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This article is an excerpt from my DVD book named 'Rhythms of the Nile / Drumming 4 Belly Dancers' which is to be released later this year. However, I have published this part as an article because I see the demand for this information is growing, judging by avalanche of letters and e-mails I receive from drummers and dancers around the world. It is based on a previous article called 'Been There, Done That, Read the Book, Seen the Film and Bought the t-shirt'.

Having drummed for dancers since I can't remember when, I have come to realise some important rules that a "A Good Dancer's Drummer" should adhere to when drumming for a dancer. To be a good drummer for dancers, you have to understand what Egyptian / Middle Eastern dancing is about. My rule is this:

The true art of oriental dancing is to visually hear the music'.

What does that mean? It means that every sound made by the music MUST be translated into a three dimensional movement by the dancer. For example, if the entire orchestra is playing together in a long phrase - be it in the introduction, the finale or in the middle of the composition - then the dancer should make large movements across and around the stage and use more of the space available to her than when a single musician is playing a solo (i.e. alone).

I am not going to try to tell any dancer what movements to make or ever try to tell another drummer what rhythms, frills or accents he / she should play in such parts of the musical composition. But they should both realise that this is a big sound by the whole orchestra or a small sound by a soloist and perform accordingly.

This rule shed light on an important study of musical translation. I have often asked myself 'How should a dancer translate music?'. I feel many dancers, drummers and musicians are hungry for the answer to this question too. Come to think about it.. Now that we have ALL realised that it is OUR DUTY to educate the AUDIENCE that Belly Dancing is not a cheap form of striptease, we should also inform them about this. But before we do that, we need to know it ourselves.

This led me to my unique discovery of a simple but powerfully effective and artistically scientific formula for musical interpretation:

E = E in its size and direction. 2000 © Copyright Hossam Ramzy.

What is the 1st "E"?

This is the musical sound you hear. Be it by the orchestra or the soloist.

What is the 2nd "E"?

This is the movement made by the dancer in response to that same musical sound. This movement should be equal in length and size and power to that same sound of the music. It should also change direction every time the musical sound makes the slightest change. To achieve this, the dancer must understand how musical pieces are constructed, so below is a brief, simple but very understandable description of the structure of music and how it should be interpreted by a dancer.

As a drummer, if you understand this, you will be able to understand what is expected of the dancer and therefore be able to understand what sort of drumming sounds you will be free to choose when you are drumming for a dancer.

In any musical composition, we have four basic layers:

  • Rhythm
  • Melody
  • Orchestral phrase (LAZMAH)
  • Harmony

So, lets take them one at a time:

Rhythm:

Dancers & Drummers should know quite a bit about this already and if they don't they should read the first section of my DVD book. This is an instructional Workshop style DVD/Book and CD about how to learn to play Egyptian Rhythms and the various percussion instruments such as the Tabla, Rique, Duffs, Mazhar & Sagat (finger cymbals / Zills) that I have written and am in the middle of shooting and editing between Egypt and England as you read this article. This project will be released on the ARC Music label and will be at your top and best Hossam Ramzy / ARC Music standard and quality of recording, editing and presentation.

Melody:

Melody is the musical sound derived from musical notes being played one after the other in a particular sequenced arrangement. They have timed spaces between each note to create one final musical phrase and this is in direct relation to the rhythm being played. This means that it follows the timing of the rhythm and the click (metronome) of the rhythm.

In Egyptian and many other styles of music, the melody is divided and created into a question and answer format (Q & A). A soloist will ask the question and the orchestra will play the answer ( to complete the bars of the music ) or vice versa. Some melody phrases are played in one bar of music, some in two and some in four, depending on the composition.

Depending on what type of instrument is asking the question, dancers can and should be able to predict what kind or type of movement to make. I have split the solo instruments into three families to explain this further:

a. The Nay family:

The Nay family includes the Nay (flute) and Kawala. If you wish to listen to sound of these two instruments, you will find a good example on the CD called 'Master of the Arabian Flute' EUCD 1852, available from my website www.hossamramzy.com.

