by Hossam Ramzy

A word that belly dancers often hear with respect to Egyptian-style dancing is baladi (which may also be spelled other ways, such as beledi, balady, etc.) Baladi isn't just a dance style, it's a culture. In January, 1997, well-known musician Hossam Ramzy posted a message to the med-dance list on the Internet with an Egyptian native's perspective on baladi. His message appears here in its entirety, posted with his permission.

To the great disappointment of the followers of Hilal School of "RAQS SHARQI" School, BALADI "IS" the solo dance of the Egyptian women.

You will never see a group choreography doing Baladi improvisation. It is just not done, while in "SHARQI", there are many, many group choreographies and as a matter of fact, when "RAQS SHARQI" started, it used many back line dancers [see "THE STARS OF EGYPT(tm)"].

Now, am I right? or am I right? or am I right? I KNOW I AM RIGHT.

So what is Baladi then?

Come with me on a little stroll down one of Cairo's back streets. Not necessarily Mohammed Ali Street, this is too obvious, let's go down Haret Zeinhom, in El Sayeda Zeinab.

Who lives there?

People who have moved to the city well over a couple of hundred years ago or even longer than that. These people came from the other cities of Egypt like El Mahalla El Kobra, Alexandia, Luxor, Aswan, Asyout, Quena, Banha, Damanhour, Domiat, Sohag....or any other. OK... Why?, to get better jobs and to trade with their produce.

Now these people are so special, they were not like the city people, however, some were very educated and continue to educate their children. Many of which are now doctors, architects, lawyers, army ranked, directors of big companies or even in the government.

And even though they are and have been part of the city for a few generations, they are still very proud and very connected to their roots, and this is what they'll always call "HOME", the city or village they came from. They say I am going back to "EL BALAD" meaning my country, or my home town.

In Arabic, BALADI, means my country, my home town.

But to the "SOPHISTICATED" city people (one of the dictionary definitions of sophisticated is : untrue, false) it means something that is home grown, or their country, or the country side people or even fashionably tasteless clothes or street language. They say ooo la la, this is Baladi.

Okay. Let's now look at the life of these Baladi people, lets take a look at an imaginary young lady and study her day to day livingness, what is expected of her, what is she expecting out of life, her connections to the world and how she's liable to make it. Lets call her........ Zeinab.

Zeinab's family are not rich, they live in a poor area, Haret Zeinhom. Father works in a factory earning very little and can hardly support the family, her mom and one other very young sisters and two brothers who are 25 and 23 years old. She is the third child and is 18 years old, fully matured, ripe and would break your heart with one smile or a look from the corner of her eye. Long black hair and a face like a full moon smiling down at you from high above and you can see the respect of the family traditions have been not only bread into her, but also beaten into her by her protective brothers who are too scared, LIKE EVERY ONE READING THIS, each to his/her relevant degree about reputation, honour and respect.

This is ALL the BALADI people have, and this is ALL they give a damn about:


Now you may frown and say, the brothers or the men controlling the girl etc., etc., but before you do that, please ask me one very vital question:

Q) Who, or What are women to an Egyptian man?

A) A woman to an Egyptian man is either : Mother, Sister, Daughter, Aunt, Grand Mother, Cousin, Fiancee', Wife, or Workmate.

Well, The Egyptian man can NEVER say no to any of these ladies. They fully control his life. What he eats, what he will wear, where he is going to sleep, what job "THEY" will be proud to have him do, and THEY CHOOSE FOR HIM THE WOMAN WHO HE IS GOING TO MARRY.

I know of many a disaster when some poor man married a girl who was not liked by the women in the family. It was hell on earth. Believe me, my brother did 28 years ago, and lives to regret it.

But the ladies themselves have their own moral codes of conduct and what they consider to be a good woman or not good enough. She has to have qualities and traits that they approve of. Well you see, she'll be their door and special agent to him, convincing him, in her way, to do what the rest of women want him to do.

I am not here to beef about anything, I am only fascinated by the way this chess game is played. It is a game of life, and the Egyptian women play it to the full.

I recall once when I was young in Cairo I had a best friend who was also a drummer called Tareq, we were from very "SOPHISTICATED" (whoops) high class families. My family were Pashas and in the cinema industry, and his were very rich diamond and gold merchants from Khan El Khalili. One day Tareq and I were in El Hossein and we were walking behind this Baladi woman, she must have been about 28 years old we were about 16 or 17, she was dressed in a long galabeya that was loose but when the melaya was wrapped you could see that magnificent "COCACOLA" shape of her body. There was a certain part of her back side that moved independently like two ferrets fighting in a sack, so rhythmically Tareq and I started singing the maqsoum to her walk:

Dom tak Trrrrak Dom Retitak...

and after a few bars of that we broke out laughing. But I'll never forget that day.

She was walking like there were no other women worth looking at in the God-forsaken planet but her. As far as she was concerned, she was IT. Proud, strong, pleasant and very respectable, and full of feminine power.

Imagine this was Zeinab.

