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Photo of Shira

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Origins of Reda Troupe Dances:
Part 4: Music

 

by Shira

 

 

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Table of Contents

 

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About the Interview

On July 31, 2006, Mahmoud Reda agreed to an interview to discuss the origins of the dances used in Reda Troupe. The purpose of this interview was to clarify which aspects of Reda Troupe's work were drawn from actual folk sources, versus which arose from other inspiration.

My objective for the interview was to document Mr. Reda's process and experiences that shaped the work he created. I wanted to provide a primary source that others could reference when performing their own research into Reda Troupe and its place in Egyptian theatrical history. For purposes of these articles, it is not in my scope to critique his work or provide my personal analysis.

Mr. Reda expressed a preference that I not record the interview. He said he would speak more freely if I didn't capture it on tape. For that reason, I opted to take written notes by hand instead of recording. To ensure I had accurately captured the conversation, I gave him the opportunity to review the articles I wrote describing what he said in the interview and correct any errors I had made. This final version has been approved by him as accurately representing what he told me.

Mahmoud Reda

 

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Music

Collecting Music

When researching folk culture in the field, Mahmoud Reda and his assistants took along tape recorders to capture the sound of the local music. However, they did not use the folk music intact for their dances. Sometimes, the music was as simple as clapping, perhaps for a full hour at a time.

For stage, something more elaborate was needed. Choreography required recognizable melodies rather than free-form improvisation. Theatrical audiences would expect varied instrumentation, shifting energy levels, and a certain level of sophistication.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This is a mizmar band that Mahmoud Reda photographed in Upper Egypt. Mizmars are a musical instrument similar to an oboe, and they produce the distinctive sound associated with Saidi music. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating the articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Mizmar Band

For this reason, almost all music utilized for Reda Troupe's choreographies was specially composed for them.

When watching videos of Reda Troupe performances, it is important to remember that this is not authentic traditional music from the villages, but rather an artistic creation inspired by the villages.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Mahmoud Reda photographed this band during his tour to research music, dance, and culture throughout Egypt. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating the articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Rural Band

Composing Music for Reda Troupe: The Process

In the early days of Reda Troupe, the primary musical composer was Ali Ismail, whom Reda considered to be a musical genius. Reda's older brother Ali introduced Ismail to him.

When preparing to create a dance representing a particular region, Reda developed a preliminary idea of the choreography he wanted to create, perhaps with suggestions for which rhythms to use where and how long each section should be. Sometimes he would develop the choreography using just drum beats. He then showed it to the composer, along with sharing the music samples from the region.

With this knowledge of the choreographic direction and indigenous musical style, the musician created a rough draft of a composition and recorded it, often just on piano, for Reda to use in completing the choreography. The composer would then review the finished choreography, and add embellishments to the music based on seeing how they fit together. This process of refining the music and choreography to fit together would continue. Finally, it would culminate in an orchestral piece played on a variety of instruments.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Ali Ismail conducts the musicians for a Reda Troupe performance. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating the articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Ali Ismail

When Mahmoud Reda and Ali Ismail first started collaborating to create dance/music projects, they discovered some communication gaps. Reda might instruct Ismail that he wanted one section to repeat 8 times, but as a dancer Reda might have been referring to counts while Ismail was thinking in terms of measures. When Ismail came back with 64 counts (8 measures) of 8/4 masmoudi rhythm where Reda had been thinking of using 8 counts (1 measure) of it, they found it necessary to resolve the confusion.

Over time, of course, they became accustomed to working together and learned to express what they had in mind in terms each other could understand.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Nubian musicians play the tamboura, which is a traditional Nubian lyre. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating the articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Following Reda's travels around Egypt to research folkloric music, dance, and culture, the tapes he had made of music from the villages provided additional input into the content of the compositions created for Reda Troupe.

Ismail's brilliant talent led to his being sought after for many projects unrelated to Reda Troupe, such as movie soundtracks. Because of this, Reda began to work with other composers as well. However, as Ismail's schedule permitted, he would find time to create at least some of the music needed for new Reda Troupe projects.

Tamboura

At one point, Ismail agreed to create new music for Reda Troupe, but he kept delaying and delaying. Reda repeatedly contacted him for an update, but Ismail kept saying it wasn't ready yet.

Finally, Reda went to Ismail's house one night and said he wouldn't leave until his music was done. Ismail told him to do some dance steps, then played around creating a tune on the piano to go with them. Ismail asked him to dance some more, and added to the song. The two of them kept working together. Reda would show him what the women's part would do, and he would write music. Reda would then show him what the men's part would do, and he would write more music. At 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., Reda would fall asleep on the couch. Ismail would awaken him a couple of hours later to continue. This went on for 3 days.

Finally, Ismail said, "I have a confession. Reda asked, "What confession?"

Ismail replied, "The first night, I was not doing your music. I was writing a movie and you were dancing, but I was writing the background music for the movie."

Reda asked, "Why did you let me dance?" Ismail said, "You gave me inspiration."

Reda asked, "And why did you wake me up at 3 o’clock in the morning?” Ismail replied, “To keep me company!”

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Ali Ismail conducts the musicians for a Reda Troupe performance. It was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating the articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Ali Ismail

 

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Related Articles

Shira has written additional articles based on the interview. Some have not yet been posted online. This section will be updated once they are available.

 

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Mahmoud Reda for making himself available for the interview on which this article is based. He was most patient in answering my many questions and clarifying points for me when necessary.

I would like to thank Maleeha and Kahraman Near East Dance Ensemble for their important role in making this interview possible.

The material in this article originally appeared in print in Zaghareet Magazine, in 2007.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: I took this photo of Mahmoud Reda in July, 2006, the day of the interview.

Mahmoud Reda in 2006

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