Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Fantasy Photo Shoot

With live performing at a COVID-lull, I'm having to find new ways to exercise and indulge my creative spirit. The perfect opportunity for that happened a few weeks ago when I met up with the photographer-extraordinaire, Al Martinez, for a fantasy inspired photo shoot. Check out the fruits of our creative labor below, and be sure to check out Al's other photography work on his Facebook page

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Arabic Music: An Intro

Like many Western dancers who discover Arabic music and dance in their 20s, 30s, and beyond, I didn't have much exposure to Middle Eastern music growing up. It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s and started taking belly dance classes that I began to regularly hear and learn about this rich, beautiful musical tradition.

Growing up, I was a classically trained violinist and studied Western musical theory for around a decade, and as such I was very familiar with Western scales and octaves. I thought this was the only "organizational" format that music could exist in. Ha! Turns out that was definitely wrong. In fact, it rather blew my mind learning that Arabic music employs its own tone system. (That U.S. education, or at least mine, isn't more culturally encompassing is a topic for a whole other blog post...) I certainly won't claim to be an expert on this topic, nor is this post going to dive into a full blown discussion of Arabic musical theory, but here's a brief introductory explanation.

To start with, let's do a quick review of Western scales for comparison purposes. In Western music theory, octaves are divided into a series of 12 tones, which comprises a chromatic scale. Each interval or movement up the scale is a half-step or semitone. When music is played, it is played in a certain pitch, or key signature, to indicate which eight notes will comprise the scale. An eight octave scale has a pattern of whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step. If that's not making sense, think about singing Doe a Deer from the Sound of Music in your head.

Classical Arabic music, as well as Ottoman, Persian, and Indian music, take this one step farther. Instead of only dividing down to just a semitone, these musical traditions make use of quarter tones. Just like the name sounds, a quarter tone is half the size of a semitone. And thus in the Arab tone system an octave divides down into 24 divisions, instead of just 12. From those 24 tones, seven are selected to produce a scale. From there, the specific notes used in a piece will come from one or more of 70 modes or maqam. A maqam, which translates as location or position, is a system of melodic modes that is built on a scale, which in turn, defines the pitches and patterns of a piece of music. This ultimately sets the structure for a musician to be able to improvise music. Whew! Interesting and complicated stuff!

Moving away from musical theory, it's also important to note that Arabic music utilizes many instruments not frequently, if ever, seen in Western music. The most common of these include the oud which a form of lute, the qanun which is a zither, the ney which is a type of flute, and the riq and dumbek which are types of drums. This is not any way an exhaustive list, as there are many more types of instruments, especially as one gets into folkloric styles of music.

And lastly to say a word about rhythms. Rhythms are an important part of Arabic music and dance. Rhythms can commonly be associated with certain geographic locations and cultures. For example the Sa'idi rhythm originating from an area in Egypt that runs along the Nile of the same name. Rhythms that you will hear commonly danced to by belly dancers include masmoudi, ayub, malfouf, maqsum, beledi, sa'idi, and chiftetelli. A well-trained, well-versed, and well-educated dancer should be familiar with all of these rhythms.

There is of course, so much more to be said and to learn about this topic, but that is your very quick intro and I hope it inspires you to learn more!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Don't Forget Your Mask!

It's the new thing, the new normal. When you feel your house you have to don a mask or face covering.

Wearing a mask might not be the most enjoyable thing ever: it can make you feel overheated on warm days, lead to undesirable breakouts ("maskne"), fog up your reading glasses, and generally be a pain trying to remember when you leave your house. But hey, if you got to do it, might as well try to make it a bit more agreeable.

So here's my nod to having a bit of fun with our new mask couture. Photos by Fred Dimaano.