Romana Reviews…

Romana reviews… “Aziza Raks! The Passion of Belly Dance”

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This is a 2007 compilation album from Hollywood Music Center- a big name in music and DVD distro here in the states.

I picked this mp3 album up from Amazon for about ten dollars (not any cheaper than a CD, pragmatically speaking) because the CD contained a few Egyptian classical standards my band was learning at the time, and this CD had some arrangements that were comparable to what we were playing. The CD is dominated by Cairo Orchestra (a staple for belly dance compilation albums, esp. from HMC) and Sami Nossair Orchestra, whom you have certainly heard before, even if you don’t recognize the artist name immediately. There is one nod to saidi on this CD- the iconic “Luxor Baladna” by Upper Egypt Ensemble, and a couple curious inclusions by Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak, an Arab-American musician most popular in the 70s and 80s of a vein similar to George Abdo and not terribly, typically Egyptian as the majority of other songs on this album stick to.

With song length ranging from a little over 4 minutes to almost 8 (the Eddie the Sheik tracks being notably shorter), this album will likely not be accessible to beginner students to perform without cutting (ugh, cutting, no!) and a general pain to choreograph to, but for students it’s a great place to start music appreciation and ear training, and pros will find some reliable standards you can bust out for pretty much any kind of gig anywhere.

Stand out songs: Tamr Henna (Sami Nossair Orchestra)

Luxor Baladna, simply for the difference in musical style (Upper Egypt Ensemble)

Alf Leila wa Leila- Cairo Orchestra

Weakest tracks- “Sahra Saidi” is a pretty standard drum solo track- with all the typical little bits and riffs, but I just couldn’t get into it, I suspect due to the seventies style disco guitar that is playing this little tremolo that comes and goes under the whole thing.

Setrak Sarkissian can be a bit “80s” and “synthy” for a lot of contemporary professionals, and while the track “Btwanes Beek” on this CD will definitely ride the nerves of many American belly dancers, it is pretty quintessential for Sarkissian’s style and is pretty Egyptian. So you should listen to it.

The Eddie the Sheik Kochak track “Phaedra Pharonica” stuck out to me on this CD like a sore thumb, and while it is a fun song, I’ve seen some great acts done to it, out of the correct contextual setting, this song feels like a bit of a joke and to be frank, a jab at American musicians and American Cabaret style dancers. Could it be a touch of the “raqs snarqi?” Perhaps. I thought it was a weak way to end an album dominated by classical Egyptian musical themes.

Uses: Good if you are a student or dancer who needs to bone up quickly on the majour musical conventions (classical Egyptian vs. the baladi vs. saidi vs. “Western”). I definitely recommend this album to anyone looking for a reliable CD to get them started with must-know names and orientation around Egyptian music.

For music junkies deeper in the culture, it is likely you already own a lot of the source material called up to form this “Belly dance 100” style compilation, but don’t knock it- your students NEED to start somewhere.

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