By now her little sister, Souaad is getting married, this is probably the happiest day of Zeinab's life, even more than her own wedding night. To her, now her family's duty is complete and her father and mother can start having a bit of a life for themselves too. Don't you think she's going to dance that night, you bet your last hip drop she will. And in PUBLIC too.

How is she going to do that without breaking the traditions of never showing off too much of her femininity and shaming her husband, who has to be respected and given the idea that he is the "LION" of the family if not of the whole neighbourhood, so that he can shut up and do what he's told?

She's going to have to do it slowly and bit by bit...A small taqsim on an oud, or recently accordion or saxophone or nowadays the keyboards, she will have to dance it on the spot, small movements, very contained, but full of feeling for the music, and expressing the music. If the music does a long note, she sways with it for as long as it does like the reeds from the bamboo plants along the Nile banks, swaying with the force of the breeze. But if the music is small choppy sounds, or even tremelando, she shimmies with it.

The bamboo reeds are also called ood, from which the taqasim introduction got it's name as well as from the fact that it used to be done on the oud instrument.

This way it is called AWWADY.

This part is like a Mawwal (free non-rhythmic nostalgic singing) on an instrument.

But you see, the audience want to see Zeinab dancing to the full. So when the ice is broken a little, the rhythm is introduced bit by bit again. How is that done?

The taqasim is resolved to the opening key with which it was started, then the instrumentalist does a question and answer with the drummer. The question and answer both fit into one bar of rhythm at the same speed as if and when it continues and they play together, but in a Q & A style.

The melody plays 2 an 3-

Then the drums play 4 an 1 and

For FOUR TIMES, or Eight times, playfully teasing and urging Zeinab to dance more with the rhythm till they feel that all is well with all concerned and then they start the continuous maqsoum rhythm part.

This question and answer part is called Me-Attaa. Meaning broken up bits of music and rhythm.

Once the rhythm is established, then Zeinab will dance, but still conservatively but coyly, expressing more reserved sensuality and a personal feminine touch. But by then the musicians know that it's okay, and after a little bit more they go into a different type of question and answer = Me Attaa. This is shorter, faster and indicates that a possibility of a faster rhythm can come.

Then they go into the up-tempo maqsoum. By then Zeinab is free from all inhibitions and what the heck, it's her sister's wedding anyway, and she knows, she has teased her husband to total frustrated silent and chained madness that nothing matters....But she also knows the absolute sweet treacle like honey way with which she has him wrapped around her little finger... So out comes the ONE AND ONLY DANCE STEP THAT IS TRUE AND TRADITIONAL AND KNOWN TO ALL EGYPTIAN WOMEN , THE HIP SWERVES. [Please refer to Habibi Magazine article on HOSSAM, it is well explained there.] And the wedding is on blissful fire.

In this part also the music plays a very nostalgic sound for the Egyptian folkspeople, the sound of the mizmar. It sounds like accents on the 2 & 4 :

4/4 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4
Tiit Toot | Tet Teeit

And so on. This is why this part is also called the TET.

This could go for some time, but then the ultimate thing is the going home for the BALADI PEOPLE, isn't it? That is going back to the roots, the countryside the farms and the farm life, the Fallahi life style, so here comes another Me-Attaa but this Q & A will slow down gradually so that you can PULL out the FALLAHI Rhythm from that faster maqsoum. (Pulled out in Egyptian means magrour). To this they normally do the Egyptian walk (to the Yankees, shimmy walk).

Also tet could be played on the Fallahi.

Then enough is enough, now you have seen it all, and lets face it, hubby is about to burst a rib smiling that deep.

As they were the ones who brought it into this frenzy of dance and music, they have to calm things down gradually or the people will go too wild if she stops suddenly, so they slow it down and down and down till it is back to the original awwady taqasim and a gentle stop.

This is how a BALADI woman would dance.

This has been incorporated on stage in almost every dance show, and you can also go on from the middle of fast maqsoum tet into other songs, and prolong it as long as you wish, as well as adding a drum solo, but basically this is it.

Now you say to yourself, well what is CABARET dancing then. Basically it is RAQS SHARQI. As in the night clubs, they do a bit of SHARQI (two-piece costume, as a Baladi woman would have never been seen even dead in a two piece cabaret costume, which is a SHARQI thing), then they go off stage to change to the one piece TOUB to do a Baladi or another set of folklore then Baladi or to Saaidi then Baladi, it all lead to the frogging Baladi. Then drum solo then the outro. So, what is all the big fuss then?

A TRUTH is a TRUTH whatever anyone says about it, and if you want to get well squashed in life, stand in the way of TRUTH.

Check out any Baladi piece, by any musician, on any recording or on any dance video and see if this does not apply.

If you were to ask me who does the best ever Baladi dance in Egypt today the answer is simple LUCY. Before that it was Lady Nagwa Fouad.

The phrase, El Baladi Youkal, is a thing that street sellers call out for their home grown produce, meaning that it is Baladi and edible...So is ZEINAB. Big hand for Zeinab.

With Lots and Lots Of Rhythm
Hossam Ramzy


Many thanks to Hossam Ramzy for permission to include his essay on baladi here on my web site!

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