Tahkt تخت – platform; also refers to a small traditional Arabic musical ensemble, typically comprising of Oud, Qanun, Nay, Riqq, Derbake and Rebaba/Kamanjā (sometimes replaced with a violin).
Firqa فرقة – group; a large Arabic musical ensemble (eight or more, up to a full orchestra), expands on the instruments in a Tahkt with additional instruments including western instruments like the violin, bass, clarinet, organ, and accordion.
Taqsim تَقْسِيم – solo instrument improvisation, played independently or backed by a drone or percussionist.
Mawwal موال – connected to; An emotional vocal improvisation, often a lament over a lost love, that may precede a song.
Layali ليالي – nights; A vocal improvisation, similar to the instrumental taqsim. The singer improvises on the words “Yā ‘ayn yā layl” (يا عين يا ليل), which means “oh eye, oh night”.
Tarab طرب – Tarab is used in Arab culture to describe the emotional effect of music; it is also associated with a traditional form of art-music rooted in the pre World War 1 musical practice of Egypt and the East- Mediterranean Arab world and is directly associated with emotional evocation.
Takht to Firqa
A transition from Takht to Firqa coincided with the development of Raqs Sharqi in the urban Egyptian entertainment halls over the turn of the 19th to 20th century. The development was influenced by a combination of growing the ensembles to fill the larger theaters with sound, incorporating new element to engage and excite Egyptian audiences, as well as a political push to incorporate western influence in an effort to modernize Egyptian culture by King Fuâd in the 1930s. (See “Modernisation & Westernisation of Music in Egypt“)
Because all styles of raqs sharqi are very connected to the music, now is a good time to learn a little about Middle Eastern music. Take some time to familiarize yourself with some common instruments used in Turkish, Arabic, Greek and other Middle Eastern music.
Learn to identify and recognize by sound and sight several different musical instruments used commonly in the Middle East:
Muwashah / Muwashahat – موشح / موشحات The Muwashah, which translates literally as “girdled” (plural Muwashahat) is an Arabic poetic form, and a complex vocal musical form based on classical Arabic poems from Andalusia. To learn more about the musical form: http://www.maqamworld.com/en/form/vocal_comp.php
Read: “Oriental Dance: Myth and Reality, the Harem Slaves” by Jalilah Lorraine Zamora Jalilah, originally from California, currently lives and teaches in Canada after having lived, studied, and/or worked as a professional dancer in several Middle Eastern countries, and toured with the Musicians of the Nile. She is well known in the international Raqs community for her “Raks Sharki” album series she put out with beautiful music for dance performance.
To help contextualize the reading & listening content, notice on the following map the shifting extents of the Caliphates, with the Umayyad in brown and the Abbasid in three greens.
Here is a map showing the shifting extents of the Ottoman Empire that followed the caliphates.
Consider the multiple ways there was influence, shared heritage, and vocabulary in language, music, art, and dance, while each region, tribe, and people exchanged or asserted their cultural traditions.
At its height, Arabic cultural influence reached from Samarkand to Seville. In addition to language and religion, the Arab caliphates valued knowledge. They built universities, developed math, translated and wrote literature and poetry, they codified their musical traditions and forms, they put up street lights, paved sidewalks, built plumbing and other infrastructure, built bath houses and architecturally sophisticated Mosques, and spread these kinds of improvements throughout their territories. Despite the benefits to being under the rule of the Caliphates, they were not totally beneficent rulers, keeping slaves, levying taxes, maintaining a religious caste system, and pushing religion through brutal violence.
Damascus in Syria was the seat of power for the Umayyad caliphate. Also, Damascus was and is a continual major cultural center as one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world. The Abbasid caliphate moved their seat of power to Bagdad. Although the head of power during these caliphates remained in or near the Levant, the dramatic reach and long-term rule over a territory as far from the Levant as modern day Spain encourages many to explore the dance connections to Arab Andalusia. This is thematically connected to this week’s rhythm study.
Rhythm of the week
Sama‘i Thaqil سماعي ثقيل – (also called Sama‘i, for short) is a very popular iqa‘ in the Muwashah vocal genre, as well as the principal iqa‘ used in the Sama‘i Turkish/Ottoman instrumental form. It is 10 beat rhythm. Sama’i Thaquil translates literally to ‘my hearing is heavy’. Sama’i – my hearing, or hear me, & Thaquil – heavy
Andalusia and Muwashahat Dance – A Little Additional Background There is not a great deal of documentation that I know of detailing what Umayyad-Era Arab Andalusian Muwashahat dance looked like exactly. Though the musical forms and poetry at this time were beginning to be documented and preserved, dance is more elusive.
