You've been taking classes for a few weeks now; you like the music and would like to begin a small collection. But where to start? Here's your guide...
The best place to start is your instructor. Pick her brain - ask her to show you what she uses in class, ask who the artist is, and why she chose that particular piece of music. Some instructors provide tapes for practice, and this is a great idea. Not only does it mean that you can practice between classes, but you will do better in class because you'll be familiar with the music.
Moving further afield, there are various options to explore: the public library, record stores, Middle Eastern shops, and mail-order.
The Public Library
The price is right - a library card - but this option may take some legwork. Many world music recordings are not catalogued; this means that only the item number has been entered into the library database, not its title, artist, or subject. So if you search on any of these, you won't get a hit on the item. In other words, you have to find the item on the shelves to know that it exists. Ask the librarian to tell you if any of the branches carry Arabic music recordings, then if possible visit the branch and borrow whatever looks interesting. A word on searches: use both "belly dance" and "belly dancing" as your subject. You may get different results. Later, as you become more knowledgeable, you can search an artist or title.
Most mainstream record stores have a world music department or section. The big chains such as HMV and Sam the Record Man often have a belly dance section within the "Middle Eastern" or "Arab World" area. These stores usually carry major record labels such as EMI and Mondo Melodia. ARC is a reliable label for world music, with lots of belly dance. Almost everything by Hossam Ramzy is good.
There are benefits to shopping at the chain stores mentioned above. One is that often you can listen to a recording before you buy it. The other is their refund policy. If you absolutely hate what you've bought, it can be returned for a full refund.
What should you avoid? Compilations. Often the artist or origin of the music isn't given, so you won't know what you are hearing, nor will you learn anything. Watch out for one called All the Best of Belly Dancing, with a cover that features the torso of a dancer wearing a red costume: this isn't even belly dance music. What else? Avoid anything Moroccan or Turkish (unless you are looking for that type of music in particular). Most belly dance music is either Egyptian or Lebanese in origin, and both Moroccan and Turkish music are very different.
Middle Eastern Shops
Consider yourself lucky if there are Middle Eastern shops where you live. Many grocery stores also carry some recordings, and in large cities, you may even find Arabic video stores with a large selection of music.
These stores usually carry labels not found in the big chains, and items are quite inexpensive. Some stores will let you hear the music before you buy. What to buy? Just about everything on the Hollywood Music Center label is good - the musicianship, the recording quality, and the music itself. The covers are colorful and appealing: often they feature pictures of instruments used on the recording, and thankfully song titles are transcribed into Roman characters. Setrak Sarkissian - a dumbek player - is another name to look for. His music is lively and oh boy does it make you want to dance!
Consider this only as your last resort. After you factor in shipping and handling, plus the difference on foreign exchange, the price can be exorbitant - and sales of recordings are final. The best source is Artemis Imports. The regular catalog includes a large section devoted to music, offering almost everything that is available. Illustrations of the cover are included as well as a brief description of the album, and occasionally, song titles are listed. It's an invaluable resource and well worth sending for. Contact Artemis Imports, P.O. Box 68, Pacific Grove, CA 93950. Phone (+1) (831) 373-6762 (regular catalog $4, pattern catalog $3, book catalog $3).
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of the Canadian dance publication, MID-BITS!
About the Author
Arabella, the author of this article, has contributed many informative pieces to this web site on a variety of topics, including:
Please visit Arabella's home page on this web site for a full list of articles she has contributed.
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