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Turkish Bellydance: Nasrah
By the Ensemble Huseyin Turkmenler
ARC Music Int. 2001, EUCD 1649

Review by Najia El-Mouzayen

"Everything old is new again!" That's how the song lyric goes and is so true! I have been requested to review the new release with dancer Nasrah Nefer on the cover.  I placed the CD in the player with trepidation because I had been a "Turkish Style" dance performer in a Greek Folkdance Taverna for the first five years of my dance career and remember it with fondness.  I wished not to ruin my lovely memories of the music and the Turks I met in the Aitos Taverna, Berkeley, California.  I really did not want very much to listen to nearly 60 minutes of excruciating fast, and shrill Turkish tunes played on the clarinet and kanoon.  What an absolutely delightful surprise it was, then, to begin the first tune on the recording:

1 Arabia (anon.) - 4:07 (actually: 6:01)
Here is a presentation for a dancer who is not faint of heart!  It features and extraordinary violin passages that move one's emotions with tremolo and pizzicato effects and made me yearn for the "old days".  The title may indicate Arabian style dance music but, to me, it has the distinct signature of Turkish musicians.  I was transfixed!  As Turkish music is wont to do, the tune goes up tempo and ends at a fast pace, yet with a gentle close.

It was at this point that I noticed that the length of the recording seemed incorrect on the printout and checked the duration of each selection and found only one that was anywhere close to being correct.  Consequently, I caution you, if you are under specific time constraints, please take care to check the accuracy of your choice of dance music.  Do not rely automatically on the enclosures.  (I will include the correct duration times in this review.)

2. Rast Oyun Havasi (Surku Tunar) 6:57 (actually 5:31)
This piece, done in a Turkish Makam or scale called "Rast", starts fast and remains fast throughout.  It is an old fashioned favorite for dance with typical Turkish instrumentation such as the clarinet and kanoon (qanun) taxim (taqasim) accompanied by a chiftetelli background.  What is outstanding in this selection is the amazingly lucid violin taxim! The selection also contains a very short drum solo accompanied by the tambourine.  It also has a little finale and ends abruptly.

3. Bekar Gezelim (Group Lacin) 5:27 (actually 4:34)
For me, this was the least appealing instrumental on this recording on several counts.  It is another fast paced piece of music featuring both violins and (I think I heard) the cello.  Though the second half of the track has an interesting rhythm change, it is disappointing because rather than ending musically, the cut ends electronically with a fadeout.

4.Calgici Karisi Binnaz (Ciguli) 5:58 (actually 5:18)
A mellow nay taxim begins the selection.  It changes to a chipper little clarinet, drum, and finger cymbal tune.  A clear and intriguing kanoon taxim with a 2/4 rhythm background (doum, teka, doum, tek) and voice accents to add charm and cultural flavor.  The selection speeds, then slows again to a gentle completion.

5.Kalardo/Sallasana Mendilini (anon.) 8:40 (actually 8:44)
A heart wrenching violin taxim accompanied by a drone behind denoting an impending change that turns out to be a slow percussive 9-count rhythm which, I presume, is the tune about "waving your hanky"!  This entire track contains passionately sensual violins.  It is unusual in its wavering back and forth between themes "A" and "B", with some strange scrambling about, underneath the main theme, by some of the instruments.  The piece ends only after ascending to a rakish speed.  This was my favorite cut on the recording.

6.Tekirdag Karsilamasi (anon.) 6:05 (actually 4:37)
This is a 9/8 Karsilamas rhythm.  It is an old favorite tune suitable for the Belly dance that I used to perform back in the '70s.  It is a bit whiny, as Turkish music sometimes is, with a spectacular clarinet section followed by a deft Turkish touch on the oud and kanoon licks like the sounds of "birds" so typical in much Turkish music.  It is replete with vocal encouragement and then slows to the end.

7.Percussion Improvisation/Konyali (anon.) 4:31 (actually 6:08)
There is a drum solo beginning for about two and a half minutes then it slides into an old favorite featuring spoons (or a spoon-like instrument) in the percussion along with the violin in a 2/4 rhythm.  There are breathtaking runs on the violin!  Unfortunately, the piece dies away at its end.

8.Nikris Oyoun Havasi/Ya Mustafa (anon.) 4:34 (actually 4:11)
The clarinet plays the melody of a long-time favorite dance tune.  It also includes a short kanoon passage with a steady drum backup and accents.  There is also a strong oud taxim with finger cymbals and drum.  The medley slides effortlessly into a rather fast clipped version of "Ya Mustafa"  employing a high pitched clarinet then a contrasting, mellow oud taxim which picks up the tempo then slows again to the end.

9.Karacabey Ciftetellisi (Senol Kurt)/Nigde Baglari (anon.) 5:15 (actually 7:00)
In a modern twist, a keyboard taxim starts this selection.  It is done in a typical, fast Turkish style chiftetelli rhythm that omits the silent rest on count eight that we dancers first came to know and love in beginners' class.  There is the clarinet taxim, and a violin shines along with the cello.  The medley changes to a fast-paced and busy 2/4 rhythm, still featuring the drum and violin.  Oh! another electronic fadeout ending… These are so disappointing to dancers!

10.Mastika (anon.) 4:35 (actually 4:36; very close!)
The closing tunes of most Turkish dance performances are usually set in a fast 9/8 rhythm.  This one includes the entire instrumental array with added vocal encouragement for the band members.  Mastika, speeds along and then slows at the very end.

I was very impressed with this recording.  It carried me back to the passions of my early career and the joy that I found in dancing to this type of music.  My early employers were Greek-Americans, proud of their heritage, and they were equally proud to include me and my "Eastern dance" in their evening performance lineup even though they wanted me to understand that the Turks were not loved in Greece. Therefore, Turkish Belly dance was not highly esteemed either.  They wanted me to understand that the Turks invaded and occupied Greece so that the cultures touched and exchanged dance as part of the encounter.  It was a happy learning experience for me.

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