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A Review of

JVC Video Anthology
of World Music & Dance, Volume 17,
Middle East & Africa II,
Egypt / Tunisia / Morocco / Mali / Cameroon / Zaire / Tanzania

by Smithsonian Folkways

 

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Summary

 

Overall Rating: StarStar (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars)

This video is Volume 17 of a 30-video set showing music and dance from around the world. It is number II in the 4-video subset of Middle East and Africa. This set is widely available through university libraries. JVC Anthology Volume 17 Cover

 

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What Shira.net Users Think

 
1) How would you rate JVC's Video Anthology of World Music & Dance, Volume 17 with Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Cameroon, Zaire, and Tanzania?
Absolutely fantastic!
Definitely would recommend it.
Good enough to be worth the money, but not special.
Disappointing, but had at least a little value.
Nothing good about it at all.
 

The above poll includes responses submitted since August 29, 2006.

Note: Shira has a policy against video producers asking their students, family, and friends to pad the votes, or campaigning for favorable votes through their web sites. Click here for detailed information about the policy.

 

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Fact Sheet

Subject Matter Music and dance of North Africa
Overall Rating StarStar
Production Quality StarStarStar
Content Value StarStar
Total Video Length 55:10 minutes
Time Devoted to Documentary 54:24 minutes (99%)
Time Devoted to "Other" 0:46 minutes (1%)

 

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Description

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:

  • Egypt. 2 minutes. Imagine my surprise when the song chosen to represent Egypt is “Ana Gambak Ya Kol Iraqi” by Tawfiq Farid, a 1987 song whose title means “O Iraqis, We Are Your Allies”, which was actually filmed in Iraq at a festival.
  • Tunisia. 6 minutes. The first 2 ½ minutes of this segment is labeled “Bedouin dance.” It features as the dancer a Tunisian woman in the melia (toga-like wrap) worn over a sequined bra, with the traditional Tunisian ecru yarn hip belt. Her dance moves are in the twist-oriented style of traditional Tunisian women’s dance as she performs in what appears to be a restaurant. The companion booklet for the video series makes the obnoxious statement, “This recording shows a dance closely resembling the belly dance, although the dancer is fully clothed.” The remaining music for the Tunisia part of the video is the Ma’luf classical music, in 6/8 time, sung by a chorus of men accompanied on ouds, violins, riqqs (tambourines), and tablas.
  • Morocco.  11 minutes. The segments include Berber dance, Nawba, Berber street musicians, imdyazn, and street artists of Marrakesh. Once again, it is disappointing. I had hoped to see some schikhatt, but there was none. In the “Berber dance” segment, the men sit on the floor in a circle playing drums, while the women stand behind them in a semicircle. There is a small amount of movement by the women, but it’s nearly impossible to see what they are doing due to the poorly chosen camera angles. I wish the section on street artists had been longer – it contains some acrobatics and some snake charming, but the total segment is only 2 minutes long, and the camera cuts so quickly from one scene to another that it’s impossible to really see anything. The rest of the Morocco segment is mostly singing.
  • Sudan. 3 minutes. For reasons that elude me, this section showing Sudanese dance is plunked smack in the middle of the section labeled as Morocco. This dance was apparently filmed at Marrakesh, which makes me guess that perhaps they were guest performers at the Marrakesh folk festival. But it seems odd to have Sudanese dancing in the middle of a section on Morocco.  Neither the video box nor the onscreen information states that this comes from Sudan – only the companion booklet provides this enlightenment.
  • Mali. 2 ½ minutes. This short but very interesting segment shows masked dancers from the Dogon, an ethnic group in Mali in western Africa south of the Sahara. Some of the dancers are on stilts. The masks represent their creation myths.
  • Cameroon. 27 ½ minutes. This section is almost entirely focused on music, with only a trivial nod to dance. It contains several sections, including the Fulbe, the sanza, the balafon, the dummba, buusaw, garayya, two minstrel poets, a cowherd’s song, and a drum performance. The Fulbe are an Islamic ethnic group in Cameroon. The sanza, balafon, dummba, buusaw, and garayya are all traditional musical instruments. Each of these segments is interesting to watch, because many of the instruments are quite different from what we are accustomed to seeing, and I enjoy seeing how they are played. The minstrel poets represent a tradition of reciting lyrical poems through chants.
  • Zaire. 1 ½ minutes. This short but fascinating section shows dancing by the Mbuti, a local Pygmy population. The dance is very athletic and high-energy.
  • Tanzania. 1 minute. This short dance represents the Masai, an ethnic group found in Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa.

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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Is It Right for You?

You Will Probably Enjoy This Video If

  • You have a strong interest in the music and culture of Cameroon.
  • You’re more interested in music information than in seeing dance.

This Video Probably Isn't Right for You If

  • You expect the filmmaker to know more than you do about music and dance from North Africa, particularly Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.
  • You expect to learn something worth knowing about North African music and dance.

 

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What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked:

  • Excellent index on back of box showing content.
  • Excellent production quality.
  • Shows some interesting musical instruments being played.

What I Didn't Like:

  • Poorly researched.
  • Project is lacking in expertise.
  • Represents Egypt with a forgettable song about Iraq by some obscure Egyptian pop singer while failing to mention any of the true legends of Egyptian music - Oum Kalthoum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Farid al-Atrache, or Abdel Halim Hafez.
  • Peculiar decisions with respect to which material to use.
  • Not very satisfying to those of us whose interest lies primarily in Middle East and North Africa.

 

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In Conclusion

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.

 

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Disclosure

There is nothing to disclose. I have had no contact with anybody involved in the making of this video.

 

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To Buy It

Via Amazon Stores

VHS edition: U.S.

Contact Information

Multicultural Media
56 Browns Mill Road
Montpelier, VT 05602
U.S.A.

Phone: (+1) (802) 223-1294
Fax: (+1) (802) 229-1834

Email: help@worldmusicstore.com
Web Site: www.multiculturalmedia.com

or

Fern McLeod
Independent Sales Representative
JVC Smithsonian Folkways World Music & Dance Videos
World Video Anthology
Montpelier, VT 05602
USA

Phone: (+1) (802) 223-8653
Fax: (+1) (802) 223-4469

Web Site: worldvideoanthology.com

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