Music for Beginners?

bomu samba

New member
I've recently realised that I need to seriously increase my Middle Eastern music library if I want to improve as a dancer. I know very little about ME music and have done a lot of my practice to Electronica*.

I have bought couple of compilation CDs and our teacher is making a playlist of modern ME songs for us, but I'd really like to expand my knowledge of ME music further.

Can anyone recommend good CDs for beginners? And does anyone know of any resources that explain more about the music - rhythms, instruments, styles, etc.

*I know, I know! Please don't send the Belly Dance Police after me!:pray:

Farasha Hanem

New member
I think a good introduction would be "10 Songs Every Bellydancer Should Know" (although there ARE more than ten we should be familiar with). Some good CD's that teach rhythm are "Drums of Lebanon" (I need to look up who put it out, its here on my iPhone), and Uncle Malfufo's 25 Rhythms CD. I have another one called "Full Circle Drums." Also, anything by Warda and Oum Kalthoum would be good.

I have other suggestions, but since they're on my iPhone, and m daughter has my laptop kidnapped, I'll have to look up what I have. :confused:

Edit: Oh, gosh! I nearly forgot "Alwan Min Al Sharq!" There are two volumes, and there are only two places I know of where you can order them (warning, both volumes are expensive). I'll find the links for you later. :)
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bomu samba

New member
Thanks Farasha!
I looked up the "10 Songs" tracklist and am relieved to see that even I have heard of some of them. I'll definitely add these suggestions to my "to buy" list.

Farasha Hanem

New member
Glad to help! :D

If you're looking for more authentic music rather than club mixes or electronica, here are some other suggestions I recently purchased from iTunes:

Soul of Cairo
Nourhan Sharif Raqs Sharqui vol. 1
Raqsat Al Mijwiz
Mystical Garden
Layali Al Sharq
Aziza Raks!
Yalla A Beirut

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I'm sure the more seasoned dancers here have terrific suggestions to share! :D Also, check out the sticky thread at the beginning of this subforum. :D
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bomu samba

New member
Ooh, more great suggestions - thank you!

Outi, your website link was really good. I remember just enough from music lessons to understand the notations. :D


New member
Classic Songs All Belly Dancers Should Know:

Ah Ya Zein
Ala Baladi Elimhboub
Ala Hesh Wedad Galbi
Ala Nar
Alf Leyla We Leyla
Ana Fi Intizarak
Ayeela Tayha
Bahlam Beek
Banat Iskandria
Batawans Beek
Bir Demet Yasemen
Dala'a el Helween
El Gamal Wel Gamal
El Hiya Hilwa
Enta Omri
Gamil Gamal
Ghannili Sheway Sheway
Habibi Ya Eini
Habibi Ya Nour El Ein
Harramt Ahebbaek
Hazar Fazar
Hes Bes
Hizzi Ya Nawaeem
Lailet Hob
Lama Bada
Lissa Fakir
Luxor Baladna
Nagwa's Drum Solo
Noura Noura
Rampi Rampi
Salamat Ya Om Hassan
Sallam Allay
Samra Ya Samra
Set el Hosen
Shick Shak Shok
Ta Mavra Matia Sou
Tahtil Shibbak
We Daret El Ayam
Ya Gameel
Ya Rayah
Ya Tamr Henna
Zay al Hawa

Vowels and some consonants in Arabic don’t translate into English exactly. Arabic is pronounced slightly differently from country to country and English and Arabic don’t have the exact same sound qualities. Q, K, SH, are often interchanged and vowels are switched a lot. Artist names and song titles spelling will vary when translated. Sometimes there are even different names for the same folk song altogether!

One big issue with belly dance music is that some of the same songs get played by several different cultures/countries. It may be the same song, but a Turkish version of an Egyptian song will sound different from when an American band or an Egyptian band plays it. It can get a little hairy, especially when people from different countries lay "claim" to the same tune. The best thing to do is to pick albums arranged for the famous Egyptian dancers or produced by Egyptian belly dancers. Hard copies are usually nicer and you get the liner notes.

