Must-Know Bellydance Song: “Misirlou”

October 4, 2015 6 Comments

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?


Mahin (121 Posts)

Professional instructor and performer of Middle Eastern belly dance, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and author or the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”. Belly Dance Artrepreneur, Workshop instructor, performer, event producer, and bellydance writer.

  1. Kat Lebo
    October 5, 2015 at 6:48 am

    Lyric Find also has these lyrics, which Harry Saroyan used in his recording of Misirlou. This song is one of my all time favorites, and I like both the fast and slow versions, but George Abdo’s version is my go-to!

    By Dick Dale and His Del-Tones, Dick Dale & His Del-Tones

    Desert shadows creep across purple sands.
    Natives kneel in prayer by their caravans.

    There, silhouetted under and eastern star,
    I see my long lost blossom of shalimar

    You, Misirlou, Are the moon and the sun, fairest one.

    Old temple bells are calling across the sand.
    We’ll find our Kismet, answering love’s command.

    You, Misirlou, are a dream of delight in the night.

    To an oasis, sprinkled by stars above,
    Heaven will guide us, Allah will bless our love.
    © Wise, Fred / Leeds, Milton / Russell, Sidney Keith / Roubanis, Nicholas
    For non-commercial use only.
    For non-commercial use only.
    Data from: LyricFind

    1. Marguerite
      October 6, 2015 at 6:29 am

      I did my first solo to this version! I did a veil piece and was so far ahead of my choreography that I had to just keep swirling the veil around until I caught up 🙂

      1. Mahin
        October 6, 2015 at 9:39 am

        Adrenaline will do that to you! LOL

    2. Mahin
      October 11, 2015 at 10:43 pm

      Yes – I forgot that version has entirely different lyrics! Thanks for posting this 🙂 So, did Dick Dale write those lyrics? That’s what it looks like from this info.

  2. Susan Reid
    October 5, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Thank you for posting this Mahin. I danced some years ago to an instrumental version of Misirlou called Desert Moods by Mosavo. It was fun and it did feel familiar but I did not realise it was Misirlou, until I saw your post, I absolutely love the Greek version featured here it is so delicious! 🙂

  3. Liz
    November 17, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Mahin did a lovely performance for my husband’s 60th birthday. She was delightful.


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