Belly Dance

Finding Egyptian Music to Perform to

Luxor performance

Recently I have been looking for new music to perform to for Egyptian style baladi and oriental, so I have been doing some research on the internet to find good albums with nice songs. The good news is that, nowadays, it is extremely easy to find music online, without even leaving your house. If anything, it can actually be a bit overwhelming, because there is so much that is available out there. Hence, I want to share my discoveries with you, in the hope that I can help you in your search for the most inspiring music to dance to!

I have been focusing recently on Egyptian music, hence the albums and songs below are Egyptian. However, I am sure that the same sources are useful to find any other style you may want to dance to, such as Turkish, Lebanese, tribal, fusion and more. If you have any more advice to give or if you have found more good albums and songs, please feel free to contact me or to leave your comments below.

Things to Keep in Mind when Looking for Performance Music

It is not always easy to find music that inspires you for dancing. The right music will depend on factors such as:

  • The audience you are dancing for
  • The length of the song
  • Whether you want to dance to vocals or instrumental
  • Your personal taste
  • Your dance skills level
  • A piece with a good start and a good ending (the ending, in particular, I think is very important, so you can end in a powerful way, with a good pose for your audience to admire. There are some very good pieces though, which instead taper out at the end and finish on a low, almost in an indecisive, unstructured way, not suitable, in my view, to end a dance piece effectively).

For me personally, my tastes have changed over the years. A few years ago I preferred dancing to Egyptian pop, such as Amr Diab, Ruby and Shereen, as I found their music easier to grasp. I still think that this is the best place to start for beginners of belly dance though. These are often lively songs, with clear rhythms, with enough feeling to inspire you, but not too complicated.

As I kept on listening to Egyptian music more, I started appreciating more classical songs, including oriental style and baladi. I went through a phase when I liked to dance to Hossam Ramzy’s compositions a lot, because his pieces seem perfectly suited for performing to. They have a clear structure, with clear entrance, good ending and a good variety of rhythms and moods throughout. The average length of most of his pieces is 5 minutes, the average length of each performance at haflas, which also makes this music an attractive option as a performer. In addition, they are all instrumental pieces, with no vocals, which is my favourite choice. I prefer instrumental pieces partly because I do not understand Arabic (except for the odd word), so I do not have a proper understanding of the words I would be dancing to. Also, I just like instrumental music better for moving to, just as a personal preference.

More recently, I have ventured into performing to the instrumental versions of classic pieces, including songs written for Umm Kalsoum. The more I listen to these songs, the more I love the music. However, they were not written originally for dancing to, so the original versions may not be ideal in terms of length and structure. Luckily, there are nowadays many versions of these songs available, and many of these have been adapted for dancers. These are not always easy to find if you do not know where to start searching. However, after you know where to start, you will find more than you can handle!

As for baladi pieces, they were originally meant to be played by a live band, with the dancer and musicians improvising, without length being an issue. In Egypt, dancers still perform with live bands, but outside of Egypt, unfortunately, we often have to make do with recorded music. So, I do not always find it easy to get a recorded baladi song that still inspires me enough, as I find that, once recorded, baladi is not the same (this is probably true of all music, but I think that baladi in particular, more than other types of music, looses something when recorded). However, there are good songs available to be found.

Last but not least, a note about the audience. Sometimes I find a song that I like and inspires me, with the perfect length, that I think I am capable of dancing to, but I am not sure if a western audience would like it. Hence, I usually try to go for uplifting songs, although sometimes you may need to take a chance and also, if you perform at a hafla, the audience is usually quite knowledgeable about Middle Eastern music.

Good Albums I Have Discovered

Cairo Plus CD cover

I have made a list below, for your reference, of some good albums and that I have discovered lately. The reason why I prefer to use albums to choose songs to perform to, is that I like to know the title and the author of the song I am performing to. This is another consideration to keep in mind. You may have a CD, maybe burnt by a teacher or a friend, with very good tracks on, but no titles. I have never danced to a song of which I do not know the title, as I would find it embarrassing not knowing the title and the artist if someone asked me. Also, I think it is only fair to acknowledge the authorship of these songs.

Cairo Plus by Samir Srour – This is an album with a mix of good baladi pieces. Most tracks are too short for performances and one is too long, they are great to listen to though. There are, however, two tracks that are just over 4 minutes long, which are a good length for performing.

Queen of Balady by  Fatme Serhan – It has some good baladi songs, some of good length, many of them have vocals.

Best of Saidiby  Fatme Serhan – In spite of the title, the majority of pieces are not really saidi, they are mostly baladi. There are some very good pieces.

Music from Egypt Sharki Sharki by Dr Gebali – Some songs are too long to perform to, but they are very good to listen to, with very nice instrumentals.

On Fire! The Hottest Bellydance CD Ever by various artists – It contains many lovely instrumental pieces, most of them of good length for performing.

Golden Era of Bellydance Volumes 1, 2 and 3 by various artists – These are three very good albums with classic songs from the golden era of bellydance, as the title suggests. Most songs are of good length for performing and each volume is dedicated to a famous dancer. Volume 1 is dedicated to Tahiyya Karioka, Volume 2 to Samia Gamal and Volume 3 contains Om Kalsoum songs and it has a photo of Soheir Zaki on the cover.

Ya Halawa by Gizira Band – An album which includes some good baladi songs.

For Oriental Dancers by Mahmoud Fadl – Mostly baladi songs.

10 Songs Every Bellydancer Should Know by various artists – This album really contains 12 songs. They are some of the most famous, including Zeina, Leylet Hob, Alf Leyla, Tamr Henna, Enta Omri. These are instrumental versions adapted for dancers.

Egyptian Bellydance by various artists – Another compilation with classic songs, instrumental, good for dancing.

Bent al Balad by Gizira Band – Good mix of baladi songs.

Where You Can Find the Music

Golden Era of Bellydance CD cover

Recently, my favourite place to listen to music and explore new tracks is Spotify. This streaming service has existed for a while, but I have only recently started using it and I love it. You can find just about everything in Spotify, even the most obscure songs ever, new or very old, from any country in the world. You can save and share music, create lists and listen to music as many times as you want. I use the free version, which means that I have to listen to a very short ad once in a while. It does not bother me though as ads are short and sparse. If you decide to pay for a subscription, you do not have to listen to any ads and you can access music off line (with the free version you can only listen to music online). The artists are paid every time someone listens to one of their songs, which is a good thing for supporting the musicians who play the music we love (although there is some debate on whether the amount paid is enough, but I am not well informed about this). Another advantage of Spotify is that, as there are usually countless versions of the same belly dance classic song available, you can easily find all of them there and compare them to find the ones you prefer.

After I listen to the music on Spotify to identify what I like, I find that Amazon and iTunes are good options to buy the tracks I need. You can buy the whole CD from Amazon or download the MP3 of just the songs you like, from Amazon or iTunes. I have not used other streaming or downloading services as yet. Please feel free to contact me or comment below if you have used other similar services and to let me know how your experience was.

Other posts you may find interesting on the topic of performance:

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Valeria is a dance researcher completing a PhD in dance and heritage. Valeria also teaches and performs as a belly dance but also enjoys learning ballet, jazz dance and other dance genres.

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