Gems of the Middle East: Belly Dance
Favorites from Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey & Greece
I know this
appears under Music Reviews, but this remarkable series could
also have been placed under Book Reviews since master
percussionist Mary Ellen Donald has not only given us 3 wonderful
CDs but has also provided us with 3 very comprehensive books of
rhythmical analysis as well!
The 3 CDs feature the late Mimi Spencer on qanun (she also
provides beautiful vocals in several languages), with Mary Ellen
Donald demonstrating her 35 years of experience on doumbec and
tambourine. The music was originally published on cassettes, but
was remastered into CDs, which makes it SO much easier for the
listener to navigate and choose some of the different selections
to put together into a full routine. And Mary Ellen has made it
so easy for us to “mix and match” selections because she has
provided a little bit of everything, from entrances to exits,
with drum solos and tempo changes throughout! Most of the pieces
are short (3-4 minutes) so there is no problem choosing several
selections to make countless combinations from these 3 CDs. What
a wealth of musical selections all in one package!
Volume I and II have 17 selections each and Volume III has 10
pieces (including a 13 minute medley) for a total play time of
approximately 60 minutes on each CD. The music on the CDs range
from old favorites such as Lailet Hob, Rampi Rampi, Erev Shel
Shoshanim and Princess of Cairo to incredible new drum solos (one
per CD). The percussion is so clear that you’d think she was
sitting right next to you playing her tambourine and you can feel
every beat of the doumbek! This set of CDs is a “must have” for
any dancer because there is such a concentration of belly dance
classics that can be used over and over again in different
combinations that we would never again have to dance to the “same
old routine”! But it is also recommended for anyone who just
enjoys listening to some beautiful renditions of Middle Eastern
music at its best. You’ll want to listen to them often!
But then … there are the accompanying books! Mary Ellen tells us
in the preface that during her early years of teaching drumming
technique and rhythms (with no connection to melodies), she
realized how helpful it would be for her students to analyze
musical selections rhythmically and she decided to provide them
to her students. And now they’re provided to us! It’s Mary
Ellen’s feeling that dancers must know the rhythmical structures
in order to have a powerful and exciting performance. And for
those of us who need a visual reminder to help us remember the
rhythms, these books are perfect!
Each book starts out with a Key for Strokes including doumbec,
tambourine and finger cymbals (which are not played on the CDs,
but the cymbal strokes have been included in the book to add to
its usefulness). The book then proceeds to analyze the rhythm in
each song presented on the CD, including musical notation, the
keystrokes and a narrative. The melodies of each song are clearly
broken down into Melody A and Melody B and the rhythms are
labeled in terms such as “walking” maqsoum and “fast”
chifte-telli. There are also helpful notations such as: “On the
recording when the drum plays malfouf, the tambourine plays
Karachi”. So much information for each song! And there’s a book
of rhythmic analysis accompanying each CD, so we can easily flip
through the books to whichever songs we have decided to use in
our routine to make sure we don’t miss any of the rhythm changes!
So while these books are good for the beginner dancer to help her
identify rhythms that she doesn’t recognize, the helpful
notations would also assist a more advanced dancer or
percussionist as well.
One of the highlights of Volume I is a detailed autobiography of
the author. Mary Ellen Donald tells her story with a combination
of humor and honesty that makes you feel like she’s a close
personal friend by the end of the chapter.
These books are very easy to follow and are recommended for any
musician or dancer, from beginner to advanced, who is serious
about learning the rhythm of music … which should be all of us!
Do not pass up this chance to learn from Mary Ellen Donald!
This review appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Zaghareet