Two CDs for Classical Egyptian Dance
Review by Alia Thabit
posted December 29, 2011
“Ruby, Classical Egyptian Bellydance”
“El Sultaan, Classical Egyptian Dance”
“Ruby” is a collection of ten fairly short (5-6 minute) instrumentals composed by Hossam Ramzy and Ossama el Hendy, each named for a precious or semiprecious stone (the liner notes explain the composers’ intentions for each selection). The album is designed as a follow-up to the CD “Faddah” and presents the same big, complex sound. The pieces are in the style of the great classic dance songs of the ‘70s and ‘80s (“Princess of Cairo”, etc); however, they strike me as modern. I’m not sure why—but there is a busy, clockwork undercurrent to the pieces—and I find the same feel to a lot of dance I see these days; so maybe that’s it. I like it, though; I like music with a lot of detail, because it gives you plenty with which to play.
All ten songs are frothy, tightly constructed, highly orchestral, and full of fun-to-articulate lazima (orchestral flourishes), that seem unexpected, but are nicely predictable, once you know where they are. The songs are all connected by maqam, which means they mix and match well, and feature glamorous openings, splashy endings, and dramatic shifts of emotional timbre, energy, tempo, and rhythm. There is a great Saidi section here, some mysterious darkness there, all interspersed with dashes of 6/8 or 7/8 rhythms to spice things up. Every time I listened I liked something different, and though no one song emerged as my favorite (well, maybe The Pearl in My Heart), all are engaging and suitable for the intermediate to advanced dancer.
On the other hand, “El Sultaan” features more old-style baladi music with a far looser structure, allowing much more room for taqasim, and indeed, lots of room for what I can only call “noodling”, during which the whole ensemble is happily improvising away, with no apparent particular structure. Indeed, a few of the songs just drift off into the sunset as the volume fades out. (Although others have clear, dramatic endings.)
There are some beautiful taqasim, including a delicious accordion opening for a wonderfully lazy “Ya Bent el-Sultaan” that shimmers in the heat and includes melodic interplay between a kawala (an end-blown cane flute, similar to, but breathier than, a nay) and a trumpet, and it works. Sadly, this is one of the songs that trail off, but it is over nine minutes long, so I am willing to accept the compromise.
Purchase from Artist’s site:
The music is upbeat, joyful and relaxed even when fast. I found while dancing that it inspired an expression of delirious, kittenish, open-mouthed joy; I felt like a dancer in an old Egyptian movie (Samia Gamal, or even more, Katy, a dancer from The Great Unknowns Collection with that same over-the-top sense of joy, comes to mind). Even the beautiful kawala is sensual in a happy, flirtatious way. There is nothing sad on this album. There are lots of fun accents and lazima, and there are little percussion breaks (but only the final piece has a drum solo per se—and it trails off).
Honestly, I hadn’t expected to like this album (noodling has not been to my taste in the past), but I found it refreshing and rather healing, as the relaxation and delight shifted my state of mind every time I danced to it.
Because these are Hossam Ramzy enterprises, the musical and recording quality of both albums are excellent, the instruments are mostly real. (There is a keyboard, but it’s not noticeable.)
Both recordings were made with dancers in mind. However, the similarities stop there!
While “Ruby” is a bit busy, “El Sultaan” takes its time and happily wanders around. “Ruby” features interlocking songs that are easily adapted for seminar shows and contests, dense with textured layers and little doodads to articulate, while “El Sultaan” is laid back and juicier, with some longer pieces, suitable for more relaxed settings.
3.5 zills each.
Ready for more?
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