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Belly Dance and Trans-Mediterranean music

Belly Dance

Belly Dance has been around for a very long time, although it has been known in the west only for a century or so. It's origins are diverse, from bedouin tribal dances in Arabia to the women's baths of north-west Africa to the tavernas of Greece and Turkey, and this is the reason why I and some others refer to the musical style as 'trans-Mediterranean.' Many influences have come together to create what is commonly known in our culture as 'belly dance,' and the west has then remade much of it according to its own tastes and then re-imported it back to its lands of origin with the trade in goods, music and, of course, tourist money. The result is a dance style that is on the one hand an exciting performance and on the other, a celebration of femininity and self-expression. I have had a wonderful time meeting and drumming for many of the groups in the belly dance community. Most commonly, I'm seen with The Bedouin, a group who practice a modern variety called 'tribal style.' It is a truly group style, which works with a kind of free improvisation using a standard set of moves, and in which any member may be at whiles a leader of the group or a follower. As an improvisational mode, it is a tremendous amount of fun to drum to, not to mention watch, and the tribal style of costuming is sumptuous and engaging.

Please see my links section for links to the many wonderful dance troupes the Calgary has to offer.

The Music

As belly dance spans such a huge area, you must expect that there a potentially huge variety of influences on the music. However, the dumbek (darbuka, darabukka, darbeki, Egyptian tabla) has become a signature drum for the musical style and for dance accompaniment (as has the djembe for West African, altough there are some huge differences between the styles and much more to both types of music than can be encompassed with a single drum). This drum is relatively recently known, based on historic and artistic sources, and it's use has spread from north west Africa eastward through Egypt and the Middle East to Pakistan and also northward into Asia Minor and the Balkans. There are several kinds of dumbeks. Some are clay with fish skin, which may be some of the oldest models, as well as beaten metal. Today, metal ones are cast, stamped or spun, the most common to my awareness being the heavy cast metal tablas from Egypt, with plastic (mylar) heads. These are heavily favoured for their strong bass tone and high upper notes. Clay drums are good this way, too, though they are much more eaasily broken. Spun and stamped metal ones are thin -some Tukish ones are beautifully etched copper- and easily dented. There are a huge variety to choose from, and you should find one you like by tasting it first. They are, all in all, much less expensive than a djembe of comparable quality.

The rhythms are named by a distinctive pattern of bass and accented high tones (named 'dum' and 'tek' respectively), with variation coming in how the spaces between the unvarying basic pattern are filled. Rhythms have typical fill patterns both for general use and for each particular rhythm. There are a few rhythms that are heard all the time, notable of which are the 'masmoudi' rhythms: masmoudi, which is a slow rhythm, and baladi, saidi and maqsum, which use the same basic pattern with small tonal variations, but seem twice as fast. Other common fast rhythms are ayoub and malfuf; chiftetelli is a popular slow rhythm. Most dance music uses these few, and a sampling of others are heard, almost all being 2/4, 4/4 or 8/8 time. However, there is a rich tapestry of rhythms in the full musical style, including karshlimah (or some spelling variant thereof), which is a 9/8 rhythm that is sometimes seen danced, and others in 5/4, 6/8, 7/8, 10/8, and beyond. They can be fun to play, but are tough to hang onto until you can feel the time properly.

Check my links page for places you can get more information.

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