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The Evolution of Finger Cymbals

This is a guest post by Dawn Devine – Davina. I am really honored to have her work shared here on my blog. I have such respect for her dedication to research and her ability to show us the depth of history in all aspects of our art. If you are as fascinated by this history of zills as I am, you will be very excited about what we’re doing over the next few days!  Learn more after you’ve enjoyed this short history of finger cymbals.

Scholars of dance love to theorize on the origins of our art form. We contemplate the regions that may have given rise to unique body motions or the cultures that developed different musical styles.  But there is one component of our dance that has been definitively proven to date back to pre-literate antiquity.  These are our much beloved favorite music instrument, the mighty finger cymbal.  

In this article, we’re going to take a trip through time and trace the evolution of finger cymbals from their popular precursors through today.  This is an overview of the technological advances that begins deep in prehistory and extends through our current, modern finger cymbal production. This is a story of the development of the metals used to produce the instruments we use today.

1-Wood-Bone-Clappers-Lourve-AW

Egyptian Wood and Bone Clappers 2000BCE – 500CE Louvre Exhibit, Alisha Westerfeld

Copper Age

Our journey begins back in the 4th millennium or 3000 BCE.  It’s a time when our ancestors were still making music with wooden clappers, skinned drums, and simple stringed instruments which rarely survive. The smallest, most portable, and easiest to make instruments were simple concussive idiophones. This is a category of musical instruments that produce resonant sound from the intrinsic property of the item. Our forbearers used materials such as wooden sticks, lengths of ivory or bone, and precious stones to produce pleasing resonant sounds to their ears.

 

The discovery of smelting ore, and humankind’s first practical metal, copper, allowed people to craft stronger and more practical work tools, kitchen utensils, and weapons. It also added a new material for making musical instruments.  Some of the earliest finger cymbals are made from copper or simple copper alloys.  Examples of these earliest instruments survive because of their value and importance in daily life. They have been found in the graves of wealthy and important individuals ranging from Anatolia (modern Turkey) around the Eastern Mediterranean to Egypt.  

Egyptian Finger Cymbals or Copper Alloys and Bronze, 1000 BCE - 500 CE Louvre Exhibit, Alisha Westerfeld

Egyptian Finger Cymbals of Copper Alloys and Bronze, 1000 BCE – 500 CE Louvre Exhibit, Alisha Westerfeld

Bronze Age

The next phase of technological development in metallurgy coincided with a rapid growth in civilization. At the dawn of the bronze age, writing developed, cities grew, and people began to live in larger groups defined by their mutual languages, religions, and social beliefs. As the population of the world blossomed, there were more people to make music, sing songs, and dance. This new material, bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, made a stronger and more durable metal.  It was used extensively to create musical instruments around the world including struck instruments like the gongs of China, jingling instruments like the sistrum of Egypt, and our favorite, finger cymbals. Archeologists have unearthed hundreds of sets of cymbals in sites around the Mediterranean that span the breadth of the bronze age.

 

 

Egyptian Finger Cymbals 1000 BCE - 500 CE Louvre Exhibit, Alisha Westerfeld

Egyptian Finger Cymbals 1000 BCE – 500 CE Louvre Exhibit, Alisha Westerfeld

 

Because the human hand hasn’t changed significantly in design and shape, ancient finger cymbals are about the same configuration as modern instruments. The length of the fingers determines the maximum and minimum size possible. Consequently finger cymbals of great antiquity closely resemble their modern descendants. Bronze zills also sounded much better than than earlier copper varieties. They are still coveted by performers today for their resonant sound and long sustaining ring.

Ceremony at Ned Sili,1801 by Luigi Mayer engraving based on aquatint.

Ceremony at Ned Sili,1801 by Luigi Mayer engraving based on aquatint.

Brass Instruments

Finger cymbals made from brass are a relatively new invention. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, and throughout the Middle Ages, zinc was difficult to find and was tricky to smelt.  It wasn’t until the early stages of the industrial revolution in Europe that large scale brass production was made possible.  By the late 18th century, brass was made in large rolling mills which created enough metal that a new class of wind instruments was invented. These brass instruments, includes flutes, French horns, and the mighty tuba.

