Interview with Egypt’s “Ambassador of Rhythm”, Hossam Ramzy
If you told me back in 1996, when I was a baby bellydancer, that I’d one day speak with the person that recorded the music I performed my very first student solo to, I’d have said you were crazy! But it happened – and here it is. An interview with the one and only, Hossam Ramzy!
Mahin: The “Rules for Dancing” article (on your site) provides solid examples of connections between movement and music for dancers. How much room do you feel there is for a dancer to have artistic freedom of expression while staying within the Raqs Sharqi style?
Hossam Ramzy: Yes, I feel it is vital for the dancers as well as the musicians to understand one policy for dancing and making music so that both sides of the dance, the music maker and movement maker, can understand and apply the same principles. When they feel like departing from these rules, at least they will know that they are and they will also know when and how to return back.
A dancer has as much artistic freedom of expression as she will ever need, providing she is interpreting the music. Raqs Sharqi is the dance of the cabarets in Egypt and this is where it started. The only thing a dancer is required to do is to translate the music perfectly and in her own individual style.
Moving while not interpreting the music is not ”dancing” in Egypt.
Mahin: For the dancers that do play sagat in performance (recorded or live) what guidelines or “rules” would you give to compliment the music effectively?
Hossam Ramzy: That would be to become experienced in using the sagat and to be perfect with the rhythm of the song. Another very important point is.. DO NOT OVER CROWD THE MUSIC….. play them sparingly and make them a delightful feature rather than an overbearing noise.
Mahin: In addition to your classic and traditional music, you’ve done a lot of collaborations and pieces that fuse your native style with other music traditions such as on Rock the Tabla. What are your thoughts on the fusion of Raqs Sharqi with other dances?
Hossam Ramzy: Raqs Sharqi is a fusion dance. It has been colored by every style possible. Ballet, Indian (northern, classical, folklore & even Rajasthan) , Persian, Ottoman, Greek & Russian (as brought by the Reda Troupe). It is called Raqs Sharqi as the French named this new fusion in the night clubs of Cairo as Le Danse Orientale. We are used to fusion… we have had nothing but fusion. But what is our true dance of Egypt that is being fused with these styles? It is the BALADI. This is the traditional dance of Egypt. This is what the women dance and this is what we know it by.
My thoughts are if you are going to fuse two genres of music together, you have to study both, learn both well and then amalgamate parts from both sides that compliment one another… not any haphazard throwing any two styles and saying this is fusion. Just because one may dress in a Sari and dance the Mambo… it does not qualify as fusion.
Mahin: The bellydance world has it’s eyes on Egypt’s “Al Rakesa” competition lately. As an Egyptian, a musician and someone who works with dancers all over the world, do you feel that it is “fair” (for lack of a better word) to have foreign dancers competing against Egyptian dancers in this setting? Why or why not?
Hossam Ramzy: Does it ???? I never heard of it.
I don’t believe in competitions in dance and I personally think it is a money making ploy to get the dancers to compete against each other, earn a cheap and useless title and go around believing they are “it”. Which they are not. I never pay any attention to this kind of stuff and I have no respect for it. It is a money making ploy. No competition in dance. Thank you.
Who was the winner of two years ago… no one remembers or gives a damn. Same thing will be with the next one who wins it. Plus, who is judging them? Some of the judges I have seen in some competitions dance like a 3 legged lame duck. Let’s cut this BS and let’s get down to true Egyptian dance.
Mahin: In researching to prepare for this interview, I came across (what I believe to be) your Scientology website. Did a change in your personal philosophy/religion change your approach to your music or your work in broader sense?
Hossam Ramzy: Yes, this is my page there. You may be able to say that, but I did not change my religion. Scientology is a religious philosophy that enhanced my understanding of life. I believe in all religions and I study most of them too.
Mahin: As “Egypt’s Ambassador of Rhythm” what is the most important value in your mission to share your music and culture with the rest of the world?
Hossam Ramzy: I wish to help others understand the music, the rhythms and the dance. I want them to be able to use and gain the benefits I gain from my art form too.
Mahin: In these times, it would seem that Raqs Sharqi is an art in exile from it’s native land. Do you have any thoughts to share on this dance’s place in Egyptian society in the past and looking toward it’s future?
Hossam Ramzy: I think we have a different understanding of what the dance of Egypt is…. Raqs Sharqi is not the dance of Egypt. Baladi is.
Mahin: What on the musical horizon of the Arab world has your attention right now?
Hossam Ramzy: Nothing whatsoever. They are mostly competing to copy MTV stuff. The blind is leading the blind and they are wasting their time and culture. We have some Egyptian pop singers inviting black American rappers to sing with them… what the ^&%$£? What a load of rubbish.
Mahin: And in the world music scene in general?
Hossam Ramzy: For those who are not copying the MTV gang, there is so much soul and there is so much heart in some of the great and magnificent artists such as Miss Annoushka Shankar. Have you heard her last two albums, “Traveller” and “Traces of You”. Please listen and write to tell me your feeling on that.
Mahin: You have collaborated with so many interesting artists of differing backgrounds. If you could work with one artist that is no longer living, who would it be?
Hossam Ramzy: Miles Davis, RIP. I was invited by him to one of his concerts and he said “We should jam soon, Hossam”, but we both missed that chance.
Mahin: If you could collaborate with any living artist on your dream project, who would you choose?
Miss. Anoushka Shankar.
Mahin: Life is full of crossroads. If you had taken the other road away from music as your father wished, what do you think you would have done with your life?
Hossam Ramzy: It would have been wasted on material stuff, but I think I am an amazing chef and probably would have opened my own restaurant – and played music in it! ha ha ha