabric.
So there will be no more “saharni” nights for awhile. At least not until reality hits me that Karim Nagi‘s Raqs Egypt is only a month away. el ha’ooni – help! Debbie Smith and I are doing a joint workshop about Mohamed Ali Street as one of the topics. This will totally be a challenge since she’s there (she lives in Cairo) and I’m here and she will probably arrive from Cairo jetlagged and only a couple of days before the seminar. Thank god for email and our iphones.
When she was visiting last February we had given a workshop on the history of Mohamed Ali Street and the life and times of the artists living and working there, but that was a full day workshop with lots of visual aids. This will be a real challenge to condense our material into just one short hour. Quite honestly, that doesn’t sound very Egyptian. One short hour! In order to really get down to the real nitty gritty we would have to pass around oranges and sit and peel them and sit some more, then peel more oranges and maybe crack a few seeds between our teeth and drink a lot of cloyingly super sweet and bitter strong tea, then sit some more, smoke some and then maybe after a couple of hours of peeling oranges, cracking seeds and drinking tea or possibly room temperature bebsi, then we can get down to the subject of Mohamed Ali and its residents and stars. Maybe we can practice talking really really fast and sound like chipmunks so we can give more information in the short time allotted us. I remember when we did our workshop in February that it took all day and we had to cut out a lot of stuff. Well – this will be a total challenge. But, we can do it – I’m sure we can and I’m starting to compile some handouts to make the class run more efficiently.
In our February workshop we focused on the history up to the Golden Age of Egypt. In Raqs Egypt I’m hoping to continue on and cover Mohamed Ali Street all the way to the present. Uh oh – that will make it even more material to cover. Well, we’ll just have to talk even faster. But I feel I need to talk about the demise of the street and the changing times and how and why it happened. Most of the people I knew on that street have either left or died.
It saddened me greatly to learn that Hasan el Maghib aka Hasan Ali the drum maker died recently. He was a great guy – a kind heart and very sweet under a strong macho exterior. A real gadaa. (the good-hearted guy who takes care of the neighborhood – keeps things under control – but also has been around – maybe does a little drugs or drinks – but is someone you go to if you’re in trouble or have problems.) I will never forget his voice and boisterous laughter. Kind of strong and hoarse because he always had a cigarette between his fingers. Hasan you are missed. I think of you every day when I play the red duf you made especially for me.
I wish we could go back to the Cairo time of sitting and peeling oranges. In this modern world of fast food mentality with it’s accompanying technology, the internet, music videos, dj superstars. mass produced cheaply made costumes and all the steps you can squeeze into a 5 minute belly dance routine type of sensibility, it’s no wonder that Mohamed Ali Street is a street of the past. In fact, taxi drivers don’t know Mohamed Ali Street – they know it by it’s other name El Qalaa.
September 30, 2011
Maqams and a movie
Jalal, Husain and I met again to practice for a few different shows. On Saturday they have the Arabic Cultural Center Festival downtown in Union Square and later on, my show, Tarabiya at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Next week we have a couple of Aswat shows – Saturday, a show at Skyline College with USPCN Ana Hurrah play and on Sunday we are doing a zeffa at the Fairmont Hotel.
The zeffa will be for an Iraqi couple who requested Iraqi music and Abdel Halim love songs. First we practiced the Iraqi songs. That meant playing jourjina which is a 10/8 rhythm that sounds like 6/8. Yikes! Where’s Faisal when we need him? Well, he’s still at home with the baby, so I had to fake it. Husain beat the rhythm out on his oud and I got going. Not too bad, except when we had some stops – so Jalal helped out too. Did you know that Jalal’s first job as a musician at the Bagdad way back when, was as a drummer. It was so “way back when” that we realized we were reminiscing about dancers and musicians we worked with before Husain was born.
Of course, the Abdel Halim songs were fun to practice. I especially like the all-time best love song ever – “Ahwak” (I love you). You don’t even have to know what it means, you just know it’s a love song. “I love you and I wish if I ever forget you, I forget my soul with you. And if it becomes lost, it’s OK, if you’ve forgotten me. So I forget you, and I forget all your pain. And I start longing for it again, and I find my tears remember you. So I return to you.” (Sounds kind of like Hossam Ramzy’s generic Arabic song translation, doesn’t it!)