Turkish Cengi, 1802 by Octavian Dalvimart from the book “Costume of Turkey.”

Turkish Cengi, 1802 by Octavian Dalvimart from the book “Costume of Turkey.”

Of course, as time passes and the technologies of print and industrial papermaking and bookbinding improve, we begin to find images of dancers making their way into texts on culture, costuming, and history of the world. Throughout the whole of the 19th century, the subject of the exotic east was so abundant, that they are now grouped and labelled as the Orientalists.  Our dancing ancestors move through these paintings and illustrations, often with props we would recognize and use today, including finger cymbals.

Dance of the Almeh, 1863 by Jean-Léon Gérôme at the Dayton Art Institute

Dance of the Almeh, 1863 by Jean-Léon Gérôme at the Dayton Art Institute

 

German Silver & Silver Toned Alloys

As metallurgy advanced during the industrial era, there was a search for an alloy that closely resembled silver.  A recipe was found after an 1823 contest in Germany.  This new “German Silver” is a nickel and copper alloy that had the appearance of silver, but without the tarnishing or the high cost.  Nickel or German silver retains the beautiful ringing tone of all of the “red metals” that include copper as the base. But unlike copper, brass, and bronze, this alloy has a beautiful silver toned finish. This is the same metal used by instrument makers for piccolos and french horns.  The ringing tone of nickel silver is brighter and higher, but unfortunately, this is a softer metal, so is prone to scratches and warping with heavy use.

Modern Finger Cymbals, Dawn Devine

Modern Finger Cymbals, Dawn Devine

Modern Finger Cymbals

Dancers are now able to buy finger cymbals made from a myriad of different metal alloys, finishes, and in in sounds from high toned trills, to deeply resonate rings. Today they are known by a wide variety of names depending on your location.  In Turkey, they are called Zil or Ziller.  In Egypt they are called sagat for smaller sizes and toura for larger orchestral instruments. Here in the US, we use any or all of these terms depending on our taste, style, and dance education.

Modern Zills by Dawn Devine - 1 - Decorative Enamel on mystery alloy , 2 - copper alloy, 3 - Brass cymbals, Turquoise International, 4 - German silver, Saroyan International, 5 - Cast Bronze, Sabian, 6 - Bronze stamped, Saroyan International.

Modern Zills by Dawn Devine – 1 – Decorative Enamel on mystery alloy , 2 – copper alloy, 3 – Brass cymbals, Turquoise International, 4 – German silver, Saroyan International, 5 – Cast Bronze, Sabian, 6 – Bronze stamped, Saroyan International.

 

So when you are selecting your next set of finger cymbals take a moment to consider the kind of metal you enjoy.  If you have the opportunity to hear how different metals sound and resonate,  take the opportunity to listen to copper, bronze, brass, and white metals. Many performers select their instruments based solely on how they sound. Pro dancers will often create a wardrobe of different metal toned instruments to coordinate with their wardrobe, choosing to play silver-toned sets with silvery costumes and brass with gold.  But always, buy the best quality you can afford and a ring that you enjoy. If you like the way your finger cymbals sound, you remove one obstacle from practice, and ultimately performance.   

 WIN ONE OF 3 COPIES OF DAVINA’S NEWEST BOOK
“ZILLS: Music on Your Fingertips”

 

Dawn Devine ~ Davina is a well known author, costume designer, and historian working in the field of belly dance.  She has published several books the meld her love of history and dance including her latest book Zills: Music on Your Fingertips with Illustrator George Goncalves and The Cloth of Egypt: All About Assiut with photographer Alisha Westerfeld.  She has a blog on her website, http://www.davina.us and is active on various social media platforms including:

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DavinaDevine

    Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/davinadevine/ 

    Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/davinadevine/

   YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfhuBvWXAgGqb6c0aXXA9SA

Get a copy of Zills: Music On your Fingertips from Amazon – http://amzn.to/2lbjwJt

Or directly from the author on Etsy – https://www.etsy.com/shop/DavinaDevine

 

 

February 23, 2017 3 Comments

Storing & Transporting Your Bellydance Costumes

This is Week 7 of Your Sparkly Wardrobe, a collaboration between Sparkly Belly and Mahin’s Bellydance Quickies.

storage

For most bellydancers, a costume wardrobe represents a significant investment of money, and possibly time if you made your bedlah yourself. To keep your pieces in top condition, it is important that you store them properly and pack them carefully when going to gigs or travelling. In this post,  I’ll cover some tips and tricks to keep your sparkly wardrobe beautiful and stage ready,

Your available space will of course play a big role in determining how you can store your wardrobe. If you are lucky enough to have a large walk-in closet or a separate room, you can give your cossies luxury accommodations. If you are like me in a small house with very little closet space or an apartment, more compact storage solutions are a must!

Storage At Home

Your costume pieces spend more time in home storage than in any other place so how and where you keep them is crucial. In general, all pieces should be protected from excessive humidity to prevent mildew and direct sunlight to keep them from fading. Different types of costume pieces have specific considerations – let’s look at them one at a time.

Skirts & Pants

There are many considerations when choosing how to store your skirts. In this section, I am including the type of skirts you would wear with a belt,  skirts that have “built in” belts and heavily embellished skirts with no belt, like many of the modern Egyptian costumes, Bellas and other designer lines.

Skirts with heavy embellishments of beads, sequins and appliques are best stored folded in drawers or boxes. Prolonged hanging can pull them out of shape and strain the fabric. Undecorated skirts, if made properly, should be able to hang safely. Here’s the catch – “if made properly”.  Skirts should be hung for several days before hemming so the hemline will remain stable. If they have not been hung before hemming, you may be surprised to find they are uneven and too long after they’ve been on a hanger in your closet for a while. Fabrics which have a looser weave are also more susceptible to stretching out of shape, even if they were hung before hemming. Think before you hang!

If storage space is at a premium, multi hangers like the one below are a good choice. If the fabric is delicate or there are some decorations near the top, place some scrap fabric between the skirt and the clips.

multi hangers

If you are unsure whether your skirts will stretch, or you don’t have hanging space, fold your skirts neatly and stand them up on end in a box. You will be able to find and take out what you need easily and keep the rest neat.

box o skirts

 

 

Bras & Belts  (and more)

Bras and belts are the workhorses of your costume wardrobe! Protect the beadwork and finishes by storing them in plastic shoebox type containers with silica packets to absorb moisture. Silica packets come in boxes of many items you buy – keep an eye out for them! An alternative is to use pillowcases or a similar type of cloth bag. These methods also work for costumes with a bra and heavily embellished skirt or full dresses with heavy beading.

Always air out costumes on a rack for 12-24 hours after wearing before putting then away to be sure they are completely dry. I spray the linings and insides (not the decorated surfaces!) of my costumes with a 50/50 mix of cheap vodka and water to keep them fresher between occasional cleanings. This kills the bacteria in your sweat that can make them smelly over time.

Bra in box

Veils

Veils are the most forgiving of your costume pieces when it comes to storage. If you have space out of strong sunlight, they look lovely hung on a rod or coat tree so you can enjoy their colors every time you pass by.

hung veils

If you don’t have room to hang your veils safely, fold them lengthwise and roll them up neatly. Stand the rolls up in a basket and you’ll be able to find what you need quickly. A third option is to fold them like the skirts and store on end in a box.

rolled veils

 

The Big Picture

If you have used boxes and/or cloth bags to store your costume items that cannot hang, you can organize them on shelves or in a bookcase. Here are some of my boxes of costumes and my basket of veils. The opaque boxes are labelled by type – chiffon skirts, straight skirts and harem pants

All the boxes

Transporting Bellydance Costumes to Gigs

The safest and most convenient way that I have found to pack for gigs is to use a carry-on sized rolling suitcase. I use one that has dividers to keep things contained to each side. I usually have two costumes with me and this keeps each set and its accessories together.