Check the sections that specify Egyptian music:
Hollywood Music Center
Belly Dance Music, Belly Dance CDs, Belly Dance MP3s, Buy Belly Dance Music has some stuff, but it's not well organized

Good Egyptian Albums:
Belly Dance Classics with Fifi Abdo
Belly Dance with Dina
Belly Dance Time
Bint el Balad with Fifi Abdo
Beyond the Desert- Classical Egyptian Belly Dance
Cairo Delight
Cairo Plus
Cry to the Moon
Dancing with Genies
Drum Circle (Movses Pannosian)
The Essence of Belly Dance
Golden Days Enchanting Nights
Jalilah's Raks Sharki series 1-6
Master of Egyptian Belly Dance
Millennium- Music for Belly Dance
Melodies from Cairo
Nourhan Sharif Raqs Sharqui series
On Fire! The Hottest Belly Dance CD ever
Princess of Cairo
Pulse of the Sphinx
Samasem Dreams
Samasem Presents Music for Oriental Dance
The Soul of Cairo
Wash Ya Wash (series)
10 Songs Every Belly Dancer Should Know
123 Belly Dance


New member
Beginner's guide to Arabic music vocabulary & info (not complete)

‘Aqd- (pl. ‘uqud) Set of Arabic pentachords (5 note set) used to make up a maqam.
Al-Farabi (Abū Naṣr Muḥammad al-Fārābī) lived 872-950 The system from his book, Kitab al-Musiqa al-Kabir, is the basis for Arabic music today. Not much factual information is known about his life and many stories are apocryphal.
Al-Kindi (Abū-Yūsuf Ya‘qūb ibn Isḥāq ibn as-Ṣabbāḥ ibn ‘Omrān ibn Isma‘īl al-Kindī) lived 801–873 AD The father of Arab music theory. Five of his treatises on music theory have survived. He is the first person known to use the Arabic word musiqia which became our word music, and was an early practitioner of music therapy.
Ardiyya- A sustained background drone.
Azan- The melodic Islamic call to prayer recited by the muezzin. May be intoned with a single note or utilize a maqam.
Bartol Gyurgieuvits (1506 - 1566) Author of De Turvarum Ritu et Caermoniis (1544 Amsterdam). He was an escaped Ottoman slave and was the first European to write about Arabic music.
Drum solo- Highly ornamented drum accents usually played over a rhythm. A modern development.
Firqa- A large music ensemble of eight or more musicians, drummers, and vocalists.
Forms- Strophic: one repeated melody (common in folk music), ABA: melody A is followed by melody B etc., AABB: melody A repeats twice then melody B repeats twice, AABA: melody A is repeated then followed by melody B then melody A again, Rondo: begins and ends with the refrain which also separates the melodies, i.e. RARBRCRDR
Heterophony: Arabic music can use several instruments, or a vocal, to carry a single melody line at a time.
Iqa- pl. Iiqa’at - Arabic rhythmic structure. In SCA period meant rhythmic mode, meter, dynamics, tempo, & timbre. Modern use is only for drum patterns. Old Arabic used circular notation showing the cyclical nature. Vary by region. A recurring series of dumms, takks and iss (rests)*

