Hello, I'm new!

LibraRaqs

Member
As the title says, just wanted to say hi--this board looks like an awesome place! I originally discovered the wonder of bellydance years ago through it's music, and as an artist, I've incorporated it into several of my art pieces. I've been dancing (amateur level, for fun) for almost four years. Glad to have found this forum!
 

Tourbeau

Active member
Welcome! Can I ask which kind of music attracted you to the dance? (It gives us an idea of what style you are interested in.)
 

LibraRaqs

Member
Welcome, LibraRaqs. What kind of art do you do?
Thank you, Shanazel! I do a lot of drawing and painting, and belly dancers is a favorite theme of mine for art subjects (a pastel I did in 2019, for instance, is my avatar). Don't worry, I'm not here to sell my stuff, it's just something I love to do! :)
 

LibraRaqs

Member
Welcome! Can I ask which kind of music attracted you to the dance? (It gives us an idea of what style you are interested in.)
Thank you, Tourbeau! So--I love most types of belly dance music, but my all time favorite is traditional Middle Eastern percussion, as well as American music inspired by Eastern rythms. Some examples would be the works of Hossam Ramzy (Egypt) and the bellydance music by Solace (main percussionist, Jerimiah Soto).
How about yourself, do you have any musical favs?
 

Tourbeau

Active member
I took almost the opposite route. I started in a belly dance class, then roamed off into the weeds to explore Arabic popular music. I remember having a conversation in one of my first classes when I asked the teacher whether the music we were using (Light Rain, Brothers of the Baladi, Solace, etc., which was a good chunk of the contemporary BD musical experience back in the late 90s) was what people listened to in the MENA. She thought it probably was, and that didn't seem quite right to me, so I started poking around on the web and found a primitive Arabic streaming library (remember RealPlayer?), and I thought at the time, "I'll just listen to everything they uploaded." I'm not sure who was the bigger dodo in this story, but it turns out 22 Arab countries each recording music for over a century is A LOT of songs, especially when they keep making more and more of them, so I'm still chipping away at that mission.

When I say "Arabic popular music," some dancers assume this means I have terrible, troglodyte taste and cannot appreciate the finer songs, but they are not understanding what I'm actually doing. I listen to pretty much anything that a native of the Arab world might hear and enjoy, not just the lowest common denominators of mainstream culture (although I'll gleefully brawl with anyone who wants to argue that pop music is always garbage, and that there is some weird, rigid dichotomy between "good" "classical" music and "bad" "popular" music).

My thinking is that to truly understand Arabic music, to really develop the musicality of a native dancer, you have to hear what they grow up hearing, from the old songs a grandmother sings to the religious music that should never be used for dancing to the latest club-craze bops. To that end, I rarely listen to stuff produced specifically for belly dancers, which makes me quite an outlier.

Anyway, this week I'm listening to a recent playlist for Hamo Beka, who is a popular Egyptian mahraganat singer, and last week, it was a playlist for Elya Bidha, who was considered one of Lebanon's greatest mawal singers in the mid-20th Century, but has since been somewhat forgotten. I'm not going to pretend I get the full effect of either of them with the handicap of barely speaking Arabic, but I don't let that stop me.
 

LibraRaqs

Member
I took almost the opposite route. I started in a belly dance class, then roamed off into the weeds to explore Arabic popular music. I remember having a conversation in one of my first classes when I asked the teacher whether the music we were using (Light Rain, Brothers of the Baladi, Solace, etc., which was a good chunk of the contemporary BD musical experience back in the late 90s) was what people listened to in the MENA. She thought it probably was, and that didn't seem quite right to me, so I started poking around on the web and found a primitive Arabic streaming library (remember RealPlayer?), and I thought at the time, "I'll just listen to everything they uploaded." I'm not sure who was the bigger dodo in this story, but it turns out 22 Arab countries each recording music for over a century is A LOT of songs, especially when they keep making more and more of them, so I'm still chipping away at that mission.