Finally Faisal comes a little too late to help out with Jourjina but in time to practice for the ACC fair and also for Tarabiya. He has Safi, the baby with him and the boys have now changed Faisal’s name to Abu Safi. (Father of Safi). I remember last year having burritos with Susu and Rebecca (Faisal’s wife) after a show at the Arabic Cultural Center with Susu, Faisal and Nasser Musa. Rebecca said that she and Faisal were going to go to Morocco to adopt a baby. Now a year later, here’s Abu Safi – happy as he can possibly be – still drumming but also “babysitting”. And little 10 month old Safi seems to be happy and ready to start drumming also.
Jalal and I had a conversation about our desires to practice more or all the time. I “know it all” but unfortunately my brain doesn’t travel to my finger tips. And there’s always more to learn and to practice and, of course there’s always more music to collect. I’m lucky – I pretty much decided I just want to know about Egyptian music and a little about other Arabic music but Jalal is busy downloading and working on Arabic, Egyptian, Turkish and Persian. He and Husain were working on various different maqams (maqamat) that they said only existed in the regions they came from which is Iraq and Iran. It was very interesting to hear the maqams that they played as they truly evoked certain emotions – all of them sad. Jalal kept saying, “This is so sad. This is so sad!” Husain just kept playing and making us feel sadder. They agreed that these maqams they were playing are not commonly used in Egypt or Arabic countries, only from the areas where they grew up.
We need to remember that they share the same borders and that food and culturally (and musically) the borders are only lines on a map. I remember seeing a film called “Secret Ballot”. Following is a little information on it. The movie clearly shows that borders are really only lines on a map. If you can find it, it’s an interesting movie to see.
“Secret Ballot” (Ra’ye makhfi – 2001) is an Iranian film directed by Babak Payami and it covers a day in the life of a female voting agent collecting votes on a island in Iran. Below is a short description of the movie that I found on the internet (wikipedia).
“The story begins at a small, two-man army post on a remote island. It is voting day, and an election agent is due to arrive by boat. A young woman arrives, collects the official voting box, and demands that the soldier on duty escort her around the island. They climb into a military jeep and begin driving around, looking for voters. The nameless woman is totally dedicated to her duty, a true believer in the importance of voting, a tireless worker, rather voluble and certainly not submissive. This confuses and angers the dim-witted soldier, who feels that a man should be the voting agent. Chador and all, she’s clearly a liberated woman, a “city gal” as described by the soldier.
The couple-by-necessity do eventually (jeep trouble aside) scour the land to find eligible voters among the sparse locals. The trek starts in a desert and gradually moves to somewhat greener places. It is educational for both parties. They encounter a variety of people (mostly illiterate peasants) and situations, which simultaneously instructs the two roamers and the audience. By the end of the film, only a few people have voted, and the young woman is largely disillusioned about the entire process. Several people refused to vote for the “approved” candidates, and one voted for her. There is an undercurrent of an unspoken silent affection having developed between her and the soldier.
The setting looks like a semi-barren landscape that could be a mainland or an island. There, by the sea, on a desert beach, two soldiers stand guard against smugglers. Apparently, the locals are not particularly fluent in Persian the national language of Iran, with some speaking in gulf dialect Arabic. On several occasions, the election agent is frustrated by the language barrier. Also, it is implied that a number of foreign nationals (fishermen, peddlers) are present on the island—they are not eligible to vote, of course. The locals are very strict Islamists; some of the women even wear face masks in public. Women are completely submissive to the wishes of their men, and will not vote unless given permission.”
September 29, 2011-
Last night we had a great tech rehearsal for the Tarabiya show. It’s kind of fun choosing lights and seeing how different lights work with the costumes. I haven’t really done much of that since most of my shows in the past were either in clubs or real low tech at community centers. The few I produced that did allow for special lighting always came with a lighting designer who did the work. The MCCLA (Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts) is kind of in between and so we all got to work out our lights and cues and Will, the light guy programmed them in. This is so much better than the portable little aluminum things with red flood lights that I sometimes carry to gigs. But best of all – they have a new sound system. Husain tried it out and seemed pretty pleased. More reverb – how about echo?
The boys – Husain, Jalal, Younes and Faisal will be at Union Square Saturday afternoon playing for the Arab Cultural Center Fair. They will come directly to the MCCLA to do sound check and get ready for Tarabiya. For sure they will be warmed up. I hope they come hungry because Dannhae worked her special charm with some of the Mission Street shops – La Taza, Mi Tierra, Truly Mediterranean, Old Jerusalem and Samiramis – and received food donations for the musicians and dancers.