When the Nay or Kawala are playing, they mostly make a legato (long), breathy, haunting sound that is usually slow and linear in shape. Sometimes, Nay or Kawala players might play fast, short staccato sounds but these instruments are usually played in legato. So, one expects the dancer to make slow, elongated movement, undulating serpentine movement and using high, sometimes open arms movements ('praying to the gods in the sky - style) or maybe even sitting or kneeling on the floor while doing so.

One should never expect to see a dancer shimmying to the sound of the nay or kawala unless the soloist is playing a fast, staccato sound.

So, when drumming 4 a dancer over a Nay or Kawala solo, please choose to play as little as possible of the trills, frills and little tricks and just keep the pulse and rhythms going.

 

b. The Qanun / Oud family

The Qanun instrument has 87 strings in groups of three. It makes a 'trrrrrring' sound from each stroke of the strings. So, if a dancer is translating this sound correctly, she should be shimmying in order to be able to visually translate that sound for us.

As the drummer, you should still keep it as simple as possible for the Qanun solo but only frill in the end of a group of fours and continue to mark the pulse with a steady but attractive rhythm so that the Qanun player also has the space to breath. This is his solo, not yours.

c. The middle family

Various other musical instruments fall into this, unpredictable, family. These instruments can produce legato, slow or long sounds as well as short fast staccato ones. The following instruments fall into this category:

The Violin

The Accordion

The Mizmar

The Saxophone

The trumpet

A Keyboard


The keyboard. This is an electronic piano like instrument that simulates sounds of many of the above instruments or synthesise similar or different sounds.

A dancer is expected to move with each sound from these instruments above, according to how the soloist is playing. If he makes a sound, she moves in one direction with it. If he changes sound from one note to another however SLOW or FAST, SHORT or LONG, she should change direction with it each time he changes notes.

This is what E = E in its size and direction means.

The term "THIS MUSIC MOVES ME" is what this is all about. It is nothing more and nothing less.

As you may or may not know and as I have always said it. I have seen more dancers than there are living on planet earth today. The only style of  dancer I have any respect for is the one that dances the music and portrays the music 100%. Otherwise it is not dancing. It is something else I have no name for.

I have even been asked by many dancers: "What do you think of the (some country)'s style of Belly Dance?" My answer is always:

"Does this "supposed style" of dancing portray the music 100% in a 3 D fashion?"

"Do ALL the dancers in that country dance that same style?"

If not? Then I think nothing of that "Country's" supposed style of dance and this supposed style of dance can not be named that (some country)'s style of anything. Not even in Egypt. I have seen some dancers in Egypt who's dancing had nothing to do with the music they were supposed to be dancing to.

However, to go back to the issue at hand which is: Understanding what is expected from a dancer by the drummer. I would like to add that as these instruments above are often played solo, as a drummer you should expect that the dancer will express the sound of ONE member of the band by dancing to it while using less space than with A FULL orchestra and not move around the stage creating large movements with large shapes. This is what makes the difference in creating a 3 D shape of the sound of the music.

The rule is simple: E = E in its size and direction.

When the FULL ORCHESTRA is playing, you should expect the dancer to use and utilize a larger part of the stage and to create big waves of movement, make her choreography look as big as the orchestral sound.

When a soloist is playing, the dancer should do just the opposite. The same goes for you as a drummer. When the full orchestra is performing, open up your playing, flourish with the big flourishes and accentuate the big accentuations of the orchestration. Support the dancer in her big movements. When a soloist is soloing, then pull back a lot. Hold on to just keeping the metronome of the basic rhythm. Only flourish at the end of the phrase and make HIM (the soloist) look and sound AMAZING to the dancer and to the audience. Make sure the dancer has the chance to enjoy the solo. And in turn, she will present an inspiring moment with her movements for all concerned. This will also help the dancer to do less as YOU are her guide of volume of movement. So, in short, you must help create the magic to be part of the magic.

