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A Review of

The Gems Songbook

by Mimi Spencer




This book contains sheet music and lyrics translations for 11 songs from the eastern Mediterranean region. The songs it features are ones that are frequently used for belly dance performances.

In addition to the information on the individual songs, it also contains some informative background regarding Middle Eastern music.

Gems Songbook Book Cover



Fact Sheet


The Gems Songbook


Mimi Spencer






Sheet music, music education


StarStarStarStar for dancers
StarStarStarStarStar for musicians




This book is a valuable educational resource on Middle Eastern music for both musicians and dancers. It is a companion to a collection of musical recordings called Gems of the Middle East that Mimi Spencer made with Mary Ellen Donald which are reviewed elsewhere on this web site.

For 11 songs, this book provides the lyrics in three formats: 1) in the script of the original language (some Greek, some Arabic, one Hebrew), 2) transliterated into Roman script, and 3) translated into English. It also includes the sheet music for each song, including an indication of which rhythm to use for each. In addition, Mimi includes introductory comments for each song indicating who wrote it, which artist popularized it, and other valuable background information.

Several appendices include excellent supporting information about Middle Eastern music. They include:

  • Guide to which of Mimi Spencer's books (including this one) contain sheet music and lyrics for each song in the Gems of the Middle East series of music that Mimi recorded with Mary Ellen Donald.
  • Notes on pronunciation
  • Maqam scales
  • Basic rhythm patterns
  • Glossary of musical terms
  • Bibliography
  • Discography of sources and other recordings of interest
  • Suggested vendors and web sites
  • About the author

If you're a musician who plans to use the sheet music to learn how to play these songs, please read the Introduction carefully. Mimi includes an explanation of the notation system she has used, and it's important to read that in order to understand how to interpret the sheet music.



Songs Included


Song Title


Hebbina Egyptian
Lail Ya Layali Arabic
Ya Reem Wadi Thaqif Saudi Arabian
Raghizi Apopse I Kardhia Greek
Erev Shel Shoshanim Israeli
Ya Dala Dalla Lebanese
Sawwah Egyptian
Kapetanaki Greek
Sala-Sala Greek
Wa D'Ana Saudi Arabian
Me Bounatses ke Boforia Greek


Is It Right for You?

You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...

  • You are looking for sheet music for some of the songs it contains.
  • You are looking for translations of the lyrics for some of the songs it contains.
  • You would be interested in some background information about the songs it contains, such as who composed them, etc.
  • Your taste in music tends to focus on Egyptian classical style.

This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...

  • Your taste in music tends to focus on songs from Turkey or the Levant rather than Egypt.



What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked:

  • It offers English-language translations for 11 songs. As a dancer, I like to know what the songs are about that I use when I dance.
  • The songs selected to be included are good choices. These are not obscure pieces, but rather well-known ones that are quite appropriate to include if you're studying the music of the eastern Mediterranean.
  • Because the book is a companion to a set of musical recordings done by Mimi and Mary Ellen, a dancer can use the two together to learn more about Middle Eastern music.
  • It contains sheet music and transliterations to help musicians add these songs to their repertoire.
  • It provides tips on the Table of Contents page suggesting which part of a dancer's routine each song might be suitable for (entrance, slow, finale, etc.)
  • For a musician, the plastic spiral binding would be convenient because it allows the book to lie open on the desired page while playing.

What I Didn't Like:

  • I found the plastic spiral binding to be inconvenient because I can't tell which book is this one I want by looking at the spines on my book shelf -- all I see is plastic spiral binding of several books side by side. I have to pull them out to see which book is which.
  • I was disappointed that it contains only 11 songs, especially since it isn't easy to find translations of song lyrics. I appreciate the ones it contains, but I'm hungry for more.




I like this book very much because of the rich education it provides in the music of the eastern Mediterranean region. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to know more about music from this part of the world. I wasn't familiar with all these songs before they were released in the Gems of the Middle East series of recordings, but some of them such as "Hebbina" and "Sawwah" are classics that I've heard played many times.



I have taken a couple of workshops on introduction to Middle Eastern music from Mimi Spencer, and found her to be very knowledgeable. I regret that I didn't have the opportunity to get to know her better before she died.


To Buy It

Mary Ellen Books
P.O. Box 411562
San Francisco, CA 94141-1562

Telephone: (+1) (510) 654-DRUM
or (+1) (510) 654-3786

Web Site:


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