Radio Bastet: Where the Hafla Never Stops!
An Interview with Its Creator, Marisa Young
by Stasha Vlasuk
posted November 2, 2011
Almost everybody likes music. Almost all the time! In addition to performing, I particularly enjoy listening to Middle Eastern music as I’m sewing costumes or writing articles. As a vintage dancer, I’ve grown up with a vast selection of classic music from the Arabic East – some of it very squeaky! I was thrilled to discover an incredible amount of vintage Middle Eastern music has been fashioned into pod-cast format by a huge fan of this music, Marisa Young. (A podcast is a previously-recorded audio program that’s posted to a website and is made available for download so people can listen to them on a personal portable media player or computer.) Marisa calls her programs “Radio Bastet”. This music is fun, funny, and some of it is really silly. Some of the album covers are hilarious! Listen for yourself, and fall in love with vintage Belly dance music–for the first time, or all over again. Meet Marisa Young and Radio Bastet, where the hafla never stops:
(Stasha) What’s your dance background?
( Marissa) I never took any kind of dance lesson in my life until I signed up for Belly dance lessons in 2001 up in Mt. Vernon, Washington, where I was living at the time. I had recently turned 40 and decided it was time to get caught up on my young adulthood, since it was fading fast, and I’d never really had one! I was in love with Belly dance and was surprised to discover that learning it was not out of my reach. I’ve been taking lessons in different styles on and off since then. I’m still not a very good dancer, but it doesn’t matter! I love the dance, and it loves me.
When did you get started with your podcasts?
“Radio Bastet” was born in the spring of 2002, shortly after I moved to Portland, Oregon, when I started a station at Live365.com. My then-future husband, Byron, showed me how to make digital recordings of my vinyl record albums. It was so much fun I decided to create hour-long shows featuring the tracks from my collection, with voice tracks sprinkled in to make it sound as if I were doing a radio program. I was definitely inspired by Byron’s radio show persona, “Mr. Smooth”! I started a little website at Suite101.com and began posting the programs in streaming audio format. I received some enthusiastic feedback, especially from musicians and dancers of the era. I knew I was on to something! Radio Bastet got its own domain name in 2003. When podcasting became popular a few years ago, I made the decision to switch from streaming audio to podcasting format, and it’s been successful beyond all my wildest imaginings!
What prompted you to focus on this era?
I’ve always been a fan of retro-culture, even when it wasn’t yet retro at the time. (I am old enough now to say so!) I have enjoyed contemporary Belly dance music, but I felt that the “old school” artists and musicians weren’t getting the widespread recognition they deserved. “We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors,” as they say, and I didn’t want them to be forgotten. Also, I felt it was important for folks to realize that there is some mighty good music hidden behind those often cheesy album covers populated with harem girls in skimpy costumes!
Where do you get this music?
My LP vinyl collection started when I attended a garage sale thrown by a retired Belly dancer. I got 21 albums for $20! Nowadays, I haunt eBay, record shops and sales, and sites like gemm.com and hipwax.com. I’m afraid the days of finding good Belly dance records for $1.00 are gone, though…
How do you create the podcast?
First, the albums must be digitized, which I do with a turntable and mixing board, hooked up to the computer and using GoldWave recording software. Then the resulting raw .wav tracks I split with the CDWav program, and next, I create .mp3 files with the Switch Sound File Converter. The tracks are then filed onto the official Radio Bastet portable hard drive!
When the time comes to create a podcast, I figure out what tracks to use, write it all down, and organize the tracks into a folder for the program. Then, I record my voice drop-ins for the show with a microphone and GoldWave. By the way, the song used in the opening and closing is “Ah Ya Zein” by Omar Khorshid from the “Rhythms of the Orient” album! (A lot of people ask about that.) When everything is completed, I use the Propaganda Podcast Software to create the podcast. It takes all the tracks and strings them together into one huge .mp3 file.
My podcasts are hosted by libsyn.com, so my final step is uploading them to their site, creating the play-list, providing an album cover image for the blog page, and then letting everyone know about it!
Are there any difficulties with presenting this music (physical–in terms of vinyl issues, legal–in terms of copyright issues, etc.)?
Vinyl-wise there’s not too much of a problem. Occasionally, I’ll run across an album that’s too scratchy or warped to play, or just sounds weird after I’ve recorded it.
Here’s one thing that is very frustrating: finding out that you have two or three copies of the exact same record, released on different labels, with different artists names, different track names and arrangements, and different covers!