If you don't do this, your playing (however good and lovely it may be) will act as a distraction to the dancer and the audience not to mention the soloist. She will not be concentrating on the soloist's sound and it will look very messy indeed. As a Tabbal, your job is simple and clear. Hold the rhythm and metronome of the music, so that the musicians can play the music correctly to your rhythm. This way the dancer will understand both the music and the rhythm clearly and will then be able to translate it into a 3 Dimensional movement. How fast you can play this or that piece of music is irrelevant. We know you can. How complex can you make this music sound is your own problem. But this is not what is expected of you as a drummer. You are the time keeper, not the space filler.

Just hold the rhythm and metronome of the music. This is the drummer's job.

As a drummer, you will ask me WHY? Well, you see, the soloist will play in and out of time, will stretch the length of a note and will fly off on a magical trip while enjoying the moment and the 3 D shape of his sound made by the dancer. YOU are the one who is saying to BOTH of them (soloist and dancer) as well as the rest of the orchestra:

Here is a delicious version of the 1,2,3,4 of the rhythm but look at the dancer. how she is interpreting the solo so well and now:

Come on. THIS is where the solo part ends and

HERE is the new start of the next phrase you should be playing or dancing. 

This is what the dancer is meant to tell the audience, with her movement:

This is what the sound of the FULL ORCHESTRA looks like in 3D and

This is what the sound of the SOLOIST looks like in 3D.

You are the architect of the picture. You tell them ALL, Orchestra, Soloists, Dancer and Audience:

This is the size of each part of the music.

The scale of this map is 1: ???,       and

It is YOU (the drummer) who translates the map to them all and make them understand the dimension of the pyramid of sound being created.

If a dancer feels that she needs to practice translating the various sounds of the various soloing instruments in order to help her understand the various ways a soloist can play, I recorded and produced two albums

-  'Source of Fire' EUCD 1305  &

-  'Secrets of the Eye' EUCD 1554

to introduce some of the dancers who do not know the various sounds of a few of these instruments to help them become accustomed to these instrument's styles of performance.

You may ask me here: What should the dancer do with the Orchestral Answers in the Q & A part of the melody?

It is the dancer's duty to portray the difference between the sounds in the music. So, while the soloist is playing his phrase then the orchestra answers the soloist, this is the time when the dancer should make larger movements in accordance with the melodic phrase of the orchestral response in an

E=E in its size and direction.

This is to reflect and portray and 3 DIMENTIONALIZE those answers. However, movement to the answers should not be as large as those made during the LAZMAH (the orchestral phrases after the Q & A parts of the melody). It should be just larger than the movement for the soloist and just expresses the difference of sounds in motion.

So, What is a Lazmah? It is an orchestra / orchestration phrase. Be it short or long.

3. Orchestral phrases, The LAZMAH:

These phrases occur either at the start of a composition or in the middle between verses or to answer the soloist in a Q&A between the soloist and the orchestra. Or it can even come between a soloist and another. Like when a Nay asks a questions and the Qanun answers.

If the Lazmah is being played by the full orchestra playing in unison or with various arranged parts by various sections of the orchestra (and of course depending on the size of the orchestra), the dancer should have the use of the whole of the stage at this time. The dancer can also use as much of the stage as is possible at her disposal and should use it. This is the part of the composition where the dancer has full freedom to move around, to create larger shapes that portray and express the musical sound created by a large number of musicians as in a Lazmah.

Also, after the Q & A part of the melody, the orchestra will play a Lazmah to continue with the same feel of the song / composition or to change the original feel into a new one.

4. Harmony:

Harmony is a musical sound that follows the main melody. It is played as a second or third layer of sound closely following the melody, parallel to it. Sometimes the Harmony may move against or opposite the main melody (musically speaking) to create depth to the sound and extra variety that can be called "Counter Harmony". But let's not complicate things more than they actually are.

Harmony is the background sound of music running under the melody to create the emotional atmosphere being portrayed by original composition.