When I say "Arabic popular music," some dancers assume this means I have terrible, troglodyte taste and cannot appreciate the finer songs, but they are not understanding what I'm actually doing. I listen to pretty much anything that a native of the Arab world might hear and enjoy, not just the lowest common denominators of mainstream culture (although I'll gleefully brawl with anyone who wants to argue that pop music is always garbage, and that there is some weird, rigid dichotomy between "good" "classical" music and "bad" "popular" music).

My thinking is that to truly understand Arabic music, to really develop the musicality of a native dancer, you have to hear what they grow up hearing, from the old songs a grandmother sings to the religious music that should never be used for dancing to the latest club-craze bops. To that end, I rarely listen to stuff produced specifically for belly dancers, which makes me quite an outlier.

Anyway, this week I'm listening to a recent playlist for Hamo Beka, who is a popular Egyptian mahraganat singer, and last week, it was a playlist for Elya Bidha, who was considered one of Lebanon's greatest mawal singers in the mid-20th Century, but has since been somewhat forgotten. I'm not going to pretend I get the full effect of either of them with the handicap of barely speaking Arabic, but I don't let that stop me.
This is actually really cool! And yes, you are correct that Arab/Mid-Eastern music is VERY extensive!!!!!! I won't be able to hear it all in my lifetime. My first taste of Mid-Eastern music was actually through an old Israeli praise CD, "Adonai" that my parents listened to when I was a kid (conservative background). Years later came a random CD that my mom got my brothers and I one Christmas, "Moroccan Spirit" an electronic ambient album put out by--gosh, I don't even know the group off hand! After that came Grooveshark and Spotify; wanting more like Moroccan Spirit, Moroccan music searches led to Egyptian, which led to Arab...and the rest is history.

So--traditional music first, then the pop and rock. I really love both! I totally agree with you, though, that the best way to approach bellydance music is through the old stuff first. Not a hill to die on, just a personal opinion. :) If you like religious music, do you enjoy Sufi flute music? Talk about cool!
Thanks for sharing your musical journey story, it was fun to read! And now I want to go find those musicians...
 

Tourbeau

Active member
This is actually really cool! And yes, you are correct that Arab/Mid-Eastern music is VERY extensive!!!!!! I won't be able to hear it all in my lifetime.
None of us will live long enough to hear it all or perform enough to share every cool song we've found with an audience! There is just so much in every direction--it's like trying to drink from a firehose!

Years later came a random CD that my mom got my brothers and I one Christmas, "Moroccan Spirit" [...]
I don't listen to a large amount of Moroccan music, since they don't produce as much as other places, and some of their more popular singers have built big chunks of their careers by recording non-Moroccan material, like Samira Said (Egyptian) and Asma Lmnawar (Khaleeji). Probably my favorite singer from Morocco is Abdel Fatah (el) Grini. He has so much charisma and a lovely, distinctive voice, but I keep waiting for him to find another hit as good as "Ya khasartak fil layali."

So--traditional music first, then the pop and rock. I really love both! I totally agree with you, though, that the best way to approach bellydance music is through the old stuff first.
I'm not sure if you are talking about MENA pop and rock, or Western pop and rock, or a bit of both. I really like Arabic pop, and I think it is a perfectly fine starting place for dancers who aren't sure how to relate to more complex and/or unfamiliar-sounding music. I'd much rather see a dancer create an entertaining performance to a MENA pop song than see one flail around on top of a more challenging magency they can't connect to, or resort to dancing to Western music because it feels more familiar, easy, and convenient.

Personally, I'm not especially fond of MENA rock music. Some of it is interesting, but a lot feels like Western rock just sung in Arabic (or Turkish or Kurdish...), and the whole culture of Western-style indie bands that exploded during the Arab Spring reminds me of the English-language hipster music I don't listen to here. There is also the problem that many of these acts use their music to advocate for social and political reform, which puts a dancer in the controversial position of making a Big Statement on somebody else's business.

I have similar issues with their rap, mahraganat, and the other hip-hop influenced styles. Sometimes the subject matter doesn't belong in a hafla. Sometimes I think the music feels too derivative of Western stuff to justify using it. And some of the songs just aren't great for performing, because the lyrics are carrying the weight, and the music isn't compositionally strong enough to hang a choreography on.

