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Did You Know...

     
 

Malouf
Suradeq
Yalis
Arabic Music
Kan ya ma kan
Beledi
Gulf Women’s Music
Thobe Nashal
Gestures
Khaleegy
Shoma
Musical Drones
Every Day Words of Arabic Origin
The Hadra (Zar)

Hem, A Kind of Mild Depression
The Ouled Nail

 

Dancers with colorful scarves
Southern 2006

 

A Collection of "Did You Know..." Articles from Beledi Beat

   
  Malouf

1995 - Fall
If you were to travel to the Tunisian city of Sidi Bou Said, you might be fortunate enough to hear a traditional singer accompanied by oud, violin, and riq. What you might not know is that these song-poems are performed today almost exactly as they were in the 8th through the 15th centuries, during the golden age of Arab rule in Spain. Sidi Bou Said is one of the last places that maintains the Andalusian music tradition of malouf, the classical court music from the ancient caliphate in Cordoba. Listening to this haunting music is like traveling back in time. However, some things never change—most of the songs are about love!

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Suradeq

1996 - Winter
Have you ever noticed the enormous pieces of orange and red fabric used as backdrops in Jawaahir’s performances? This fabric, decorated with colorful and intricate geometric patterns, is actually an Egyptian tent fabric, known as a suradeq. In Egypt, the suradeq is used for everything from family gatherings such as weddings and funerals to national holidays to religious celebrations. The geometric designs used in the tents are actually based on the marble inlay patterns found in the walls and floors of Cairo’s medieval mosques. During her last visit to Egypt, Cassandra purchased over 128 meters of this beautiful fabric. Most of it was created in Shari Khayyamiya, the Street of the Tentmakers, one of the oldest thoroughfares in Cairo, where dozens of needleworkers sit cross-legged and handstitch appliquéed patterns onto the fabric. So the next time you see the suradeq, marvel not only at the exquisite artistry, but also at the hours of labor and centuries of craftsmanship behind it.

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Yalis

1996 - Spring
It was in the latter half of the 17th century, when the Ottoman Empire stretched from Makkah to Budapest and from Tunis to Tabriz, that it became fashionable for Ottoman viziers, admirals, and civil and military pashas to build prestigious summer homes along the Bosporus, the strait that separates Europe and Asia. These homes were called yalis, a word deriving from the Greek yialos, or seashore....Yalis in their time functioned as extravagant retreats where the owners and their families escaped the sweltering bustle of the city. Toward the end of the 19th century, when the number of yalis had reached its peak, a highlight of the summer social season was the mehtâb, one of the most extraordinary spectacles of an affluent and esthetically refined era. On summer evenings when the moon was bright and the Bosporus calm, rich and poor alike would throng the shore to watch and listen as a flotilla of private boats—sometimes numbering in the hundreds—would weave its way north in a snake-like procession, often calling at prominent yalis on both shores along the way. In the lead was a special concert boat fitted with a raised platform on which an orchestra performed, or vocalists accompanied by the flutelike ney, the stringed dulcimer, and the saz. (Excerpted from Aramco World magazine, March/April 1996) on which an orchestra performed, or vocalists accompanied by the flutelike ney, the stringed dulcimer, and the saz. (Excerpted from Aramco World magazine, March/April 1996)

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Arabic Music

1996 - Summer
Simon Shaheen has some advice for those listening to Arabic music for the first time. "Think with your voice when you listen to Arabic music. It has a linear quality like the voice. Concentrate on its melodies, and listen to how they interact with the rhythm. Arab music is characterized by the use of quarter-tones, which lie between the half-steps of western music. They have a quality that you may not be able to hear at first. Don’t think of them as out-of-tune notes. They are deliberate. The more you listen, the more you will begin to hear them and come to love them, for it is the quarter-tones that distinguish many beautiful maqams (musical keys) in Arabic music. (Excerpted from Aramco World magazine, May/June 1996)

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Kan ya ma kan

1996 - Fall
The program for Mahrajan Al-Fan offered this beautiful explanation of traditional Arabic storytelling: Kan ya ma kan: "Maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t." This formula, more tentative than the "once upon a time" of European folktales, opens most Arabic stories of magic and imagination. Children and adults recognize kan ya ma kan as the ticket to the never-never land where flying carpets and winged steeds carry you safely over the Seven Seas; where princesses graceful as palm trees, with faces as luminous as the moon when it shines full, marry threadbare woodcutters’ sons; where hairy ghouls with eyes like embers and giants with teeth of brass strike terror, or are won over by a hero’s wiles. Such are the household tales. Since the Arab house, with its extended and extensive family, is the domain of women, it was traditionally they who told these stories. Boys as well as girls grew up on them, of course. At puberty, boys join the ranks of men in the male gathering places, the village guest hall or coffee house. There, in the days before television and the VCR, the itinerant Rawi, or professional reciter of epics, might recount the adventures of pre-Islamic desert heroes. One can still come across professional storytellers today in Morocco — men who spread a mat in a corner of a marketplace, offering their narratives to the crowd. The characters of the "Thousand and One Nights," who lived in the 8th century Baghdad of the Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid, are now part of the heritage of the world’s literature and popular culture.

