This article may be titled “10 Songs Belly Dancers Should Know”, but there are of course many more than just 10.
Ask any dancer of any style and they will tell you that if you don’t like the music, it is much harder to embody the soul of the dance itself. The music is key! The soul and essence of Raqs Sharqi, or “Belly Dance” to many in the West, is inherently connected to the music of the Middle East, North Africa, the Levant, and Turkey (MENALT). To truly understand and embody the “flavour” of the dance, we need to connect with the sounds of the cultures and countries of origin, so I decided to share my (current) favourites in a list of 10 Songs Belly Dancers Should Know.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that dance artists aren’t free to use their movement vocabulary toolbox to express and embody other sounds or music that moves them – fusion feeds the fires of creativity, and as a lover of many different kinds of music and movement myself, I love to see artists create stunning visuals to accompany their emotional response to music of any kind. Of course, when it comes to using MENALT music or movement, it helps to have education on the matter first, in order to avoid misrepresentation or mixups. The more you know, y’know?
The MENALT countries have such a long, rich history of music and poetry, so where does one begin?
For the purposes of this article, I’ve decided to focus on my personal list of 10 Songs Every Belly Dancer Should Know (in no particular order, as it exists on my iPod right now). You can bet that I will post another Top 10 List in the future, perhaps with a non-traditional twist!
Keep in mind as you go through this list that it’s a pared-down group of some personal favourites – your mileage may vary, and if I wanted to include them all, this article would never be finished! If you are just getting started on your MENALT musical education and need some great places to start, then you will enjoy these. Hopefully your search for more music like this will lead you to some gems that I haven’t included here.
1. Laylet Hob (Night of Love)
A beautiful, uplifting tune with rhythm shifts and floating melodies that keeps dancers – and listeners – interested and engaged. Laylet Hob was originally composed by Mohamed Abdel Wahab, and there are many versions out there for dancers to connect with. Perfect for a wedding set, or a romantic veil entrance followed by subtle, feminine movements. Laylet Hob will make you feel romantic!
2. El Samer (The Evening Conversation)
Exciting, dramatic, flirty – El Samer is an energetic song that you can deliver to your audience with a hair toss and a smile. Originally composed by Hamouda Ali, this piece is a fast-paced number for any set, and provides plenty of energy and movement for choreographers to work with.
3. We Daret El Ayam (And The Days Have Gone By)
Two ex-lovers see each other across the street. Suddenly aware of how much time has passed, yet thrown back into the old emotions as they remember their time together, and reconcile. But alas, the days have gone by – life has gone by – yet here they are together again. What a beautiful, complex piece of music! Originally composed by Mohamed Abdel Wahab for Oum Kalthoum.
4. Bitawanes Beek (I Enjoy Your Company)
Talk about a love letter. One Arabic friend described this song title to me as “We have so much fun together”. It reminds me of a young person dreaming about the next time they will see their crush. Bat those eyelashes and sigh those heartfelt sighs when you hear Bitawanes Beek by Salah El Sharnobi!
This fiery piece is by Mohamed Abdel Wahab, and is many dancer’s go-to piece for giving the audience that ultimate belly dancer experience. The beat will make your audience want to dance with you, and the melody will stay with them long after you’re gone.
6. Enta Omri (You Are My Life)
Again with the drama! This piece is a favourite of many dancers, and it is an epic one – it’s original composer (Mohamed Abdel Wahab) and artist (Oum Kalthoum) have a 40-minute version that many consider to be one of the finest works of Arabic music out there. Imagine baring your heart and soul to the one you love the most, describing not only your adoration, but your regret that your entire life before that person is nothing in comparison to what it is with them in it. Oof!
7. Tamra Henna (Henna Flower)
Flirty, powerful, and full of interesting musical changes that give an improvising belly dancer plenty of “moments” to work with. Tamra Henna was originally featured in a 1957 movie of the same name, with young dancer Naima Akef dancing to the tune originally composed by Mohamed Fawzi. This song only has a few lyrics, but they are all about a young, beautiful, flower of a girl whose vibrancy sends out a strong message of love & life, like the scent of jasmine.
John Bilezikijan was an Armenian-American who composed some of the most well-loved music for the Golden Age of American Cabaret belly dance in the 1960’s & 70’s. His romantic ode to a beautiful woman named Jamilleh is a veil or floor work staple for many dancers of that era, or those who wish to invoke a sultry mood in their sets. Absolutely enchanting.
9. Lama Bada Yatahanna (When She Begins to Sway)
This song is said to be one of the oldest in the dance – it’s lyrics come from the poetic tradition of muhashashawat, and the music by Selim el-Masri is set to a samai thaqil rhythm. It describes the moment that pure enchantment takes over, and the willing surrender to beauty itself.
10. Taht el-Shibbak (Under the Window)
From above the street, a person full of love and lust watches from a window, and sees the object of their affection pass by. Wishful, hopeful, and perhaps containing some double entendre? Depends on who is doing the translation for you! Taht el-Shibbak was originally composed by Aziz Ozman, and at most Egyptian parties, this one will have everyone singing and dancing along.
Remember – there are so many more songs out there that are essential for dancers to get to know, not just to inspire movement, but to help us understand the rich musical culture that this dance is so very connected to! Each dancer would probably have variations on this list if they were to rewrite it, and if you ask me next month, I might have some changes too!