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  • Lisa Lumina

Level Two: 1.9 Bands & Orchestras, And Beledi Cane

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

Class Review

Last week's reading focused on some common song structures. This week, let's talk about what Dr. Sawa calls "multi-component" songs. This is the most common type when it comes to something like an entrance number, or other music composed specifically for raks sharki. From the work we've done in this class you can probably notice changes from one section to the next by now (especially if you have already taken the rhythms semester classes), but it is the subject of longer study to recognize all of the references found in these songs.

A song for a dancer often references different folk dances, with sections including orientalized saidi and khalejee being very popular in music from the 80s and 90s. I've even heard some modern renditions where a khalejee section was replaced with Iraqi rhythms and instrumentation, as popular demand has changed. So, even if you only ever want to dance raks sharki, it is important to learn about as many folk dances as you can, if only to catch and translate those references in oriental dance music.


Instrument of the Week

This semester, we've worked on musical phrasing and learning to identify different instruments. All of that comes together when a band or orchestra plays. So to cap off the semester, let's look at some different types of bands!

First up, a tahkt ensemble. This is a small group of musicians, and depending on context could be any combination of instruments, but generally will be traditional Arabic instruments. The first video is an example, playing a classic shaabi song. The second video, with Soaud Hosny in red, is from a movie where she is part of an Awalim family, and in this scene her family troupe is entertaining at a beledi wedding. Since at least the mid 1800s it has been the traditional way for Awalim to perform publicly that they would be on a stage with the band (possibly male members of their family, possibly musicians they had hired from cafes on Mohammed Ali street) playing cymbals and singing, and would get up to dance when moved to, or when the performance called for it. I included the clip as an example of that, but if you listen you'll notice the instruments you hear playing are not the ones on the stage in the clip, this is not uncommon in movies.

Sometimes you will hear a full orchestra, and not see one, thanks to movie magic. However, the fashion for light percussion (sometimes just a tambourine, aka riq) to allow for the artistry of the melody to shine, in echoed in the softer style of dancing characteristic of the silver screen stars from the 40s and 50s in Cairo. This style of art music is still popular, even if dancers can't afford to hire a full orchestra to play it live for them.

In the US scene, from the 50s until now, musicians are often from a mixture of backgrounds. You might have a club where the kanoon player is from Syria, the oud player is from Greece, the tabla player is from Turkey, and the violinist was a rhebaba player before they left Egypt. This contributed to the music and dance style that became vintage American, as musicians, patrons, restaurant owners, and other dancers, trained new dancers on the job. It is also worth noting that in Turkey and in the US the venue/band would hire the dancer, while in Egypt the dancer would hire the band. That impacted the size of band, and how much the dancer plays her finger cymbals.


Prop of the Week

This week covers a third way to use canes: beledi style. This is a style centered on Cairo, but full of down-home feeling. I'll write more about it when we get to talking about folkloric styles, but what to know about the use of cane is that it is typically borrowed from men, and reference men's style of beledi. This cane is more likely to have a crook and be thicker. It can be a playful bit of a woman dancing with a guy's cane for fun, or a case of bellydancers being able to do some gender bending because of their position as performers, for example, the men's hat and galabeya Fifi is wearing in the first clip of her.

Naima Akef in a playful movie

Nany, at a professional show

Ranya has a DVD on Baladi

As "queen of baladi", Fifi Abdou gets a slew of clips :) Notice how her band follows her in the 2nd one.


Song of the Week

Gana el Hawa, one of the many hits by superstar of the golden era: Abdel Halim Hafez. Here are the Lyrics and a playlist, including the clip of the song in the original movie!

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