Whatever traditional heritage remained of Muwashahat music and dance after the fall of the Caliphates in the Iberian Peninsula was likely dispersed when the Moors were forced out of Spain in the 1490s, most of whom settled in the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, & Libya). It is my understanding that although they mixed some with Syrians, Arabs, and Turks, over time, most of the Moors were North African Amazigh people. Once back in Africa, the Muwashahat and other Andalusian arts were most likely influenced by other African music and dance traditions, probably also later by interpretations of Muwashahat coming out of the Mashriq (Egypt, Arabian Peninsula, Levant, & Iraq). See these interviews with Amel Tasfout for a little more about the Amazigh and Andalusia: https://youtu.be/12d0vxcH6TY & https://youtu.be/KDbyT1vwyw8)
Because Andalusia symbolized the Arab empire at the height of its ruling extent, nostalgia surrounding the preserved poetic form of Muwashahat inspired more modern folklorists in other parts of the Arab speaking world to present their re-imagined presentations of this heritage through musical compositions and choreographies. One of the most famous and most emulated of such imaginative approaches to dancing Muwashahat was from the Egyptian Folkloric Dance Choreographer Mahmoud Reda. Reda was not the first to present a dance interpretation of Muwashahat in Egypt, as is evidenced by its presentation by Raqs Sharqi performers in earlier films. The legendary Lebanese singer Fairuz, also put out a beautiful theatrical production and album called Andaloussiyat. Her backup dancers danced and sang in a style reminiscent of the more classic styles of dance from the Levant and near east.
Although Muwashahat dance and music art presentations included many rhythms, Samai Thaqil is very strongly associated with this tradition. It is my understanding that it’s inclusion in music for Muwashahat was invented by the Egyptian composer Muḥammad ‘Uthmān, who was drawing from the Turkish Samai musical form for inspiration. To read more about this musical history: https://www.amar-foundation.org/003-al-muwashshah/
Here is an exploration of the Arab Andalus connection in dance.
Leila Mourad singing the muwashsha ‘Mala al-Kasat’ with a chorus of oriental dancers in two-piece bedlah, in the 1948 film ‘Anbar’ Words by Ahmed Ashour Suleiman and Composition by Muhammad Othman. This presentation pre-dates the famous Mahmoud Reda choreographic styling. https://youtu.be/DKit8BopL6c
Fairuz, a beloved cultural icon in Lebanon, presenting a performance in Andalusian character in 1976, with back up dancers performing to the Muwashahat. https://youtu.be/O3UfnASTpJQ and another performance to a recording of Fairuz in 1960 that shows more of the dancers: https://youtu.be/RImmQAQDYig
Mahmoud Reda’s Folkoric Dance Choreography of Muwashahat featuring Farida Fahmy in the 1979 film Gharib el dar. https://youtu.be/2jx0FvAxydE
Misr is what Egyptians call Egypt. Check out this video to understand more about why these two terms sound so different.
Zaar زار – visit (also transliterated Zar)
Zaar is the term used to refer a possessing spirit or djinn, and the term for the ritual used to appease that spirit. A zaar is never exorcised, but coexists within the individual and must sometimes be brought into balance or harmony when things fall out of balance in an individual’s life.
Ayyub – أيوب – Ayyub rhythm, also sometimes called Zaar is also transliterated Ayub, Ayoub, Ayoube
Ayyub is a name, the same name as the biblical and Islamic figure Job, although, I don’t know if there is any relation between that Job and this rhythm. It is a 2-beat rhythm frequently used in Raqs Sharqi music, in Sufi music and some folk music. It is famously used for the zaar ritual, starting slowly and building up to breakneck speed.
Oh my God! (Similar to OMG! An expression of amazement.)
marathania – مرة ثانية – again
mara – مرة – one time
thania – ثانية – a 2nd
khalas – خلاص – it is finished or stop
aywa – أيوة – Yes
pronounced like the state of ‘Iowa’ this is a uniquely Egyptian (not pan-Arabic) word
habibi – حبيبي – sweetheart or darling in the masculine form (feminine form habibti – حبيبتي )
The masculine form ‘habibi’ has been used historically for both genders in Arabic poetry and music lyrics both as a sign of respect towards the more intimate usage of ‘habibti’ for a female, and to obscure who was being referred to in a story or song.
“Misconceptions in Arabic Dance” by Amani Amani is a famous Lebanese Raqasah (dancer) widely respected in the field. She brings a unique and knowledgeable native perspective, and she offers ideas that both complement and expand upon the understanding of the artform that we gain from experts that take an Egyptian perspective. I particularly like her take on the idea of regional styles. I had previously accepted the idea that each region in the Middle East had its own flavor, but her perspective on style in Raqs Sharqi opened my eyes to a new way of thinking.
