The Blog

Must-Know Bellydance Song: “Misirlou”

Who, What and When?

“Misirlou” is one of the most recognizable Arabic melodies there is, thanks to modern covers by Dick Dale and more recently, sampling by the Black Eyed Peas.  The earliest recorded version is from Egypt in 1919, with credit for the composition given to Sayyed Darwish, a prominent composer in Cairo at the turn of the century.  Darwish worked with many Greek and Turkish session musicians there and it is likely that is how the tune spread so widely through the Mediterranean.

Greeks and Turks have been known to claim “Misirlou” for their own, though the earliest documented source appears to be Darwish’s Egyptian recording. Early Greek versions from the late 1920’s are often classified as “rebetiko” music, which was urban and political by nature. One of my Greek musician friends described “rebetiko” as “anarchist music” and told me it was banned in Greece from 1938 till around 1950 due to it’s lyric content.

Versions of “Misirlou” abound – from very soft and flowing to upbeat and energetic. Aside from the instrumental variations, there are versions sung in Greek, Turkish, Arabic and probably more out there.

What is “Misirlou” about?

“Misirlou” means “Egyptian Girl”, and the 1919 recording was, in fact, titled “Bint Masr” which means the same in Arabic. It is an ode to an exotic beauty.

My Misirlou, your sweet eyes
Have lit a flame in my heart
Ah ya habibi, ah ya leleli, ah
Honey drips from your lips

Ah Misirlou, your magical exotic beauty
Will drive me crazy, I can’t stand it anymore
Ah I will steal you from Arabia

My black-eyed crazy Misirlou
My life changes with a kiss
Ah ya habibi, with a little kiss, ah
From the little mouth of yours, oh!

Source: Greek Songs – Greek Music . Interesting note – this site credits the lyrics and music to Nick Roubanis, a Greek immigrant who first registered the copyright for it in the United States in 1934.

Because this song is widely known, it is a solid choice for most any audience. Although  some would say it’s a bit cliche, it does have a beautiful melody which is probably why it has traveled so far and wide.

Here’s the earliest known Greek recording from 1927

 

How about you… do you like to perform to “Miserlou”? Do you prefer the faster or slower versions?

 

October 4, 2015 6 Comments

Thoughts on “Bad Musicality” in Belly Dance

At a bellydance event, I recently overheard one dancer remark to another that she thought that the performer they were watching had “bad musicality”. Putting aside questionable politeness, was does that mean  anyway?

Cairo Caravan 2012 - Performance Portraiture and Stage Photography by Lee Corkett

We have discussed musicality in the Daily Bellydance Quickies many times and in many ways. Loosely defined, it is the ability to illustrate the music with movement. It can include larger elements such as instrument sound textures down to the tiny details of accents and momentary pauses.

Ignoring everything else and going just with the beat could be considered the absence of musicality in dance. But at the other extreme, hitting every tiny thing with an almost literal conversion of music to movement can be, as Ranya Renee once said,  “too clever”. I agree entirely. I find that as unappealing as ignoring the musical features. I prefer to see discretion and artful choices.

Choices – yes – there are many to be made. You make them in slow deliberate decisions when you write choreography and in the flash of a instant in improvisation. What are you reacting to in your music? The rhythm, the phrasing, the sharp accent, the lilting melody line or the tension of a violin note – they are all valid possibilities.  The choosing of one over the other in any given point in a performance is like a painter choosing red paint or blue for the flowers that are about to bloom on the canvas.

We all hear a piece differently, despite the fact that the same sounds come rushing at us from the band or through our earbuds. I even find I hear different things in the same familiar piece of music at different times. I call this my “coffee pot theory“. So what makes for “bad musicality”? Is it that a dancer completely ignored something you consider top priority and un-ignorable and opted for a different musical element to grab on to and dance? That just means two dancers have different artistic sensibilities – and thank goodness that is so. Otherwise, we would all dance the same and bellydance would be filled with “rights” and “wrongs” – another idea that could take a step back, in my opinion.

When I look at a performance and consider the musicality, what’s the bottom line for me?

Can you show me how you’re hearing the music?
Show me how to listen through your ears.

If I can, then I’m happy – even if it’s not the same choice I would have made. I like surprises and seeing different points of musical view.

What do you look for? Share in the comments below…

April 13, 2015 3 Comments

The Guest List: Belly Dance Drill Music Recommendations from Anasma

Have you ever wished you could peek into the iPods of famous bellydancers? I have – so I thought I’d ask a few…

Anasma belly dancer

Anasma is the co-founder and co-director of the New York Theatrical Bellydance Conference, director of World Citizen Dance and an incredibly versatile all-around artist! Her performances tap into her background in ethnic dances, yoga, martial arts and acting, often creating a clear character and storyline told through dance. Her wild creativity, free spirit and adventurous nature really makes me want to know what’s on her practice and teaching playlist!