Jins-pl. Ajnas Type of trichord (3 note) or tetrachord (4 notes) sets. Two upper and lower jins will make up a maqam.
Lezima- (Necessary) Small accents and ornamentation that add emotion.
Maqam- pl. Maqamat (location)- In Middle Eastern music, the melodic modal scale system. There are twenty-four notes per octave (intervals between one musical pitch and the next) in the fundamental scale. (12 notes in a chromatic octave of the standard Western scale or 13 counting the lower and upper octave notes) Many maqamat have a “feeling” or “mood” traditionally associated with it.** The first formal written maqamat date from the 14th century in works by Al-Sheikh Al-Safadi and Abdulqadir Al-Maragh.
Melody- In Arabic style music is monophonic and heterophonic. There is a single melody line with no chords or harmony. Several instruments and vocals carry the same melodic line with different ornamentation called lewazim. See Lezima. A group of phrases make up a melody.
Modulation- A piece moving from one Maqam to another.
Monophony- Arabic music presents one melody line at a time with no harmony or chords.
Muwashah pl. muwashahat- A complex musical form from medieval Al-Andalus based in classical poetry whose words are written in Arabic. Every syllable is required to be on a beat. Normally uses one rhythm 2/4 - 48/4 and up. Sometimes uses more than one, but this is unusual.
Nafkh (Wind instruments) Nai, mizmar, kawala, miskal, arghul, dankiyo or tulum (bagpipes)
Naqr (Plucked) kanoun, oud, cheng
Naqrah pl. naqarāt- Beat- The underlying pulse in the music. It may or may not be expressed audibly.
Percussion- duff, tabla baladi, bendir, riqq, davul
Qafla- (Cadence) Going up and down the notes in a maqam.
Quarter tone- A microtonal interval. It’s about half as wide as the semitone, but not exactly in between in Arabic music. A semitone is half as wide as a whole tone. Many, but not all maqams use quartertones. Quarter tones are sometimes found in Western music, but not all Western instruments can play them. Some, like the accordion, can be re-tuned for quarter tones.
Sahb (bowed) i.e. Rebaba, tanbur
Saltana- Esthetic concept of the ecstatic state created by an artistically rendered maqam.
Tabla (doumbek) Goblet drums were not commonly featured during SCA period art. Tabla were only clay with skin heads until the mid 1970s when they also began to make them in aluminum with plastic heads. Very popular with modern belly dancers.
Tahmilah- An instrumental piece that switches between the full ensemble and a solo instrument.
Takht- (bed or couch) A small ensemble of two to five musicians and drummers and can also include vocalists.
Tarab- (Enchantment) The ecstatic state shared between the musician, dancer, and the audience.
Tarjama- (Translation) Receiving the music and showing it through dance.
Taqsim- (Division) a solo instrumental improvisation within a specific maqam.
Hurra (Free) with no expressed beat
Ala el Wahda (On the beat) Taqsim played over an iqa
Taqsim vocal improvisations-
Layali (nights) “ya leili” (Oh my nights) or “ya ayni” (oh my eye)
Mawwal pl. mawawil- colloquial lyrics
Wazn pl. awzān- (measure) regularly occurring time pattern or cycle also called darb, mizan, and usul (Turkish)
Zills- in Turkish, Sagat- in Arabic (Cymbals) The small cymbals on a riqq (Arabic tambourine) or the very large cymbals used in Ottoman military marching bands in sets of two. Also describes a set of four small round metal finger cymbals, worn two per hand, which are played by dancers and musicians. Current research only documents the small cymbals worn on dancer’s fingers to ca. 1700.
*Iqa examples with their time signatures: ayub 2/4, malfuf 2/4, samai ta’er 3/8, maqsuum 4/4, masmudi saghir 4/4, aghar aqsaq 5/8, masmoudi kabir 8/4, aqsaq 9/8, samai thaqil 10/8, awiss 11/8, oyun havasi 11/8, fikra 15/4, awfar 19/4, mukhammas Turqui 32/4, shanbar kabir 48/4
**maqam examples: ajam-like major scale & cheerful both slow or fast tempo, rast- like ajam with two quarter tones very cheerful and classical, nahawand- like minor scale & very dramatic common for love songs, hijaz- common on Arabian peninsula similar to western harmonic minor & spiritual sounding slow or fast tempo, bayat- one quarter tone happy used for celebrations, saba- sad and mystical in a slow tempo when fast is danceable, kurd- spacious and free, sika- stops or starts on a quarter tone “music of the mountains” very strong.