Get to know a few famous Lebanese Stars of Raqs Sharqi:
Nadia Gamal – of Greek &Italian heritage & born in Egypt, Nadia started her career in Egypt, however she grew to her greatest celebrity while in Lebanon. She was the first to bring Raqs Sharqi to the Baalbek Festival, she starred in several films internationally, and was a highly sought after performer and instructor.
Amani – Born in Lebanon in a small town between Beirut and Tripoli, Amani built her career and fame in Lebanon and internationally. She made several appearances on Lebanese TV and is well known for her theatrical dance productions. It is her article and photo I shared above.
Get to know a few famous Turkish Stars of Raqs Sharqi (known in Turkey as Oryantal Dans):
Nesrin Topkapı – Born in Akhisar, Turkey, Nesrin was raised by a Mother and Father who were involved in theater. Her mother loved to dance. After starting her performance career first in London, England, Nesrin returned to Turkey and quickly became beloved by the nation after appearing on TV for the New Year.
raqs sharqi رقص شرقي – Eastern/Oriental Dance (more commonly known in English as Belly Dance)
raqs رقص dance
sharqi – شرقي Eastern or Oriental
The term Raqs Sharqi first appeared in newspapers in early 20th century Egypt referencing a professional stage version of Egyptian dance developed in the entertainment halls of Cairo & Alexandra at the turn of the 19th to 20th century. It was likely called this to differentiate it from western or occidental dance, which was also on offer at these entertainment halls, and possibly to also to differentiate it from beledi (homestyle) Egyptian dance. Integrating local Egyptian professional dance traditions with influences from the variety of musical, theatrical, and dance entertainment on display in the urban Egyptian entertainment halls (including artistic contributions from various Middle Eastern countries, Europe, & the Americas), Egyptians created a new expression of authentic Egyptian cultural identity for Egyptian audiences, in defiance of colonial occupation. This was Raqs Sharqi. (see “Egyptian Belly Dance in Transition: The Raqs Sharqi Revolution” by Heather D. Ward)
There is evidence that similar integrated developments in professional dance were simultaneously occurring in other Middle Eastern urban centers, to a greater or lesser extent, and with some differing sets of influences, all of which contribute to our contemporary understanding of Raqs Sharqi. Built on the foundation of shared movement vocabulary in professional and homestyle dance as well as musical ties that existed throughout the territories previously controlled by the Ottoman Empire and earlier Islamic Caliphates, these regions (which include most Arabic speaking countries as well as Turkey and Greece) developed their own interpretations, or close dance relatives, of Raqs Sharqi.
Um Koulthum Singing Lissa Faker Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
take out a bunch of repeats and these first 3 parts consist of the part of music most dancers use. Here is the rest of the song: Part 4 Part 5 Part 6
– Notice how Fifi relates to the meaning of the lyrics. Look into yourself and see what they mean to you and how you relate.
– Notice how Fifi changes speed, engaging a powerful dynamic, especially when approaching or entering shifts between lyric and interim music. See if you can incorporate dramatic energy shifts and speed changes into your dancing at the shifts between lyric and interim music.
– Notice how Fifi will use only a limited number of steps, drawing one or two steps in combination over the length of an entire musical phrase. Also notice how she transitions. See if you can utilize this in your own dancing as an improvisational tool.
– Notice how Fifi uses layering to enhance the melodic line, both physically noting the sweep of the melodic line in crescents and 8s as well as expressing the tremolo of the oud in her shimmies. See if you can develop this tool in your layering.
– Notice how Fifi will stay stationary for most of the lyrics, particularly the deepest lyrics and how she travels more for the interim music. Note how she tends to become more internally focused for the intense lyrics as well. Think about how you might use this kind of choice as a dynamic tool when you are interpreting songs with lyrics in performance.
Laylet Houb is a classic Arabic song written originally by the famous composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab and sung by Um Koulthoum, a very important singer to Arabs in general, but to Egyptians in particular. The original version is around 50 minutes long. They used to compose songs that were a whole concert unto themselves. A shortened version was first used for dance by Souhair Zaki, a dancer who was reputed to be the first to use Um Koulthum music for Oriental dance. Of course our version is a modern remix by Said Mrad of this gorgeous old piece of music. Here are some links for you to enjoy – The full concert sung by Um Koulthum in 5 parts:
Click on these 3 additional links for lyrics and to see Souhair Zaki dancing to Leylet Hob.