Musicians do not expect dancers to translate harmony. However, when the harmony takes over from the melody from time to time in a piece of music, the dancer should take that as the main part of the music to be translated and present this to the audience.

A very good example of this, following the harmony is clearly expressed in our DVD "Visual Melodies"®T In the song "We Maly Bas". Here, in the repeat of the second verse, I made the violins mirror the solo of Qanun plus they took over the sound. At this moment, Serena choreographed that part of the harmonic orchestration and portrayed it to be the main part of the melody of that second verse repeat. Then when the solo went back to the Qanun, Serena went back to E = Eing the solo of the Qanun.

100% full portrayal and 3 Dimensionalizing of the musical composition.

However, when it comes to group performances Harmony can play a big role within the choreography here. You can layer your dancers in various ways and depending on the number of dancers you can use them to portray the various parts of the music you are choreographing:

    Rhythm.

    Melody.

    Lazmahs.

    Harmony.

Having explored various depths of musical translations that musicians can expect from the dancer, this question has always nagged on my mind

"How should musicians support dancers while she is performing?" 

Personally, I believe that it is MY DUTY as a drummer to make each bar and each phrase of rhythm understood to the dancer, the orchestra (including the soloists) as well as the audience. I have to let them ALL know where each bar of the music is and I have to let them ALL know where the next group of four bars is going to start. Predictability is the best way to guarantee that all will feel the groove and hook to the music and be mesmerised by the dancer's portrayal of the music.

Dance music, much as almost all songs is created in groups of 4 bars. Even if the rhythm is not in 4/4 the musical phrases change or repeat in groups of four. Occasionally, they are in groups of two or a single extra bar but that is not usual and is done to add a complimentary phrase to enhance the meaning or to add an ending to the previous sound.

It is the drummer's job to keep the tempo of the rhythm and inform all the members of the band, including the dancer, where the musical changes are supposed to happen. In Arabic, the percussionist or drummer is named 'Daubet Al Iqaa' - "The controller of the pulse and the beat of the music". So just do your job. Beautifully.

The dancer is "The last instrumentalist of the band".

The drummer is meant to create the rhythm. This is steady, musical sound that is characterized by regularly occurring accented beats for the orchestra to put their melodies over it and in and out of its steady-ness. Once this is achieved, the drummer is given license to decorate the rhythm and accentuate the various aesthetic steps of the dancer that are created by her

3 Dimensionalizing of the music.

Dancers make various shapes and accents with their body movements, divided into various counts according to the number of beats in the bar of the rhythm of the song.

The drummer is expected to accentuate the strongest of the accents she makes. He / she may accentuate it with a slap (sakkah) or, if it is in a soft delicate part of the music, he may accentuate it with a cupped 'tick'.

In the orchestral parts, such as in introductions, I personally like to play as steady as possible, keeping the rhythm clean and clear and only expressing flourishes where the music demands it. This keeps the phrase comprehensible to all members of the band and makes sure that when I feel like adding something extra as a frill or a decorative phrase it will stand out, will be heard and be appreciated.

After the big introduction there comes the question and answer section

(the melody). In this part, I like to understand both the question and answer in depth and understand the intention of the composer, that is if it not me. I like to know first of all:

Who is asking the question? Is it the soloist or the orchestra?

Who is answering? Is it the soloist or the orchestra?

Which soloist is playing? Is it Nay? Accordion? Violin? Qanun? Trumpet? Saxophone? Keyboard? or Oud? Or what?

How long is the question? And how long is the answer?

Do I need to fill in any gap that is left out in the question or answer?

However long or short the question is you will find that the answer will complete the cycle of rhythm for that question. If it does not, as a drummer you have licence to complete it for them. Providing it is not meant as a stop. I do not appreciate it when I hear a drummer filling the space of a deliberate STOP in the melody with some frill. If the composer wanted to have a stop there, then let it be a stop. This is what makes this particular piece of music what it is. But if you are filling a particular part, please do it with sensitivity. Make them ALL, orchestra, soloist, dancer and audience understand where the next phrase is meant to be starting?

