CD Review: “The Essence of Bellydance”
Al-Ahram Orchestra’s “The Essence of Bellydance” was released in 2008. In the years that I’ve had it, I have returned to its tracks over and over for both performing and teaching, so I thought I’d let you get to know it if you aren’t familiar with this versatile CD already. Overall, the album has a modern Egyptian sound with lots of keyboard, complex melodies and well-placed accents. Several of these songs really are staples on my bellydance show playlists!
Lylet Al Naseeb (7:28) This classy entrance piece gets off to a traditional Malfouf start then drops into a moderate Saidi rhythm. The melody alternates between phrases of keyboard and ney for the main theme of the piece. It slows down midway in with a Chiftitelli, then picks up for an upbeat section with a Khaliji feel then drifts off to a waltz that is lovely for travelling around the floor. If you are doing a performance where you can only do one song, this one gives you lots of opportunities to show off different elements of your dancing. The song closes with a reprise of the main melodic theme and a Malfouf exit.
Tamr Henna (4:55) This is the “other” Tamr Henna. This piece has a melancholy melody and a steady pace. It works well for running slow, smooth combos or veil combos in class.
Nagham al Hob (3:33) Another good teaching track, this one has a steady Maqsoum rhythm at a nice moderate pace. The drum is rather “up front” in the sound which makes it a good choice for practicing combos with zills in the Maqsoum rhythm.
Sahran Alayya (6:36) This dramatic entrance piece always suggests whirling to me. It starts off with a qanoon taqsim, then transitions with a fast gallopy section. It moves on to a slow Saidi with a sultry keyboard line interspersed with fast segments. It really invites you to show lots of personality through the changes of tempo.
Ikhlasik Fen (4:36) This track also starts out with a qanoon intro then progresses to a moderately fast Saidi rhythm accompanied by a qanoon and keyboard melody line. This song has some nice “stop accents” to play with. It feels vaguely like a traditional beladi, but not quite. The melody line in the last section is where you hear that most clearly.
Sahrawi Ya Wad (4:30) I am tempted to call this song “a meditation on the saxophone.” That is the melodic instrument at the forefront of the sound. It’s joined by a keyboard in some parts and has a very spare Maqsoum in the background. It is steady and subtle and makes a better teaching track than performance track, in my opinion.
Habayibna Gayyin (3:36) This is a moderately paced Saidi track that presents the rhythm straight up and with heavier variations for phrase emphasis. It takes a few Malfouf side trips along the way. This one is steady enough for teaching but interesting enough for a show thanks to a nice melody and the rhythm changes.
Soublil Alashra (3:53) This track is a bouncy 2/4 with some scattered vocals. The melody is carried on keyboard and keyboard-synthesized mizmar. I like to use this track for drilling and teaching small travelling “flat/ball” steps.
Mizamir Arabaa (3:47) With a keyboard mizmar, this track has the heavy feel of a Saidi but with an electronic modern sound. At 1:15 it changes to a drum break then features a call and response section between the “mizmar” and the keyboard. I’d use this for a Saidi performance if I was looking for a decidedly modern feel. I’d also use it for cane drills.
Altablalal Ghallab (2:14) This drum solo has a crisp, clear sound, nice changes and good flow. My crazy dance partner and I used it for a duet a few years back. It has nice tempo changes and some unusual riffs that are fun (if challenging to choreograph). The piece wraps with a heavy wind up and a clean end.
Ala Baladi Il Mahboob (3:24) This is one of my favorite performance songs because you can play really interesting, musical zills to it. It also has a qanoon opening and then sets the mood with a heavy Masmoudi variation. It progresses to a slow Maqsoum that breaks pattern to occasionally merge with whats going on in the melody line – which is where the zill fun is. There is a nice call and response between the qanoon and keyboard. The track moves into a fast section with plucky little surprise accents that I love – then straight into a 6/8 section. It closes with the same Masmoudi melody theme that it opened with.
Ouilli Ya Baboor (5:13) This track begins with an almost painfully slow and moody atmosphere from strings and ney. At 2:15 it turns up the intensity and pace but keeps its serious mood. This could make a good sword performance piece. The melody line leaves a lot of room to work within it for sword tricks. It has another nice transition around 4:15 that reverts primarily to drum till the close.
Ana Hashik (3:53) This is a true gem with a coy attitude and fun moments! Its very playful opening develops into a sassy walking pace with great vocals to play off of. I have always found this song to be real crowd pleaser and especially great for parties where you are right among your audience. Try it, you’ll like it!
If you have this CD, what are you favorite tracks and how do you like to use them? Tell us about it in the comments below…