The Gilded Serpent presents...
Zaharr's Memoir, Part 8
Early Street Performing
by Zaharr A. Hayatti

Now that I was practicing nearly all day, every day, it occurred to me at last that Bill and Kathy might like a little peace in their home. I had met many musicians at the Colby Street house, but only one of them seemed serious about Middle Eastern music.

Don Brown was performing with “The Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company”. They were a truly astonishing group. When you went to one of their performances, you never knew quite what to expect. One night, at an outdoor evening concert in Berkeley, after the “surprise Gamelan section” and just before end of the performance, the cast members went through the audience distributing free home-made whole grain bread. The next time I saw Don, I told him how delicious the bread had been. Suddenly, out of the blue, he said: “Hey, Zaharr, would you like to do some street performing with me?”

In 1968, there were no dancers performing on the street yet, but that didn't deter us one bit. We started out by passing the hat at Sproul Plaza on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. He would sling a big metal doumbek over his shoulder on a heavy sash, and would pound out a variety of rhythms. His drum attracted lots of attention! It was the first time anyone had heard that.

Most of the time, I wore a white gauze blouse with big puffy sleeves and a long dark-green woolen skirt that would flare out around me as I twirled. I contrived a sort of what I thought was a gypsy look. Somewhere around my body, I would wrap the black and silver Assuit. One day it would be a hip wrap, one day a veil, another time I might just twist it into a neck scarf. Sometimes, on very warm days, I would roll up just the front of my blouse and pin it in place with a huge rhinestone Eisenberg brooch my mother had bought in the ‘40’s. After my first barefoot performance, I decided to wear a pair of knee length black boots.

a great site with music samples of bagpipes from all over the world!

I decorated a tambourine with felt-tip pens in a sort of “Avalon Ballroom Poster”-inspired design, and tied a handful of ribbons to it. Don would beat the drum, I'd bang on the tambourine, or work on my zills patterns, and practice my belly dance moves. These components were mixed in with some Irish Folk-Dance steps I'd learned in the Irish convent where I grew up. My teacher, I hesitate to say, did not have any concept yet of stage make-up and I wore this hideous black eyeliner painted all around my eyes.

We actually managed to draw huge crowds. Looking back on our act from my current perspective: thirty-five years later, I cannot imagine what possessed people to hang around watching us for more than a few seconds. They actually threw money in our hat! I think it was the venue; folks were probably needing a change from the anti-war lectures and demonstrations which were the usual fare at Sproul Plaza, or maybe they just hung around waiting for us to actually DO something.

Maybe guys just liked to hang out to see my bare stomach, which, can you believe, was rare and daring in those days?

It was a big event when Don showed up one day with an Iranian Goat horn that he hung on a strip of colored wool around his neck.

It had two reeds with two sawed-off goat-horn tips fastened onto the reeds. He'd clamp the horn in his teeth and produce a very unusual sound by blowing through one reed or the other, or both at the same time. There was really no distinguishable melody coming out of it that he could control, just a louder noise! As I write this, I can only shake my head and laugh at what we must have looked and sounded like back then. What WERE we thinking?

One day, this Scottish bagpiper named Chris appeared at one of our breaks, and asked us if we'd like him to join us. He actually played melodies. What a revolutionary concept! He also made so much noise you could hear him from blocks away. We were thrilled at the surge in the size of our audiences, and finally had a group of raggle-taggle gypsies-o...

It was great to have Chris around for other reasons too. I needed body-guards at this point. It was just the bare stomach, I know it wasn't the show.

We occasionally had marvelously articulate hecklers. It WAS the University of California, after all.

Heavy Fundamentalist Religionists loved to speechify at, and intimidate, our audiences. Sometimes they did it in English. On one particularly crowded afternoon, I heard ”Jezebel!” angrily shouted from somewhere at the back of the crowd. People moved far away from an obviously angry man who seemed intent on blowing my act. He ranted on and on, telling folks they were all going straight to hell if they cast their eyes on this public display of woman-flesh, (the stomach again, sigh…) I think that must have been the day Chris, our bagpiper, suggested we consider street performing over the bridge in San Francisco.

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Ready for more?
more from Zaharr

Zaharr's Memoir, Part 7 Putting it together by Zaharr A. Hayatti
"Well, I planned a little treat for you today,” she confided, “let’s see how this works.”

3-24-04 "I'd Rather Stay Home with my Kids" by Amina Goodyear (chapter 2)
I asked her how to take it off, and she told me to figure it out when I was on stage. Then I heard - "Our "guest" dancer, Amina, all the way from upstairs!"

3-18-04 Najia's List of Recommended CDs, 2004 update
Print and compare this list to your present collection or take it to the next festival to help you find these treasures!



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