Badawi, Aboudi. Arabic Maqams Made Simple. 2003. CD.
Celik, Serkan. How to Play the Darbuka. Turkey, Ege University, undated. VCD.
Cooper, Paul. Perspectives in Music Theory: an Historical-Analytical Approach. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1973.
Danielson, Virginia. The Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Henkesh, Khamis. Rhythms of Oriental Dance. Spain: Solfeon, 2005. Book, DVD, CD.
Magrini, Tullia. Ed. Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Marcus, Scott L. Music in Egypt: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Book, CD.
Racy, A.J. Making Music in the Arab World: The Culture and Artistry of Tarab. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Renee, Ranya. Bellydance Taqasim: Improvisation Skills & Drills. New York: Ginger City Productions, 2011. DVD.
Sawa, George Dimitri. Egyptian Music Appreciation and Practice for Bellydancers. Toronto: Pyramid Records, 2010. Book, CD.
Van Nieuwkerk, Karin. “A Trade Like Any Other” Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.
Wold, Milo and Cykler, Edmund. An Outline History of Music. Iowa, Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1985.


New member
Well, it's a different direction than previous awesome suggestions, but may I add Bellydance Superstars CD s? When I started they helped me decide very well what I like and don't like as the contents are mega versatile, from classic to modern, all different styles, pop, folklore. I still like the fact that they provide a nice variety and give the newbie ear a great chance of developing an ear for more complex stuff later on.

That said, I'm adding the 'Masters of Bellydance' series to the list, too. Cool variety of authentic orchestrated pieces.

Good luck expanding the collection! Finding your favourite music is a great part of Bellydance fun! :D

Farasha Hanem

New member
NOOOOOOOOOO!!! :'0 Jane, I don't know what just now happened! I just now tried to give you rep on my iPhone for posting all the wonderful info, and it somehow DEDUCTED from your rep!!! :( :( :( Please, would at least two more people here GIVE Jane rep so as to fix my mess? :( Thank you.

*KICKS 3GS* :mad::mad::mad:

bomu samba

New member
Thanks for the suggestion Yshka. I'm pretty much a n00b so "compilations with a lot of variety" will be a welcome intro!

I now have a very long musical wish list - it's a good job payday's coming up soon!:)


New member
... may I add Bellydance Superstars CD s? When I started they helped me decide very well what I like and don't like as the contents are mega versatile, from classic to modern, all different styles, pop, folklore. I still like the fact that they provide a nice variety and give the newbie ear a great chance of developing an ear for more complex stuff later on.
Great suggestion. You can't beat a varied, easy-on-the-ear compilation to give you some starting points.

Rough Guide to Bellydance is good - a range of bellydance-relevant tracks and musicians, and excellent notes if you get the CD (worth it over the download IMO). It's in the sale at Aladdin's Cave at the mo, £6.


New member
I am happy my teacher eased us into it like this. If I would've started right away hearing old age classics I'd have gone mad. I hear EVERYTHING that goes on in a piece of music and it simply would've been too complex. Listening to various styles, including pop, will train the ear for what to expect and will bring one to loved the tougher stuff later ;)

By the way, Rough Guide is awesome. Some really cool stuff on there! There's another double compilation set called Experience Egypt. I love, love, love this!

Farasha Hanem

New member
Bomu, is it all right with you if I move this topic into the Building Your Music Collection sticky? I love Jane's list, and am buying the songs I don't have a few at a time off iTunes (otherwise, I'd be spending over $40 at one time trying to complete the list! :shok: ). I kinda hate losing that list in the shuffle, and it's so excellent. Please let me know if it's all right with you. :)

EDIT: Or maybe I should make this thread a sticky itself? :think: What should I do, everyone? :think:


Super Moderator
Post a link to this thread in the building your collection thread. You could copy Jane's post to that thread as well, if it is all right with Jane, of course. It IS a very nice and extensive list.

(Let me know if you are unsure of how to copy posts)