Concert at Al Esmailia, Egypt – we will be working with this entrance for next class as well. I highly recommend you buy the original DVD for your collection:
Fifi signature moves to add to your arsenal that we broke down in first class:
1 – traveling triple step, don’t be afraid to cover ground
2- Fifi step hip
3- Fifi hip drop
4- double drop walk
5- fifi 8s
pay extra attention to her arms and upper body! Notice how natural and relaxed they feel, but still graceful and very responsive.
Notice how she uses an entire musical phrase up with one step, then uses the last 2 or 4 counts to transition into the next step. Notice the times she breaks this pattern and how she breaks it up. Notice how she changes her body angle and how she uses her whole stage. Think about how you can incorporate this into your dance.
Tayyar Akdeniz’s Rhythms of Turkey – 20 Turkish Rhythms with intros and examples in music and 5 really wonderful fully orchestrated Turkish musical tracks. Amazing CD with awful distribution. If you want, I can get it directly from Tayyar for you. Just ask me.
a) started dancing as a young teen in the Greek nightclubs of Alexandria
b) started dancing in her twenties at Badia’s club in Cairo
c) never got an opportunity to dance on television
correct answer a
4. True or False: Souhair Zaki’s father opposed her career in dance.
correct answer true, however after her father’s death, her mother remarried and her step father helped her in her dance career
5. Souhair gained accolades and compliments from individuals of note, including the
a) Shah of Iran
b) Tunisian President
c) Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser
d) US President Nixon
correct answer a, b, c, and d
6. Souhair Zaki was famed to be the first Oriental dancer to:
a) have her photos on cassette tape covers
b) use a wide variety of props for theatrical effect
c) dance in America
d) dance to the music of Um Koulthum
correct answer d – she also had her photos on many cassette tape covers, but there is nothing to indicate she was the first
7. Souhair Zaki was contemporaries with Nagua Fouad and they were
a) great friends
b) very competitive
c) very similar in style and costuming
d) both featured together in a duet
correct answers b and d – kind of tricky, I know you probably all didn’t have access to the footage of Souhair and Nagua dancing together
8. Who said “As she sings with her voice, you sing with your body” comparing Souhair Zaki to Um Kolthoum?
a) Egyptian President Mohammed Anwar Al Sadat
b) Composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab
c) US President Nixon
d) Um Koulthum herself, worded a little differently
correct answer a – most commonly attributed to Anwar Sadat, saw one reference to it possibly being Mohamed Abel Wahab
9. Souhair Zaki was in
a) over 100 films
b) many starring roles as an actress & dancer
c) only a few films
d) the film “Beauty and the Scoundrel”
correct answers a and d
10. True or False: Souhair Zaki indirectly assisted the Egyptian government in acquiring arms from the Soviet Union.
correct answer true
11. In 1986 Souhair Zaki
a) began touring more internationally
b) began to teach workshops for the first time
c) had her first and only son
d) decided to take the hijab (the veil) and retire from dance
correct answer c
12. Souhair Zaki
a) recently passed away
b) is currently in retirement from all dance activities
c) recently taught and performed at the Ahlan We Sahlan festival in Cairo, Egypt
correct answer c
13. Name 3 or more attributes of Souhair Zaki’s dance style and whether you think they are positive or negative:
1. positive: hip downs! amazing, crisp, awesome!
2. positive: sense of musicality; she can hear all the little accents
3. positive: emotion (sweet): it’d be interesting to see her do more serious stuff, but for the most part you enjoy watching her anyway!
1. Sweet and innocent way of dancing
2. Soft but dominant hip movements
3. Light barrel turns
1. Same movement repeated in different directions and angles: positive. She adds variety to her dance without being too busy.
2. Dancing to the rhythm: positive.
3. body locks: looks good on her (positive), not sure about on everyone though
1. Relatively uncomplicated/un-showy performance. Positive – she is very elegant and relaxed
2. Sweet smile. Both positive and negative – positive because she is very pleasant to watch, negative because I personally prefer more variety in expression (but many of her clips are from movies so that may factor in)
3. I like her chest tilts/how she will often incorporate a tilt or lean into various moves.
1. She dances with her eyes closed a lot. It makes her dance seem more modest and delicate.
2. Her hips follow the pitches of the melody. It shows how closely she listens, and gives a sense of deeper understanding in the dance.
3. She repeats the same several moves a lot. Many of her motions are expected, I guess I am used to flashier styles of dance, but it’s what I prefer.
14. Name 3 pieces of music that Souhair Zaki danced to and albums you can find them each on: