CD Review: “Belly Dance Mirage” by Ya Salam Orchestra
“Belly Dance Mirage” by Ya Salam Orchestra has 13 tracks with a nice variety for any cabaret dancer looking for performance music. Among them, there are four drum solos ranging from straight-forward to complex. I would consider 5 of the songs to be “classics”. Ya Salam’s renditions bring something fresh making them worth adding to your library even if you already have a few versions of these standards. For the dancer who is just building their classics library – as every new belly dancer should – this CD has lots to offer.
Nagwa (4:42) This CD opens appropriately with an entrance piece. Nagwa has a very modern sound, heavy on the keyboard. This track is full of tempo changes with plenty of fun hooks, accents and pauses which make it a wonderful performance piece in the “under 5 minute” category.
Bahlam Beek (4:27) Whenever I hear this song, I am immediately transported back to Morocco’s New York City studio and her weeklong intensive. We spent two days learning a choreography to this in her distinctive “water torture” method of repeating practice. And yes, I DO still remember parts of it over 7 years later! Ya Salam’s rendition is true to the classic with a more “vintage” feel that the opening track. The drum line is clean and crisp behind a nice mix of ney and qanoon.
Nile Cabaret (3:14) The CD’s first drum solo has a short modern keyboard into. A drum machine provides a back beat through most of the track. The drum riffs are clear, varied and fun. However, I think this track feels like it comes to an “unexpected” end. It doesn’t build to a finish but rather the keyboard comes in with a closing flourish. This could work nicely in the context of a full show if it was followed up with a song that continued the modern keyboard feel.
Ashk Al Sabaya (4:36) Another track with a more “vintage” attitude, this one features lots of vocals from male and female choruses and a male lead vocalist. The inital upbeat intro slips into a mawal backed by keyboard and violin. When the singer wraps that up, it drops into a satisfying and folksy tempo. A quick online search didn’t turn up any lyrics for this song and none are provided on the CD. I really like this song, but as always, I recommend getting a translation before performing to music with vocals, especially if you are performing for an Arab audience – better safe than sorry!
Ya Moustafa (4:08) Yes, it’s the old classic – but this version opens with a kickin’ little drum solo. The lively drum line sticks around in the background and then comes back mid-song for another mini drum solo before slowing down – just a little – for a violin solo. If you’re looking for a lively version of this classic with some “fire in the belly” , this may be just the thing.
Bardawi Drum Solo (3:00) Another drum solo, this time without the keyboards. This one fires off fast, interesting and what I think of as “assymetrical” riffs – ones that don’t repeat the patterns- so it’s not easy to “follow” for improvisation. It gets hot and heavy at the end and has a strong finish. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with this track’s patterns, it would make an excellent and captivating performance piece for an experienced dancer.
Fein Ghazali (4:49) “Fein Ghazali” alternates between even, mid-tempo melodic sections and taqsims with short drum transitions. The melody line is quirky, but appealing. I would not personally choose this track as show music, but its back-and-forth pacing give me ideas to use it as a teaching tool for improvisation and musicality in class.
Manafsaji (3:42) Although it doesn’t say so on the CD cover, this song feels like it could have been plucked right out of a Samia Gamal movie. It starts out in a moderately fast Maqsoum then slows way down for a violin solo with a slow chiftitelli backdrop. An abrupt 2/4 drum transition leads in to a short drum solo. The track wraps up with a reprise of the opening melody. I can almost see her sashaying around between the marble columns as I listen…
Zambulla Drum Solo (3:31) Drum solo #3 has repeating and more predictable riffs than “Bardawi” and would be a good choice for a new performer, but don’t take that to mean it’s boring. It has plenty of interest to hold the dancer’s and the audience’s attention. I think this would be a good “shimmy drill” track for a mixed-level class too. More experienced students could practice “catching” some of the drum patterns for a little improv practice while working on their shimmy smoothness and endurance.
Zay al Hawa (5:15) Another classic – and this is one of my favorite versions of this particular song. The accents are crisp and the pace is perfect for a lively yet laid-back feel. There’s so much going on musically in this track to play with as a dancer – the tabla is full of fun flourishes even in the background, the melody has fun twists and there moments of soft sustain to add contrast. Great features like these are why classics have such enduring power in our dance. Good music is just good music.
Tabla Zein (2:04) Short and sweet, Tabla Zein comes in fast and high-pitched then slows down, shedding layers of percussion one at a time till it’s just one tabla winding down to brief second of silence. Then POW! The whole percussion section hits back for a fast ending. Much could be done with a structure like that – have fun!
Tamra Henna (4:20) This is another version of the classic, opening with a brief qanoon solo. Unlike the original arrangement, it leaves the well-known melody early for a meandering keyboard solo with lots of “drummy bits” in the background. It does eventually come back to the melody in the last minute to close.
Moallem Tabla (2:08) Yet another drum solo! This one is also a manageable 2:00 length – just right for a class choreography or slipping into a short showcase performance. This one has some cute and funky rhythm patterns and plenty of fun energy. I especially like it “roll and pop” ending – Ta-DAH!