A lot of these albums were released as budget titles, and not a lot of care was taken in the accuracy department. (Let’s put it that way.) Of course, there is the always-maddening dilemma of getting a record with nothing but Arabic or Greek writing on it, and not reading either one myself, not having a clue as to what anything says. Yikes!
Legal-wise, I will admit that I’m wandering around in a gray area. A lot of the older, more low-budget records, and many of the older foreign releases, have drifted into the public domain, so there are no worries there. However, many of the albums by more established artists such as Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak, George Abdo, and others, on major record labels like Monitor, are being re-issued on CD and places like iTunes. I am wary of stepping on any toes in that department. I try to avoid any major complications by presenting only one track per artist per program. I may yet be flirting with disaster, but the RIAA hasn’t come pounding on my door–at least, not as of this writing!
You are like a Belly dance album historian! What’s the cheesiest, silliest music you’ve come across? What’s the most accessible?
I giggle uncontrollably at the Belly dance/disco hybrids that came along in the late ‘70s through the early ‘80s. I’m thinking in particular of “Diskomatik Katibim” by Osman Ismen (which I haven’t actually played on the show yet, but it’s coming!) and “Arabian Affair” by Abdul Hassan. Syrupy synthesized strings and doumbeks make strange bedfellows! This music is so cheesy it will harden your arteries and raise your cholesterol, but I love it!
I was really surprised when I finally heard Mohammed El-Bakkar’s albums! This is wonderful stuff! It’s good, solid dance music, so thick you could cut it with a knife. What I love about his records is that you can hear what a ripping-good time he’s having. (He’s always laughing and shouting.) Far too soon, in 1959 (the year I was born) he passed away. We need more musicians like him around!
What’s the cheesiest, silliest album cover you’ve come across? What’s the most accessible (in terms of costumes you’d actually wear)?
I once received an email from Margrecia, the cover model of "Belly Dance A-Go-Go". She still teaches Belly dance and makes all her own costumes!
I will list the covers as I think of them:
- Eddie Mekjian, "Belly Dance Music" – another of Margrecia from the same shoot as "Belly Dance A-Go-Go".
- Someone told me that the cover model of "In an Egyptian Garden" (ironically named as all the music on the album is Turkish) is Maya, for whom the Maya hip movement was named. She looks like Ava Gardner, don’t you think?
- The image on the Omar Khorshid album was used a lot, on several more of his albums and another artist’s as well.
- John Berberian’s "Middle East Rock" was definitely inspired by television’s Laugh-In!
- Youseff Kassab, "Nadira Dances" I love the sense of movement and play of light on this cover.
- Eddie Kochak’s, "Arrac-Laham, Mishwee & Thou" It looks great, but would anyone actually consider dancing in that bra shown on the cover?
- Yousef Kouyoumjian’s, "Bagdad" This cover is the beautiful artwork by the late, great Leona Wood of then dancer, Jamila Salimpour.
- Marko Melkon’s, "Hi-Fi Adventure" This cover is just nifty.
- Rahbani Bros.’, "Belly Dance Fever" – OK, let’s face it: This has nothing to do with Belly dance. This would receive my vote for cheesiest cover ever.
- Gus Vali, "All Points East" is probably my favorite cover ever. It’s just lush!
- Gus Vali, "Belly Dancer" Poor Gus got the best and the worst. This one gets my vote for ugliest cover ever. Ick!
- Gus Vali, "Chimera" is just one more plainly ugly cover. Who signed off on these?
- Yaffa Yarkoni, "Garden of Allah" is another of my major favorites. I’m not crazy about the way they added the text, but the photograph is lovely.
- Unknown artists, "Super Belly Dance" is another fave for me. The color, composition and movement is beautiful.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
I want to give a loving, heart-felt “Thank you so much!” to all of the wonderful musicians, artists and dancers that we celebrate at Radio Bastet, who paved the way for so many of us. We stand on your shoulders, and we honor you with love and gratitude. Last, but definitely not least, I want to say, “Thank you very much,” to all of Radio Bastet’s wonderful listeners and fans! I love hearing from you, and hearing how this music has impacted your lives. That’s why I do what I do, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile. Yalla!
- Radio Bastet-
The main site: http://www.radiobastet.com
LP Cover Gallery:http://radiobastet.tumblr.com/
The podcast blog page is athttp://radiobastet.libsyn.com/
Look for the podcasts also on iTunes and such podcast directories as podcastpickle.com,
- gemm.com and hipwax.com
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