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Beledi

1997 - Winter
Did You Know...what a Beledi beat really is? Beledi (rhymes with melody) means of my country. Each Middle Eastern country has its own unique, traditional form of dance, often thought of as more folkloric or rural. A beledi Masri is, for example, a dance of Egypt and refers specifically to the folkloric style that is unique to that country. Egyptian beledi has a specific sequence and development. Musician Hossam Ramzy, known to most Americans for his collaborations with Peter Gabriel and David Byrne, is also a noted dance teacher in London. In an interview with Arabesque Magazine, he describes the traditional dance this way: "The Egyptian dancer does not just get up and start to move with great energy. She starts from a slow point and builds up. She is reserved in her first movements and then the music moves to a broken rhythm until it winds up full force in the bigger and livelier movements of the beledi." Raks al Sharqi (pronounced approximately Rocks al Sharkey) means dances of the east. Determining where "east" was originally located has kept ethno-musicologists and dance historians happily researching and publishing, but there is far from complete agreement as to where the characteristic undulations originated. For practical purposes, Raks al Sharqi now refers to the more urban forms of Middle Eastern dance. Raks al Sharqi draws from all the cultures that make up the Middle East and North Africa, as well as from the influence and creativity of individual dancers. Regardless of the terminology, it’s an ancient, living art form and a tremendous amount of fun.

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Gulf Women’s Music

1997 - Spring
Did You Know …that the women of the Arabian Gulf have developed their own style of music? Whenever Gulf women gather for parties and celebrations, women musicians play for the dancers. A distinguishing characteristic of Gulf women’s music is the contrast between the simple melody and the rich, syncopated percussion line underlying it. The mutribah — a singer and oud player—leads the band. She sings the melody which moves up and down in small steps. The drummers sing the chorus while playing framed drums that vary in pitch, creating multiple tonal layers. Almost all traditional Gulf folk music sessions, women’s and men’s, include an important contribution by the audience. Clapping, singing, whistles and zaghareed (ululation) all become part of the performance.

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Thobe Nashal

1997 - Summer
Did You Know …in the cities and towns, Saudi and Gulf women perform their folk dances wearing the colorful thobe nashal. This loosely-fitting gown is today most often made of brightly-colored silk, polyester chiffon, or rayon. Figurative designs are machine-embroidered on the front panel to the floor, and around the sleeve openings and hem. Some are also liberally dotted with gold sequins. Today, most of these dresses are made in the Indian subcontinent, but some people insist you can still buy some made in Bahrain or Kuwait. The women don’t wear them while traveling to the occasion where they will dance. Instead, they put them on once they arrive, pulling the thobe over their full-length party gowns in order to dance or to wear for a while at a party while others are dancing. Thobes are meant to drag on the ground behind the dancer, forming a kind of train. And the sleeves are big enough that a dancer can drape one over her head occasionally, dancing with the sleeve acting as a veil. A room full of women bedecked in their colorful thobes makes a brilliant spectacle. And how much more so when they do the traditional dances! (Thanks to Jawaahir Board member Kay Hardy Campbell for providing this issue’s "Did you know...")

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Gestures

1997 - Fall
Did You Know...that some gestures in Middle Eastern dance are used to express a specific emotion? In the Levant (the Middle Eastern countries on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean), happiness is expressed when the dancer touches her fingertips to her forehead. An Egyptian dancer would express her joy by placing her fingertips just at the top of her ear. While Americans place their hands on their heart by putting their right hand just below the collarbone, Egyptians show the same sentiment by placing their right hand at the base of the rib cage. A light-hearted Egyptian gesture called Al Assal, with the dancer’s fingertips to the side of her chin, means "as sweet as honey." The abdominal area is considered the center of the soul throughout the Middle East. When dancing, try to imagine the center of your body as the essence of your being and see what power it brings to your dancing. As for incorporating other gestures into your choreographies, Cassandra offers a word of caution. "Watch Egyptian films and see what gestures seem charming or expressive to you, but don’t use a gesture until you know what it means." Find an Egyptian friend or colleague to explain the gesture to you, as it may mean something specific that doesn’t fit what you are trying to express.

