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Must-Know Belly Dance Song: “Habeena Habeena”

Who, What and When?

“Habeena Habeena” was written and performed by Farid al-Atrash, one of the greats of Arabic music known as the “King of the Oud.” This song appeared in the film “Nagham Fi Hayati” which was released in 1975 and was the last film he made.

What is this song about?

“Habeena” means “love us”, however it implies “love me”. In Arabic songs, direct address to women is often hidden behind the use of “he” or “us” to make it less personal.  The song is about a unrequited love.  Here is a sample of the lyrics:

We (I) fell in love, we fell, and on the path of love we got lost
And how many times we suffered, how many, many times we suffered
And how many times we walked behind you

Love us, love us, we loved you so love us back

Find the full lyric translation here.

Although the subject isn’t exactly “happy”, I would still consider it suitable for most performances. Many versions are rather upbeat and the verses have fun a phrasing structure and accents for dance. I really enjoy this one! You can get a better sense of the mood of the song by watching the clip below.

You can watch the original version from the movie – complete with a 70’s-tastic backyard barbeque dance scene here!

Habeena Video

This video does not allow embedding  – WATCH HERE
“Habeena” starts at 22:20


December 14, 2014 1 Comment

Interview with Egypt’s “Ambassador of Rhythm”, Hossam Ramzy

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

October 24, 2014 1 Comment

Must-Know Belly Dance Songs: “Ya Msafer Wahdek”

Who, What and When?

“Ya Msafer Wahdak”  was written for the 1942 Egyptian movie, “Love is Banned”. This beautiful classic was written by Mohammed Abdel Wahab with lyrics by Hussein Sayed. Abdel Wahab is also the person that first sang it in the movie, although many singers have recorded versions since then. The song’s opening has a strong flamenco-esque flair. Many dancers have taken a flamenco fusion approach to this standard- some quite nicely! You may recall from previous posts on Abdel Wahab’s work, that he was very fond of incorporating western influences and instruments into eastern music – this song is a perfect example. One might consider Abdel Wahab a fusion musician of his time!

What is this song about?

“Ya Msafer Wahdak” means “Oh, Lone Traveller”. This melancholy song is about someone in love with one who is just passing through his life. He swears not to forget her.

You who travel along passing me
Why do you depart, leaving me troubled….

…beside the flames of longing I will wait
forcing my heart to be patient with hope

Here’s a clip of the original song from “Love is Banned” sung by Abdel Wahab with English subtitles.

If you prefer to just read the lyrics, you do that here:

Looking for a version for a performance? Here’s one of my favorites.

October 19, 2014 1 Comment

What Language Do You Speak?

Early this year I attended an out-of-state weekend workshop  to study Turkish Rom dance. After the final class, a group of us went out to restock our many burned calories. Our dinner party included the instructor and the sponsor in addition to a group of us students. Aside from being hungry, I was also there to work – specifically, to interview the instructor for Shimmy Magazine.

After the meal and interview were wrapped up, the talk continued heading in the direction of comparative styles. The sponsor was giving her opinion and said she liked Turkish style bellydance best because it is “so much more expressive than Egyptian.” My gut reaction left me speechless – probably a really good thing at that moment! ( I think my dance partner later said all the color drained from my face.) What could possibly be more expressive than Egyptian music with all its drama? I regained my powers of speech and tossed in my point of view – one long-steeped in Oum Kalthoum and Mohammed Abdel Wahab. The sponsor was unswayed  and still convinced that Turkish style was the epitome of expression in bellydance. I dropped the point and left her to her opinion, but had a long drive home to think about why we were each so shocked at the other’s fiercely held view.

In turning the world “expression” over and over in my mind, comparisons to language kept coming up. Learning a dance style is like learning another language. New movements are like new words. Combinations and gestures that convey the style are like context and idioms. As we gain mastery over these elements – be they words or movements – we gain fluency. Fluency is what allows us to truly express.

Expression happens in all languages with native speakers and diligent students; the less skilled linguist has to be satisfied with mechanically picking their way word by word through a conversation until they earn the badge of fluency. The same is true in dance. When a style truly becomes part of us, we have body fluency and the ability to express both ourselves and the music with every movement. And just as with languages, we can be fluent in one or maybe more, and quite challenged in many others.

By the time I reached home, I concluded it isn’t that one style of bellydance is inherently  “more expressive” than another, it is that each dancer has a different skill set, body-fluent in some styles more than others. We can choose to specialize and be mono-lingual dancers, work hard to be dance multi-linguists or happily reside somewhere in between. The important thing isn’t where we are on that scale, but that we realize it’s US and not the style that determine the possibilities for expression.

What language does your body speak?

September 15, 2010 5 Comments