But every style has exceptions.

Truth be told, many students are not receptive to full-strength MENA music (especially the "roots" stuff like folkloric field recordings or adwar from old 78s) when they first start dancing, and it takes an amount of exposure to fluffier, mainstream ME pop, before they can warm up to the more foreign sounds. "Real" music can initially seem too strange to ears that have never heard it before...but many dancers will honestly never need to develop a taste for the hardcore stuff, and that's fine, too. Not everybody needs to go full-throttle, maximum music nerd. I do think anyone who considers themself a serious hobbyist or a professional ought to at least clear the bar of being able to listen to a mawal without calling it "moaning" or enjoy a Reda-Troupe-level folkloric recording without complaining about "screechy instruments," though.

If you like religious music, [...]
I'm sorry I wasn't clearer. I was saying I think it is an essential part of an experienced belly dancer's training to have some familiarity with the intersection of religion and music in the MENA, particularly the contentious relationship between Islam and music.

It used to be fairly common to find dancers who would avoid songs with words because they were terrified of accidentally performing to lyrically inappropriate music, and everybody had a story about someone who knew a dancer who went abroad and started dancing in the souq to a muezzin's Call to Prayer and made a scene.

At some point, this is kind of like going on a hike and somebody says, "Watch out for poison ivy!" but nobody tells you what poison ivy looks like.

The internet has made it much easier for dancers to find music that is appropriate for performing, but the antidote to the Islamic-ignorance part is to not be ignorant! The internet has also made it easier to know what the Call to Prayer (Adhan), recitations of the Quran, the 99 Names of Allah, prayer chants (anasheed), Eid "holiday" songs*, etc., sound like so you can recognize the things you should never dance to.

do you enjoy Sufi flute music? Talk about cool!
It's lovely, but I hesitate to endorse it too much, since it has a specific, meaningful purpose that most dancers don't have a use for. I certainly don't have a problem with listening to it (see above), but I wouldn't want to be responsible for encouraging some dancer to use Sufi music designed for prayerful contemplation as a classroom cool down, much less use it at home for sexy-time chill out vibes.

There's so much more information available now that dancers don't have to live in irrational fear of making a mistake, but it's still better to overestimate how respectful to be than underestimate and offend someone.

* If you book an Eid party gig and the customer requests an Eid holiday song, it might be okay, but I'd still suggest steering them out of it. Any crowd celebrating a Muslim holiday will have a few people who aren't entirely on board with a dancer to begin with, but start shaking it in a skimpy costume to "Eid Mubarak" lyrics, and you'll find them.
 

LibraRaqs

Member
I'm not sure if you are talking about MENA pop and rock, or Western pop and rock, or a bit of both.
Oops, I meant MENA! And I looked up the artist you mentioned, that is some really nice music! Thanks for sharing!
Also, thanks so much for the warnings--I got carried away with music theory and forgot to clarify! Definitely, religious/Sufi music is NOT what I would consider bellydance music!!!!! Haha--I can only imagine how bad that would go down if such a mistake was made by a performer. Since I've been listening to Middle East/North African music longer than I've listened to bellydance music proper, I forgot to differentiate. Thanks for bringing that up, though, those are some awesome points!
 

LibraRaqs

Member
Truth be told, many students are not receptive to full-strength MENA music (especially the "roots" stuff like folkloric field recordings or adwar from old 78s) when they first start dancing, and it takes an amount of exposure to fluffier, mainstream ME pop, before they can warm up to the more foreign sounds. "Real" music can initially seem too strange to ears that have never heard it before...
Okay, that's totally been my experience going to bellydance lessons in my area. Some of my favorite dance music comes from an album of Moroccan music recorded by field artists in 1959. But then, one group I later practiced with, based on the American Tribal Fusion concept, had very little MENA music-- they were so nice it didn't bother me, just had to get used to hearing more MENA music at home than at dance practice, lol! The funny part, also, is family...I have a sibling who shares my interest in foreign music, and it can be VERY uncomfortable on ears not used to Persian classical or Arabian traditional music! I love it; not everyone else does, though.
 
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