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This video claims to cover the music and dance of Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Cameroon, Zaire, and Tanzania. In fact, it dwells on Cameroon for nearly half an hour, spends about 11 minutes on Moroccan music, and barely touches everything else. On screen, there is no explanation except for text titles introducing each segment. The detail explaining all the music and dances appears in a companion book. People who buy the complete 4-video set of Middle East & Africa receive the book with the set. People who buy just this one video alone would need to purchase the book separately.
The video is organized by country, as follows:
In all cases, the onscreen material is entirely music and dance. Text titles appear to introduce each country, and to identify each segment within each country, but there is no narrative or descriptive information presented on the video itself. The companion booklet provides the missing details, with valuable background information about each section. Viewers who want simply art/entertainment can view the video without the booklet, while those wishing to study and learn about the music/dance can keep the booklet at hand while watching, and refer to it as each section begins.
One would expect that a “video anthology of world music and dance” would choose music by one of the four legendary musicians to represent Egypt – i.e., either Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Oum Kalthoum, Farid al-Atrache, or Abdel Halim Hafez. Or, if folk music is preferred, Musicians of the Nile. This decision to represent Egypt with some obscure 1987 “popular song” by a lesser-known artist that was filmed at a performance in Iraq causes me question the credibility of this entire series. It makes me wonder just what kind of research the filmmakers actually did when planning their project.
The statement in the booklet calling the Tunisian performer “belly dance, although the dancer is fully clothed,” goes on to show just how superficial the videomakers’ knowledge is of what they filmed, and it shows that they didn’t bother bringing in experts to help them identify it properly.
The production quality is acceptable. Everything is well lit, and the camera always stays in focus. The sound quality is clear and pleasing. Occasionally, it annoys me when the camera focuses on faces while I’m trying to study what the dancers are doing, but I’ve seen worse.
Some vendors sell only the full 30-volume worldwide set of videos. Some sell the regional groupings as a set – i.e., this one would be part of the 4-volume set for Middle East and Africa, which typically includes the companion booklet. Still others will sell individual videos and books by themselves. I consider the companion booklet to be an important part of the value of this video. So, if you buy the video separately (i.e., not part of a set that includes the booklet), I urge you to spend the extra money to buy the booklet too. The booklet includes a large amount of factual information that does not appear on the video.
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What I Liked, What I Didn't
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What I Didn't Like:
Egypt is a major force in the Middle Eastern entertainment industry. Its influence is comparable to that of Hollywood in the English-speaking entertainment industry - other countries also produce music and movies, but Egypt is the "big time", and its music, dance, and cinema dominate the Middle East and North Africa. It is truly astonishing that a "documentary" claiming to cover the music and dance of the Middle East and North Africa would fail to address this in its choice of content. Or, alternatively I could respect a project featuring folkloric traditions, such as musci by the Musicians of the Nile and/or dancing by the Banat Maazin, but this video includes none of that, either.
The only explanation I can conceive is that the filmmakers' knowledge of the region was poor, and they didn't bother to conduct even cursory research. The choice of material to include on this video gives the impression that the filmmakers took a video camera with them on a vacation, filmed whatever they encountered along the way, and threw it together with no fact-checking. How else can one explain the fact that Egypt, the hub of the Arab world's music industry for over a century, is represented by a single forgettable song, performed in Iraq by an obscure pop singer from the 1980's?
This video can probably be found in most academic libraries. If you want to watch it, I would suggest borrowing it from the library rather than buying your own copy. The high price of $60 for a one-hour VHS tape combined with the astonishly poor depiction of Egypt and other North African countries makes its value questionable for those who love the music and dances from that region.
However, if you have a strong interest in the cultural arts of the part of Africa south of the Sahara, especially Cameroon, you may find this video interesting. My personal knowledge of music and dance from south of the Sahara is virtually nil, so I can’t tell you whether this video’s coverage of this region is more credible than its abysmal coverage of Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco, but I can say that it devotes significant time to the subject.
It's appalling that this poorly conceived and executed project is being aggressively sold to academic institutions at an exorbitant price and utilized as a resource in courses teaching world music.
There is nothing to disclose. I have had no contact with anybody involved in the making of this video.
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