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Khaleegy

1998 - Winter
Did You Know …Khaleegy is a popular folk dance in Gulf countries? The gentle, refined movements of this dance are often performed at Haflat al-Zaffaf, a women’s wedding party. The party-goers wear thobe nashal, heavily-beaded, flowing gowns. (See Summer ’97 Beledi Beat.) Khaleegy uses basic footwork patterns, allowing the dancers to focus on interacting with each other. Many of the variations are danced in pairs or with two lines of women facing each other. The lines merge, part, and pass through each other while the women laugh, talk, and encourage each other. Dancers take turns leading, following, dancing, and in some cases, drumming. The motions of the dancers emanate from the shoulders. The relaxed shoulder movements are mirrored by subtle hip movements as the dancers move about the floor. The emphasis is on grace, since after all, one wants to make a good impression on one’s future mother-in-law. The dancer’s hands manipulate the yards of fabric as the weight of the beaded, sequined dress moves with her body. Some variations include swinging the arms and thobes from side to side, while other variations emphasize the dancers swinging and tossing their hair in time to the music. The parties often last all night, with dancers stopping to enjoy a lavish buffet, or to sip tea, coffee, or juice, and most importantly, to visit with one another. The extended family is important in Saudi Arabia and the women are close to each other. They visit often, going from household to household. Their singing, dancing, and storytelling are ways of passing on rich art forms and solidifying family ties and friendships. It is both entertainment and a rich artistic heritage.

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Shoma

1998 - Summer
Did You Know …Shoma, the Bedouin storyteller featured in Jawaahir’s upcoming show, is an historical character? Her father was Sheik Auda Abu Taay, the fierce desert fighter who aided the British in fighting the Turks during World War I. British soldier and intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence described Abu Taay in his book, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: "He must be nearly fifty now (he admits forty) and his beard is tangled with white, but he is still tall and straight, loosely built, spare and powerful, and as active as a much younger man. His lined and haggard face is pure Bedouin: broad, low forehead, high sharp-hooked nose, brown-green eyes, slanting outward, large mouth, pointed beard and mustache with the lower jaw shaven clean in Howeitat style…his hospitality is sweeping…his generosity has reduced him to poverty, and devoured the profits of a hundred successful raids. He has married twenty-eight times, and been wounded in battle thirteen times, and in his battles has seen tribesman hurt and most of his relations killed.…He sees life as a saga, and all events in it are significant and all personage heroic. His mind is packed (and generally overflows) with the stories of the old raids and epic poems of fights. When he cannot secure a listener he sings to himself in his tremendous voice, which is also deep and musical.…At times he is seized with the demon of mischief and in large gatherings shouts appalling stories about the private matters of his hosts and guests. With all, he is modest, simple as a child, direct, honest, kind-hearted, affectionate and warmly loved, even by those to whom he is most trying—his friends." It is easy to imagine that Shoma inherited her father’s musical voice and delight in sagas and epic poems. A privileged child and the oldest daughter of Abu Taay’s first and favorite wife, she benefited from the riches her father would bring home from raids, the greatest being the stories that his adventures added to the family’s canon of tales.

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Musical Drones

1998 - Fall
…That musical drones are a way of adding richness and depth to a song? The drone, a musical technique found in almost all musical traditions, is experiencing a resurgence of popularity in Western music. Uillean pipes and didgeridoos have made it onto the FM airwaves.

In Middle Eastern music, drones are produced on a variety of instruments, most often violin as well as oud and qanun. Harmony is not a major component in Middle Eastern music; drones fill the musical space and give depth to the sound. You can often hear a drone used during a taqasim, an interval when a soloist improvises around the main theme or melody of the song. The other musicians drone, using the base note of the maqam, or key, in which the soloist is playing. This technique anchors the listeners in the maqam. As the soloist shifts maqam, the drone players shift their note. Another taqasim technique is for several musician to play the drone, while others follow the notes of the soloist, creating a close echo.

The vocal music tradition of Gulf pearl divers includes a low, throaty drone reverberating octaves lower than the solo singer.

(Thanks to Kay Campbell and Miriam Gerberg for assistance with this article.)

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Every Day Words of Arabic Origin

1999 - Winter
…Almost every day you use words of Arabic origin? It may feel like a quiet evening at home, curled up on the sofa with your tabby cat and a steaming, sugary mocha, but in reality, you are surrounded by cosmopolitan influences with flamboyant histories. An Arabic soffah was the part of the floor that was raised a foot or two, covered with rich carpets and used as a sitting room. The word was introduced to English when spice traders and pilgrims to Jerusalem wrote of their travels to the Middle East. Sofa appeared in print in 1625 in a pilgrim’s pamphlet of his travels. Two hundred years later, the word shifted to describe a long stuffed piece of furniture.

Tabby, the affectionate name for a striped cat, comes from al atbiy, a quarter in the city of Baghdad. Weavers in this neighborhood were noted for their production of high-quality striped fabric, especially cottons and silks. An Arab writer in the 12th century first referred to a striped cloth as attabi. The label traveled with the fabric and by 1696 the London Gazette ran an ad for "Lost...a child’s mantle of sky-colour tabby." At the same time, tabby cat began to appear in British literature and poetry. The phrase, and the animals, crossed the Atlantic with the English settlers, who shortened tabby cat to simply tabby.

