All by Hossam Ramzy:
Rhythms of the Nile: Intro to Egyptian Dance Rhythms
Baladi Plus: Egyptian Dance Music
Sabla Tolo III
CD Reviews by Sharifa Asmar
posted February 10, 2012
Hossam Ramzy needs no introduction in the Oriental dance world, nor can he deny his passion for rhythm nor his reputation as one of the world’s finest tabla players. His Oriental music CDs include classical, modern, and original compositions. A dancer’s drummer, a creative force and dedicated teacher, the Egyptian-born master drummer pioneered the development of rhythm CDs for instruction and practice. It is safe to say that would be unusual if an experienced dancer or a drummer didn’t own at least one Hossam Ramzy CD.
Rhythms of the Nile: Introduction to Egyptian Dance Rhythms- 2 CD set
Rhythms of the Nile: Introduction to Egyptian Dance Rhythms is an educational instructional CD for both dancer and drummer. Ramzy developed this CD following a request from the Raks Sharki School in London, for a CD of most-common Raks Sharki rhythms. I can only speculate that like me, the requesting instructor found the availability of extended rhythm tracks few and far between. This CD set covers 11 rhythms: Masmoudi, Maqsoum, Saaidi, Fallahi, Zaar, Malfuf, Karachi, ElZaffa, Three-Four Time, Samaii, and his own original contribution, Abu el Khamsa or “Father of Five.”
Rhythms of the Nile is one of the most important CDs in my library. While I have lots of instructional rhythm CDs, this is one of my top three – all the others are just collecting dust.
The importance of Oriental music to the Oriental dancer’s craft – be the music made visible- makes the development of the dancer’s ear paramount. Exposure to the rhythmic foundations of Oriental music affects overall musicality and interpretation. Inexperienced dancers are actively searching for rhythm with each step. Rhythms of the Nile is their first pair of shoes.
CD 1 is noted as “a workshop in Egyptian Dance” and introduces 11 Raks Sharki rhythms along with the various drums and percussion instruments (including the tabla, darbuka, duf, riqq, mazhar and more) that make the rhythms of the Nile. Designed for the dancer, rather than the drummer, Hossam begins each with a description of rhythm, its musical signature, and some words about the “way we feel it.” His instruction is peppered with whats and whys rather than just how-tos.
Among my favorites is his description of the Zaar rhythm as “very spooky” and how offerings of game, sheep or young camel are common with this ritual for driving out evil spirits. Not your usual musical commentary – eh?
ElZeffa is described as “our way of sending newly wedded couples on their honeymoon.” These little cultural descriptions connect the listener to the rhythms in an organic way- bringing the intangible emotional nuances to the surface. Hossam’s voice is charming, clear, crisp, and easily understood with only a hint of an accent.
Less experienced dancers should start with CD 2 as the tracks are very clear rhythm without variation, unlike CD1 where the rhythms are decorated with variations and may be more difficult to pick out. After a bit with CD 2, CD 1 will make more sense.
CD 2 is “a workshop of Egyptian percussion” and is very basic rhythm instruction intended for baby drummers, however, the dancer will benefit greatly from it. CD 2 is where we find more detailed descriptions of the different drums and specific instructions for dums and taks on each. Also there are extended rhythm tracks for practice. Hossam’s confident easy-going style continues: politely, but firmly, admonishing his listeners to not proceed without understanding the terms used, “… as this is a major cause to the halting of any studying process,” referring to the glossary included in the liner notes.
Both CDs are recorded in an easy-to-follow format with pleasant and informative commentary. The information provided with the tracks is even clearer with the liner notes, a word-for-word transcript of the CDs, allowing the listener to read along with Hossam’s words. The liner notes are really a 25-26 pg. booklet of the CD commentary in 4 languages, an illustrated musical notation of the included rhythms, and the glossary. This CD set is not meant to be the beginning and end all of instruction – it is an introduction. Hossam, in his teaching wisdom, provides the appropriate level of information without too much to confuse the listener.
Rhythms of the Nile is a primer, reference, a teaching tool, a refresher course – in short , everything Ramzy intended it to be.
Newer dancers, armed with a recognition of basic rhythms and their various drum incarnations, may expand their musical abilities quicker. Experienced dancers will find a new understanding of an old favorite and an excellent companion for finger cymbal workouts. Instructors of dance and drumming alike will find this a useful CD for organizing their own thoughts and movements for lessons and practice sessions. It is a first stop on a journey to a working relationship with Egyptian (and Arabic) music.
Rating: 3 1/2 zils
A second stop on our music journey, Baladi Plus is meant to be the follow-up to Rhythms of the Nile.
This time the familiar rhythms come fully orchestrated for surround-sound music for dance, dance practice and dance instruction. And dance you will! It’s impossible to sit and listen to this CD- it’s just too juicy.