2 sides of suticase

To keep beads and fringe from getting tangled or caught, I fold the skirt, veil or another piece of fabric in between like this.
wrap in veil

Shoes, jewelry and makeup stay safe and easy to find in their own separate bags. Tuck them into whichever side has room for them. Be sure shoes and makeup are well-contained so they don’t get your costumes dirty and jewelry won’t snag on your fabric items.

the extras

Packing for Travel

Packing your bellydance costumes for travel is very different than packing for a gig. You will go into your suitcase to get many things other than your costumes and you don’t want to dig through them to find your street clothes. Packing cubes are a great solution for this! They are very thin zippered cases. I pack each costume in it’s own cube along with its veil, accessories and jewelry.

Some costumes travel better than others. I go strictly carry-on when flying, so space saving is top priority! As I am writing this, I am on a 3-week tour, living out of one carry-on suitcase with 2 full costumes! If I have the option, I go with straight skirts and less bulky bras and belts. Sometimes the gig requires a more voluminous costume. I pack them snugly into cubes (layer to prevent snags as above). I unpack them well before performing to smooth out any wrinkles. Draping them over a hanger while showering can help release creases too.

packing cubes

Take only the essential jewelry and accessories.  Pack jewelry in a ziplock bag and tuck it into the packing cube with the rest of the outfit.

jewely in bag

 

Do you have other storage or packing methods that work for you? Share them in the comments below…

 

August 26, 2016 7 Comments

“Your Sparkly Wardrobe”: Mix, Match & Extend Your Belly Dance Costumes!

This is Week 3 of “Your Sparkly Wardrobe”, a bellydance costume project collaboration between Mahin’s Bellydance Quickies and Sparkly Belly

In Week 1 of the “Your Sparkly Wardrobe” project, you learned how to do a complete inventory and assessment of your bellydance costume pieces. Now that you truly know what you have, let’s learn how to make the most of it! In this video, Rukshana (aka The Costume Fairy) and I will show you how we created a wide variety of looks by staring with two bra and belt sets. Unless you’ve got an unlimited costume budget (we didn’t think so!) , this is essential for both the solo dancer and troupes.

Scroll down to see photos of each of the ensembles we put together – from totally tribal to completely cabaret!

 

WATCH THIS WEEK’S VIDEO

"Mix, Match & Extend Your Belly Dance Costume Wardrobe"

“Mix, Match & Extend Your Belly Dance Costume Wardrobe”

Costume Ensembles with a Traditional Coin Bra & Belt

The beauty of a traditional coin set is that it can become the base piece of a tribal costume one day and a vintage cabaret set the next. Bedlah like these are an excellent investment and real workhorses in your wardrobe!

Tribal Style

Coin bra & belt, 25-yard cotton skirt

Coin bra & belt, 25-yard cotton skirt

Tribal with Extra Coverage

Coin bra & belt, 25-yard cotton skirt, flare-sleeve choli.

Coin bra & belt, 25-yard cotton skirt, flare-sleeve choli.

Floorwork-Friendly Fusion Style

Coin bra & belt, flare-bottom pants

Coin bra & belt, flare-bottom pants

Vintage Coins Meet Modern Skirt

Coin bra & belt, straight skirt with leg slit

Coin bra & belt, straight skirt with leg slit

Vintage Coins Meet Modern Print Skirt

Coin bra & belt, metallic print straight skirt

Coin bra & belt, metallic print straight skirt

Vintage Cabaret with Extra Coverage

Coin bra & belt, harem pants, chiffon overskirt and flare-sleeve choli.

Coin bra & belt, harem pants, chiffon overskirt and flare-sleeve choli.