I pay close attention to the fact that I must respect the space of the soloist and leave him enough room to be creative while, at the same time, giving him the rhythm to play over. I never try to show off over what he is playing just because what he is improvising happens to be melting my heart with joy. When the orchestra answers with the answer section, then I have to indicate and accentuate that by playing the rhythm stronger or by slightly decorating it. You will find that the question and answer section of the music runs in groups of fours. Four questions and answers, possibly four times. Drummers must make it clear to the dancer, which one is the last of these. In addition, they must indicate to the dancer which is the last phrase of the group of four she is dancing to.

So, for the drummer E = E too. When the orchestra is playing a big sounding introduction or middle of song kind of phrase, you play strong, your flourishes are bigger and you are louder (but not overbearing). When it is the part of a soloist, you play quieter and you play less in order to leave more room for the soloist. You are just marking the rhythm for the soloist and the dancer while keeping it steady and precise.

What are the main parts in musical composition?

As we have seen, music is made of the above mentioned layers. But how are dance compositions made? Or how are songs composed?

The introduction:

Most songs have an introduction, short or long as they may be. Same thing for a dance composition. Some songs have been arranged into dance arrangements, such as on my various albums, but in general they will all have an introduction. The introduction may be repeated to create the effect of balanced sound and the second time around may have a little difference to the first time it is played to not enter into monotony. This will be followed by:

The 1st Verse:

This will be the first verse in the lyrics. (In Arabic music and songs the 1st verse is called the Math-Hab {the (Th) here is pronounced as you do in the word THE, not as in THIEF}. In Egyptian Slang, it is known as MazHab, meaning the starting or the opening) of the song, or if it is a dance composition, there will be the first change to another part, which we can treat as verse.

What do we expect the music to be in a Mazhab? We expect another version of a Q & A between a soloist and the orchestra. And we handle that the same as we do with the MELODY section. This is because in a song, usually the singer sings part of the line and the orchestra answers him to complete the number of bars into 1, 2 or 4 bars in a single line of melody. So it is a Q & A style part after all.

Second Lazmah:

Do I really need to explain it again?

Another Mode:

After the 1st Verse the music may not go straight into the same Lazmah, it may go straight into another Lazmah to create a different mode, like a change of rhythm or a total change of colour like from a classical sound to a Saidi phrase, or another totally different style. This depends on the composer.

Second Verse:

In a song, after the second Lazmah, then you will get the second verse, which is also another Q & A, so treat it as such.

Then there might be another Lazmah followed by a verse and then a finale of the song. Sometimes, in a dance composition, we will find another colour and a total change of Mode, followed by another change Mode until you arrive at a break down of the music to introduce either a Baladi Taqasim or a Drum Solo then a finale that is related to the first musical introduction... the possibilities are infinite.

In order to produce an excellent show, all members of the show must be in complete agreement with each other on what is being presented to the audience. Each member of the team must know his or her part and must execute it perfectly in order to create the intended show. I can only by imagine what would happen if an acrobatic show had a member who did not know what his / her part is supposed to be? .. the possibilities are infinite.

This is when we get a drummer who is trying to play 100 beats within every bar of 4 counts to impress the people with his speed and power. He is trying to cover up for his lack of knowledge of what music is about. And this is when we get the type of dancer who is trying to do a 100 body pops and turns and acrobatic moves in order to cover up her lack of knowledge of the basics of music and rhythm.

Both of you, drummer and dancer, all you have to do is translate the music in an E = E fashion. That is all.

But you know?. An excellent performance is a GROUP EFFORT not a one-man show, and both drummer and dancer must know what they are supposed to do. If you drum or dance in a way that is meant to make you, and only you, look good, you will end up looking like the ugliest duckling of the group. In my long experience as a drummer and musician I found out that:

THE BEST DRUMMER IS THE LISTENNING DUMMER.

THE BEST DANCER IS THE LISTENING DANCER.

With Lots of Rhythm As Always

Hossam Ramzy

 
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