This morning I’m getting together with Ayman for my weekly lesson. He’s in Aswat with me and he helps me with my Arabic. Of course I mean Egyptian Arabic. What’s great about this is that we go directly to the point. I bring him music and he translates a song. But it’s not just a song translation – I can get that off the internet if I want. We go over the words that I don’t know and he gives me the real meaning – not the dictionary meaning – and we discuss the root words, the verbs, idioms and other related words and either he or I will write the words out in Arabic and we’ll discuss some more. What’s really great is that many of these words aren’t in any dictionary as most of the songs he helps me with are shaabi songs.
Here are some words or phrases that came out of one of our sessions: hazabat ginseyah – I will adjust my sex drive, law had galak nafadlu – if someone comes to you for drugs, beat them up, bokra el ayela hatmut minigua we nas ti’olak ya anisa, tomorrow the kids will die of starvation and people will call you oh lady. In a movie starring Ismail Yassin (the most popular comedian in Egypt during the Golden Age), Ismail had a monkey called anisa (lady).
Ayman hates these shaabi songs but he does agree that the words and phrases from these songs are not readily available in the internet or the dictionary. I’m going to be teaching shaabi/sharqi for Karim Nagi‘s Raqs Egypt seminar and I’m working on Om Kalthoum songs that have been shaabi-ized. Maybe today we’ll work on one of those songs. My all time favorite is from a movie, “Lemby”, starring Mohamed Saad and he is singing Om Kalthoum‘s “Hobi Eh“. OK you probably know that “hob” means love and the “i” means me and from yesterday you learned that “eh” means what. So – now you too, can translate. (habibi – my beloved comes from that same root word)
Here’s Lemby singing “hobi eh”
September 28, 2011-
Watching Arabic Movies
After coffee this morning I headed straight to the Arab Film Festival office to screen a movie. I’ve been helping out at the Festival by watching movies and documentaries for blips, sticks and other viewing problems. It’s kind of fun – even when I get to – have to – watch the same movie four times on four different format machines. Since 99% of the movies are in Arabic with English subtitles, it’s great comparing my “pigeon” Egyptian Arabic with the Arabic of other countries. Since I work with/play music with a lot of Palestinians, after Egyptian, that Arabic seems most comfortable, familiar and understandable. Of course, it’s easier to understand with the subtitles running simultaneously.
And that brings me to the phrase “ba olek eh“. This phrase comes up quite a bit in Egyptian movies. It can mean a number of things: tell you what – listen to me – pay attention – let me tell you – or even as a phrase to let the listener know you want to disagree and give another opinion. Also, when other Arabs like to sound Egyptian – this phrase inevitably comes up. There are just some phrases or words that just sound right. Like eh? Arabic for “what”. ‘Just natural.
Well, getting back to the Film Festival – The entry I’m reviewing is Egyptian and is called “Hawi” (2010) by a youngish former war correspondent turned director, Ibrahim el Batout. It is an independent film with no budget – meaning the actors and crew are paid with a promise. The location is Alexandria which is quite different from the filmmaker’s previous and first movie, “Ain Shams” (2009) which took place in a iffy neighborhood in crowded chaotic Cairo. These movies have social and cultural commentaries. What’s interesting about “Hawi” is that one of the characters is a belly dancer and in the movie she and other characters address the issues of shame, “haram” (forbidden) versus the love of the dance. In one scene, after being mugged, the dancer, Hanan complains at the police station only to be called a whore, a prostitute, a slut and more kindly, just a bitch.
What is most interesting is that I had just seen an Israeli produced “documovie” called “Rakasa” in which these very same issues were foremost in the plot. In this award winning film, “Rakasa”, the three real life protagonists, an Israeli, a German Israeli and a Palestinian all dancers in various stages of their careers, discuss and interact with relatives and friends regarding the same issues Hanan has in “Hawi”. The love of dance versus the stigma of being a raqasa. It is interesting to note that although the Palestinian woman, has the hardest time – the Israeli dancers also suffer – maybe not from living a life of “slutdom” as much as just losing out in their personal life if they want to follow their dreams. The German Israeli dancer chose to just postpone parts of her life until the time was right. The other Israeli dancer, Orit, on the other hand, seems to be following her dreams at the expense of a fulfilled private life. For sure I will plan on showing “Rakasa” in a future Giza Film night. It is just perfect for lots of discussion.
Maybe I will also plan on showing “Love Crimes of Kabul”. I have so many other interesting ones but some don’t have subtitles.
But time is running out right now as I’m due at the MCCLA (Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts) for a sound and light tech rehearsal for the Tarabiya performance this weekend.
