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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

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

Must-Know Belly Dance Song: “Habeena Habeena”

Who, What and When?

“Habeena Habeena” was written and performed by Farid al-Atrash, one of the greats of Arabic music known as the “King of the Oud.” This song appeared in the film “Nagham Fi Hayati” which was released in 1975 and was the last film he made.

What is this song about?

“Habeena” means “love us”, however it implies “love me”. In Arabic songs, direct address to women is often hidden behind the use of “he” or “us” to make it less personal.  The song is about a unrequited love.  Here is a sample of the lyrics:

We (I) fell in love, we fell, and on the path of love we got lost
And how many times we suffered, how many, many times we suffered
And how many times we walked behind you

Love us, love us, we loved you so love us back

Find the full lyric translation here.

Although the subject isn’t exactly “happy”, I would still consider it suitable for most performances. Many versions are rather upbeat and the verses have fun a phrasing structure and accents for dance. I really enjoy this one! You can get a better sense of the mood of the song by watching the clip below.

You can watch the original version from the movie – complete with a 70’s-tastic backyard barbeque dance scene here!

Habeena Video

This video does not allow embedding  – WATCH HERE
“Habeena” starts at 22:20


December 14, 2014 1 Comment

Must-Know Belly Dance Songs: “Ya Msafer Wahdek”

Who, What and When?

“Ya Msafer Wahdak”  was written for the 1942 Egyptian movie, “Love is Banned”. This beautiful classic was written by Mohammed Abdel Wahab with lyrics by Hussein Sayed. Abdel Wahab is also the person that first sang it in the movie, although many singers have recorded versions since then. The song’s opening has a strong flamenco-esque flair. Many dancers have taken a flamenco fusion approach to this standard- some quite nicely! You may recall from previous posts on Abdel Wahab’s work, that he was very fond of incorporating western influences and instruments into eastern music – this song is a perfect example. One might consider Abdel Wahab a fusion musician of his time!

What is this song about?

“Ya Msafer Wahdak” means “Oh, Lone Traveller”. This melancholy song is about someone in love with one who is just passing through his life. He swears not to forget her.

You who travel along passing me
Why do you depart, leaving me troubled….

…beside the flames of longing I will wait
forcing my heart to be patient with hope

Here’s a clip of the original song from “Love is Banned” sung by Abdel Wahab with English subtitles.

If you prefer to just read the lyrics, you do that here:

Looking for a version for a performance? Here’s one of my favorites.

October 19, 2014 1 Comment