Glamorous Vintage Cabaret

Coin bra & belt with black harem pants, chiffon overskirt and matching "winglets"

Coin bra & belt with black harem pants, chiffon overskirt and matching “winglets”

Richly Layered Vintage Style

Coin bra & belt, harem pants, colored underskirt, embellished overskirt & choli

Coin bra & belt, harem pants, colored underskirt, embellished overskirt & choli

Costume Ensembles with a Modern Multicolor Bra & Belt

If you love bright colors, a multicolor bedlah opens up a world of possibilities! By having a rainbow of skirts in a variety of silhouettes and fabrics, plus some pants, you will get your money’s worth out of a well-made set.

Floorwork-Friendly Fusion

Multicolor bra & belt with flare-bottom pants

Multicolor bra & belt with flare-bottom pants

Sophisticated Modern

multi straight black x

Multicolor bra & belt with straight skirt

Elegant Modern

multi straight purple x

Multicolor bra & belt with velvet straight skirt

Colorful Options

multi blue x

multi red x

multi turq x

 

Doubling Up on Colors

multi 2 layer x

In Week 4 of “Your Sparkly Wardrobe” explore how to create a professional look that expresses your unique style and flatters your body by adding accessories to your ensemble! Coming next week on Sparkly Belly…

July 29, 2016 1 Comment

Must-Know Bellydance Song: “Lamma Bada Yatathanna”

Who, What and When?

“Lamma Bada Yatathanna” is a song with a hauntingly beautiful melody. Maybe that is why it is still around! This song is from the era of Moorish Spain, also called the Andalusian era (c. 711-1492). Yes, this song is somewhere between 500-1000 years old and rather than being a piece of obscure history, it is still part of our dance repertoire.  It is from the “muwashshat”, or secular music of Al-Andalus. The original composer and lyricist are lost to time.

For most bellydancers, this is the first example of  the samai thaqil rhythm, a 10/8 rhythm, they will encounter. Personally, I believe this enchanting song is what lures many bellydancers to tackle this less-common rhythm and learn to dance to it! If you are interested in exploring the rhythm as expressed in “Lamma Bada”, you might like this interesting article with example audio segments.

Here is my favorite recorded version

What is “Lamma Bada Yatathanna” about?

“Lamma Bada Yatathanna” means “When She Begins To Sway”. Remember that in Arabic lyrics, the male pronoun is used as a polite formality, so some translations will read “he”. Of course the subject is falling in love – what other thought would be so enduring over time?

Here is one translation, but you can find a few others here. Because this song is so very old, the form of Arabic used is very difficult to translate which accounts for the wide variations in translation.  The central thought is the same, however.

When she started to walk with a swinging gait
Her beauty amazed me

I have become prisoner of her eyes
Her stem folded as she bent

O my promise, O my perplexity
Who can answer my complaint
About love and suffering
But the beautiful one?

You can listen to a version with lyrics, sung by Lena Chamamyan here:

A thought on dancing to “Lamma Bada Yatathanna”….

Many years ago, I took a workshop with the fantastic instructor,  Cassandra Shore which I believe was titled “Dancing To Specialty Rhythms”. The 10/8 rhythm from this song, samai thaqil, was one of them. This rhythm is common in Andalusian muwashsha music and because of that, she felt it was not appropriate to play zills to this category of songs.  I admit, my heart broke a teeny bit when she said this. I love playing zills and playing unusual rhythms is both challenging and thrilling, but ultimately we should respect the music and its traditions.

 

August 2, 2015 5 Comments

Happy Anniversary, DBQ from Rosa Noreen

Happy Anniversary, to an enriching and inspiring resource! Thank you for all of the time and energy you put into making us a stronger community. Let’s all donate and help to keep the DBQ going strong!”

– Rosa Noreen

Yes, you can win more than one prize during the Bellyversary!


Donating to the DBQ through this button enters you to win a…

 

Rosa Noreen’s
“Rhythm & Pause” CD / DVD Set

rhythmandpause-cover-01-250pxw

Don’t be bullied by the beat.

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The accompanying CD includes:
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