September 27, 2011- Ya Msaharni Night
Last night was another ya msaharni night. You might wonder what that is, as it is actually a song written for Om Kalthoum – music, Said Makawi – poetry, Ahmad Rami and it means “You who keeps me awake all night”. Not quite insomnia. In fact, not really insomnia, but just staying awake all night thinking about “my lover”. But, as usual, in this case, “my lover” is really just all the things I want to do, need to do, plan to do. I get my greatest ideas in the middle of the night in my “saharni nights”.
Lately because it’s the last few days before my Tarabiya show, I have a lot of “saharni” nights thinking about Om, will the musicians remember all the changes and repeats, will the dancers really pull it off the way I envision, will the program get done without too many typos, do they really have a good sound system, should I have a back-up in my car, how good are the lights, will the three video cameras connected to the sound board be color and sound synched so when it goes on TV it looks professional, and, most important – will there be an audience to inspire the artists?
Om and Abdel Halim always planted their favorite people in the front row in order to get inspirations. I sure hope our guys get the same. I’d love to hear a few ah’s in the audience as they discover the truly sensitive and passionate voice of Husain. Most people know him as either the bass player with Georges Lammam or the violinist at Aswat, but he really does have an amazing and soulful voice. And Younes! What a find. Only in this country for a couple of years and already he’s all over the place playing for this or that. He’s matches Husain in his playing. And he’s so cute! Lilly thought he looked like a little professor. Boy, when these rich guys hire limo drivers do they really know what they’re getting?
I know that taxi drivers sometimes are working on novels. Well the limo drivers here seem to all be incredible musicians. I’m so happy that they will be showcased this weekend. They really deserve to be known by more people.
I’m so lucky to know these guys and all the other musicians in this area. Actually, I’m so lucky to live in San Francisco. When I think about it, there are so many good musicians and singers here.
I remember when we (The Aswans) were dancing at a church food festival and we heard this singer named Fadi Hanani. I got up the nerve to ask him for his card. He gave me a card stating that he was an engineer in a Silicon Valley company. He told me he only sang for his church and related churches. Well, we had a band – The Arabian Knights – and we were looking for a singer. And through a few phone calls we (Jacques al Asmar and I) got Fadi to come and be our singer. Those were the days. The band kind of eventually fizzled – another story – but Fadi is still going strong. Now he’s partners with Murad and they own a little club in down the peninsula called Sahara. But I won’t ever forget those great nights that I got to play with him at those clubs – El Valenciano, Galia and TropiGala and we even did Pasha for awhile.
Speaking of that – Jalal – the former owner of Pasha for over 20 years will be playing kanun for Tarabiya and maybe, cross my fingers, he’ll join us at Aswat. He actually came to our practice last Sunday. Now that he’s retired he has all the time in the world to do what he loves doing the most. Playing music. And it’s so much fun to be part of his group sometimes. I could go on and on about that, but here’s a little clip from one of the places where we work/play [refresh if you see just a blank spot below]. It’s called the Real Doner. Did you know that Doner means sandwich in Turkish? I guess we worked at the Real Sandwich. But boy were they good.
This is the first day of my blog and I wish I could go on and on but it’s almost time for me to teach class. So,
hashufek badain – see you later.
Common Links for Amina’s Blog
- Amina’s GS Biopage
- Pena Pachamama
- 6-11-09 Arabic Lessons, My Introduction to Shaabi, Part 1
She taught us that besides learning the words and their meanings, Egyptians do not stand still when singing. They dance around a bit and use their hands, body and eyes to gesture according to the songs.
- 5-17-09Ahmed Adaweya My Introduction to Shaabi
Where once he was known as a master plumber, he had now become a master of Saltana.
- 9-17-07 Changes: Egyptian Dance – Has it crossed the line?
Both festivals, held in Giza were isolated and insulated from the people and the Cairo that I know and love.
- 12-10-05 Articulating the Collective Dream:The Giza Awards, and why the legacy-making process is important to you.
” We embrace change however roughly it appears. With video we feel secure in the knowledge that the legacy of the past will never abandon us.”
- 11-16-01 Giza Club Lecture, Wacky Woman Traveler- Leyla LantyHard work and familiarity pays off.
- 8-31-01Make a Giza Club!
…She was to become our first Wacky Woman Traveler…
- 3-22-00 HOW TO START A MIDDLE EASTERN BAND or How The Arabian Knights Came About
We dreamed of a band that would play music to make us look good always.