The eight tracks are all between 6-9 minutes with the exception of the first – Night Foal – a rebaba and mizmar taxim. I can smell Egypt when I hear that piece. The two instruments are easily identified making it ideal to introduce the rebaba and mizmar instruments to my classes. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th tracks are primarily rhythm pieces- Saidi, Masmoudi-Maqsoum, and Zaar, respectively. Wonderfully rich and strong, these three pieces are a backbone of practice and performance. Arabian Knights, a solid Saidi rhythm speaks of good times and is featured on the Prince of Persia soundtrack. Mashalla, the masmoudi, is motivation-in-motion while the deeply rhythmic zaar, Alla Hai, is… well, spooky. Baladi, Egypt’s urbanized folk music and Mohammed Ali Street, where accordions and rhythm drive the night, are captured in Baladi we Hetta (track 5). Again, communicating the intangible, Hossam describes track 6, Wahda We Bas, as “food for the soul.” It’s hard to argue with the master. Those torchy oud taxims flow like lava around the crisp Wahda Kebira and subtle Samaii… and so do you. Lively track 7, Malfuf Ala Westi, “wrapped around my hip”, is backed up by the ubiquitous accordion – which I love, just for the record. The final track, Roah Albi is an exhilarating drum solo with rhythm changes and finger cymbal interplay that showcase the mastery of Ramzy’s drumming.
Baladi Plus is the perfect storm- incredibly useful in any setting – entrances, exits, taxims, folkloric, Baladi, drum solo – it’s all here in one CD. Thanks to editing software, dancers can perform sections from this musical tapestry or use entire tracks for larger shows and teaching. It is the only CD I use or need for my performance class drills. But the best thing about Baladi Plus is the music – I can smell Egypt, all of it.
Rating: 4 zils
SABLA TOLO III- Advanced Journeys into pure Egyptian Percussion
Rhythmic Illusions Unveil
The third installment of Ramzy’s Sabla Tolo series, Sabla Tolo 3 continues his new collection of stand-alone drum solos, or rather drum songs. Hossam created this series for dancers, to share new rhythm compositions and to showcase percussion as a song – developing each drum song as a musical song does – with verses and repeating motifs. The concept and these drum songs are something different and inspiring. The rhythm changes and transitions are fresh, exciting, and challenging.
In the extensive Sabla Tolo liner booklets, Hossam relates the origins of the drum solo in Raks Sharki and how it relates to the Sabla Tolo series. It seems that Hossam is a drum solo freak – really? Who knew? He’s studied every drum solo, watched them make-or-break dance routines and pondered the possibilities of greater Egyptian percussion. Could it be emotional, inspirational, even musical? Attempting to answer these questions, Ramzy’s Sabla Tolo series is packed with original full percussion arrangements of drum songs for Oriental dance using Egyptian and other Middle Eastern rhythms, an imaginative innovation in almost 50 years of drum solo tradition.
In Sabla Tolo 3, Hossam introduces the concept of rhythmic illusions – and of course, he unveils it for us with the first track, Saraab Iqaay (Rhythmic Illusion). In the introduction to this piece he explains his concept of rhythmic illusion-the morphing of rhythmic motifs from one to another. It’s going to take a bit for this dancer to absorb that both intellectually and musically.
To this ear, the dynamic transitions between the rhythms with different time signatures sound bumpy- like a glitch in the music.
The remaining 12 tracks are not “bumpy”, average 4 minutes each, and also display multiple traditional rhythms transformed by Hossam’s magic fingers. The exception is track 9, Wuh Ya Booy is only 2 ½ minutes and all Saidi.
Each track is described fully in the accompanying liner booklet: Hossam’s introduction, the song’s background and its meaning to him. He provides a detailed breakdown in an easy-to-follow chart with transitions for each track: the musical score, the rhythms, time signatures, number of bars and musical notation.
All are very danceable, traverse a variety of moods and surely compliment a variety of dancers’ styles.
All these liner booklets, especially the Sabla Tolo 3, are amazing little resources, but it gets better. The identical set of notes for this CD is available for download from his website. It comes in larger print for reading ease. Listen to the selection and follow along with the booklet. It is a choreographic dream and it is meant to be, saving drummer and dancer alike frustration and time. As always, Ramzy’s introductions provide clues as to the context of the music and how “we feel it.”
This is my first look at the Sabla Tolo series and I’m looking forward to the first two CDs now. I like Sabla Tolo 3, despite feeling some drum songs are smoother than others. I particularly enjoy track 2, Serr Maktoub and track 5, Khamsa Wa Khamsa – I easily hear their “song” qualities.
Sabla Tolo 3 is a modern, exciting addition to Oriental dance. It has broad appeal beyond Oriental dance and a definite for any drum solo collector and for those who find little inspiration in traditional pieces. Dancers should heed the subtitle, Advanced Journeys into pure Egyptian Percussion, and decide appropriately as to the level suitability for performance or practice.
Rating: 3 zils
Rhythms of the Nile and Baladi Plus are a must in any Oriental dance library. They are meant to be and function well as sequential and complimentary, although they easily stand alone on their merits as preparation for our third CD, Sabla Tolo III.
Sabla Tolo III: Advanced Journeys into pure Egyptian Percussion represents an innovation in Oriental dance music, a departure from the traditional percussion style of other two CDs and is not for the faint-hearted. Together the three present a progression of Oriental dance rhythms- from basic to complex.
Resources and Purchase information
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