Anasma says:  Here are some of the songs I love to drill to. I use them for fusion and experimental purposes. I work not only with popping, bellydance, modern, theater fusion, but also on well-being.  Have fun! Choose inspiring music to make you move and enter a trancey state – simply dance where your soul and body take you.

“Just The Way You Are” by Boyce Avenue  I just love the lyrics. It carries people in a realm of self acceptance and pleasure of dancing as they are, without self judgement.

“Aquarium” by Nozaj Thing  A watery, liquid, floaty atmosphere that inspired waving techniques.

“Tumbling Backwards” by Young Wonder – I love its beats, the female voice. It simply carries me.

“Frankincense” by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble  This is a super cool band composed of brass only.  It has 4/4 rhythms, very convenient for teaching.

“Sun Models” by Odesza For fiery upbeat energy!

Anasma is also a music artist. Here’s her video for “Ocean Elevation”

Did you find a new song you like? What does it inspire you to do with it? Share in the comments below…

April 5, 2015 0 Comments

Must-Know Bellydance Song: “Sawah”

Who, What and When?

The original version of “Sawah” was recorded by Abdel Halim Hafez, also known as “The dark-skinned nightingale”. The lyrics were written by Mohammed Hamza and the music composed by Baligh Hamdy. It was released somewhere between 1965 and 1969 as it is included in an anthology of those years – the exact year is surprisingly hard to find.

 

What is “Sawah” about?

“Sawah” means a wanderer or vagabond. This melancholy and romantic song is about a person on the road, longing for their lover far away.

Vagabond, what has happened to me
What has happened to me? Wandering.

And years, years and I´m melting in longiness and tenderness
And for years, For years I’ve fallen in love with him.*
I want to know just where is his (her) road
I just want to know which path leads to him

You can find the full translation here.

*The use of “him” rather than “her” in reference to romantic interests in song lyrics is often explained as a matter of politeness or propriety. When I called one of my friends, a musician Arab-born and raised “over there”,  out of curiosity to ask if female singers would do the same, I got a surprising explanation. He said that using “he/him” instead of “she/her” implies deep emotion, intimacy or familiarity with the other person in a way that only someone that close can get away with.  I have never heard this explanation before and I intend to investigate further.

About dancing to “Sawah”…

Musically, “Sawah” is what I’d call an “even-tempered” song. It does not have lots of tempo changes or robust accents, although some versions do have a bit more than others.  Still, I have never found it uninspiring to dance to – especially for an Arab audience! They LOVE this song and you can practically bet your tips that they will be singing along with the chorus and waving their napkins in the air to the music.

My favorite recorded version for performance is on this CD.

The original version…

March 8, 2015 2 Comments

Must-Know Song for Belly Dance: “Taht Il Shibbak”

We are moving on to #10 from the “Must Know Songs for Bellydancers” list with “Taht Il Shibbak” – a real favorite of mine!

Who, What and When?

This song first appeared in the Egyptian movie “Laabet el Sitt” (The Lady’s Puppet) in 1946.  The music was composed by Asis Osman and they lyrics were written by Badeh Khairy.  Taheya Karioca dances to “Taht Il Shibbak” in the movie, accompanied by an ensemble that includes Osman singing and playing the oud. You can watch this performance in the video at the end of this post.

What is “Taht Il Shibbak” about?

“Taht Il Shibbak” means “Below My Window.” This song is from the point of view of a girl looking out her window, seeing a gorgeous man walking on the street. She is flirting with him – either in her imagination or in reality . Here’s a little taste of the lyrics from a very cheeky translation. You can find more of the lyrics here. Being a folksy song with a long history, different versions have different verses – some may not have even been in the original.

Below my window I caught sight of you, you (stud).
What’s up with you? Talk to me (hot stuff)

Your eyelashes kill me
Protect me from yourself (sweetcheeks)

About dancing to “Taht Il Shibbak”…

This is such a fun song to dance to! Now that you know what it’s about, you can really get your innocently flirty attitude on when you perform to it. An Arab audience would definitely enjoy and appreciate that! “Taht Il Shibbak” is one of Dina’s signature songs. This song is in a beladi style, meaning it has a laid back, casual feel, but is not strictly in the “beladi progression” musically in many recorded versions.

The recording is my favorite for performance.

The Original Version

Tahia Carioca in the 1946 movie, “Labaat el Sitt”

But this is my favorite performance ever to this great song!

Do you perform to this song? Do you love it? Do you think it’s overdone?  Tell us in the comments below…

February 15, 2015 4 Comments
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