Gilded Serpent presents...
Macedonian Bellydance
CD Reviewed by: Rebecca Firestone

As I popped this one into my CD player for the first time and began to listen, I thought, "Oh... this is just like Yuri Yunakov... only slower." Imagine the lightning-fast syncopation of this world-renowed Bulgarian Rom musician, slowed down for easy listening, and you will understand why the first track on this CD did not thrill me. Fortunately, not every track is as diluted as the first one.

However, if it weren't for the title, it wouldn't be getting a review on a bellydance forum like Gilded Serpent.

This is not specifically bellydance music. This is dance hall or party music. Furthermore, it has a very different sound from the Arabic compositions and pop tunes that are probably more familiar to the Gilded Serpent audience.

When Lynette first asked me to review this, the CD came as a copy, with no liner notes, and so all I had to go on was a working familiarity with other musics of the Balkan region: places like Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Romania; the Roma variants of same, and Jewish Klezmer musics. I heard elements of all of these in this CD, mixed with jazz.

For someone who is already familiar with those musical genres, you might really enjoy dancing to some of the tracks on here. While some of the tunes were a little too mainstream-pop sounding for me, there were a couple of real winners on here as well.

Now that I've got the liner notes in front of me, I can at least tell you who's on it: Ferus Mustafov, Ilia Ampevski, Novica Sokolovski, and Isin Agusev. Their bios describe them as accomplished and serious musicians, many born into musical families. The tracks are titled according to musical genre rather than descriptively, for example "Pasa cocek" rather than something like "House of the Rising Sun". The liner notes did not include details on any of the tracks.

Balkan music can be very complex, with odd time signatures and a lot of syncopation, played at a breakneck speed.

Balkan brass bands like the Brass Menagerie have a distinctive sound - wild, sometimes raucous and rough, with a lot of vitality.

The music on this CD, while somewhat synthesized, retained enough of the original texture and charm to be quite appealing. I heard clarinets, saxophone, voice, synthesizer, trumpet, a viola (?), and accordion. Almost every song included some fabulous improvisational sections, on clarinet, violin, trumpet, or voice. The style of ornamentation, particularly in the brass sections, sounded to me like the Bulgarian Rom music - each note seemed to sparkle and skip.

There's a lot of really cool stuff coming out of Eastern Europe these days. Another band that came to mind while I was listening to this CD was Gogol Bordello, who are a kind of Russian Gypsy Punk band (yes, Gypsy in the sense of being ethnically Roma).

On one of the mailing lists I'm on, there was recently a heated discussion on whether there was such a thing as "Balkan bellydance".

Many listers pointed out that there are no "bellydance" traditions in places like Bulgaria, and so it is inaccurate to use this term for any dance done to this music, and furthermore, one shouldn't bellydance to that music, period.

My position is, if it uses a lot of undulations, you can call it "bellydance" no matter where the music or dancers are from. And if a piece of music moves you to shimmy instead of doing some prescribed folk dance, that's perfectly legit even if the regional dances for that music look totally different.

However, I think dancers should try to make the dance match the music in how it feels, and attempting the ultra-dramatic "high Egyptian" style to this music might look as if the dancer didn't understand the music. If you are planning to adapt any of these musics for bellydance, you might try learning some of the regional folk dances first, from someone who really knows how to do them, and then let that inform your dance.

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