Sugar and mocha, both the products and the words, come from the Middle East. As sukkar was a prized ingredient among cooks and bakers in the Middle East. The Moors brought the recipe to Spain, where the Spanish readily adopted the sweetener, calling it azsucar. Northern European crusaders encountered sugar, but it was not widely-known until Spain began producing and exporting it from its Caribbean colonies. Azsucar was Anglicized to its current form, sugar by the 1300s. Mocha, an important port city in Yemen, was for centuries the center of the world-wide coffee trade. Coffee cultivation originated in Ethiopia and quickly spread through Eastern Africa and the Middle East. But it was the seafaring Dutch and the merchant traders of Mocha that brought the brew to Europe and the Americas.

So the next time you’re sitting on the sofa with your cat, consider how your everyday life has been enriched by the Middle East.

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The Hadra (Zar)

2000 - Fall
In the following passage from her memoir, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, Fatima Mernessi describes attending a hadra, or possession dance. (Also known as the zar, this dance is done throughout the Middle East to rid women of troublesome spirits.) An eminent sociologist and scholar, Mernessi spins a beguiling and mesmerizing tale of growing up in Morocco in the 1940s.

"The hadra would begin with hundreds of women, all elaborately dressed and made up, lined in orderly fashion on sofas along the courtyard's four walls. Sitting arm in arm, the women would be clustered around their meriaha, or the woman who could not resist the rih, the rhythm which compelled her to dance. At first [the orchestra] would play slowly, so slowly that the women would keep on talking to one another as if nothing was happening. But then, suddenly, the drums would beat out a strange rhythm, and all the meriahat would spring up, toss away their headgear and slippers, bend from the waist, and swing their long hair wildly about…. It was as if the women had freed themselves for once of all external pressures. Many would have light smiles floating on their faces, and with their half-closed eyes, they sometimes gave the impression that they were emerging from an enchanting dream. At the end of the ceremony, the women would collapse on the floor, totally exhausted and half unconscious. Then, their friends would hug them, congratulate them, throw rosewater in their faces, and whisper secret things in their ears. Slowly, the dancers would recover and return to their places as if nothing had happened."

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Hem, A Kind of Mild Depression

Winter - 2000
That Middle Eastern thought traditionally identifies several variations of anxiety? Cassandra and director Carolyn Goelzer are creating dance-theater pieces based on Fatima Mernissi's memoir, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood. In this excerpt, Mernissi shows that, though language and culture differ, human emotions are the same all over the world:

"The terrace was forbidden because it had no walls, and you could fall and die with one false move. But everyone in the house knew that troubled women who had hem, a kind of mild depression, climbed up there to find the quiet and beauty they needed to cure themselves. Hem was a strange suffering, quite different from mushkil, or a problem. The woman who had a mushkil knew the reason for her pain. If she suffered from hem, however, she did not know what was wrong with her. Whatever was making her suffer had no name. Aunt Habiba said you were lucky if you knew what hurt, because then you could do something about it. The woman who had hem could do nothing, except sit there silently, with her eyes wide open and her chin tucked in the palm of her hand, as if her neck could no longer hold up her head…Because only beauty and quiet could cure women affected by hem, they were often taken to sanctuaries on the tops of high mountains, such as Moulay Abdesslam in the Rif, Moulay Bouazza in the Atlas, or one of the many retreats lying near the ocean between Tangiers and Agadir…Silent, natural beauty and tenderness are the only medicines for that kind of disease."

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The Ouled Nail

2000 - Fall
…The Ouled Nail was among the many groups of North African and Middle Eastern dancers brought to the United States in 1893 by impresario Sol Bloom. He coined the term "belly dance" to bring in the crowds at the Chicago World's Fair, but there might have been some basis for the term in the case of this ethnic group.

In Algeria, the young women of the Ouled Nail would leave their tribal villages to work in the larger towns as dancers and courtesans to earn their dowries. When they had enough money, they returned to their villages to marry and raise a family.

During their careers, it was possible to request a private, nude dance in which the dancer performed intricate and isolated movements of the abdominal region. The American dancer Ted Shawn toured Algeria in the early 1900s and saw the Ouled Nail perform. He said, "It is not a suggestive dance for the simple reason that it leaves nothing to the imagination, and because of this unashamed animality, revolts the average white tourist to the point of being unable to admire the phenomenal mastery which these women have of parts of the body over which we have no voluntary control at all."

Now Available!

Yalla! Dance and Music of the Middle East, a 6 page brochure explaining these rich and beautiful art forms. For information on how to order, please visit The Souk.

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