June 6, 2019
There is a dancer, Parya, who recently started up a night at Valenciano Grill. She calls it Cairo Cabaret. When I first heard about this, I felt a bit upset, kind of territorial because I (and the Aswan Dancers) had a series of shows at Capp Street Center called Cairo Cabaret. But then, I had to remind myself - that was THIRTY odd years ago and of course this dancer did not know that and also - who was I to think I owned or had a trademark on the name Cairo Cabaret. So, I just kept my mouth where it belonged - shut! After all, Parya probably wasn't even born or knew about Middle Eastern dance when our Cairo Cabaret Shows were happening. So, instead, I wished her luck and told some people about the new belly dance shows happening in the Mission. Laura and her daughter Luara went to Parya's shows a couple of times and really enjoyed them - especially because the later part of the shows were mixed with Latin DJ sounds and they could enjoy not only the belly dance shows but also dance merengue, cumbia, salsa and more.
Earlier this week Georges Lammam called me and told me that Parya had invited him and his group to play for one of her Thursday night shows - Tonight to be precise. So after a little rearranging of my class time, it was possible for me to be part of the group too. This will be so exciting. Not just to play music with Georges and gang, but to play at Valenciano again. This place has history with me and a lot of musicians, dancers and singers in the area. I don't know how detailed I should make this so maybe I won't - but instead I'll save the details for a Giza Club event. But here goes - a sort of chronology, almost a timeline - history of my experiences at El Valenciano and also a bit about how bands are formed - I'll leave dates out but just so you have an idea - the dates start around the mid 1980's.
Starting Mid 1980's
*The Casbah on Broadway closed when Fadil moved his operations to El Morocco in Concord/Pleasant Hill area.
*The Bagdad on Broadway lost it's lease and closed.
*Amina and the Aswan Dancers started a series (monthly/bi/monthly) shows called Cairo Cabaret at Capp Street Center using all the now unemployed musicians. They graciously donated their time. We called them the Cairo Cats - a never ending and always different group of musicians - Nazir, Reda, George (Dabai) Imad, Mohamad (Amin), Nizar, Jad, Vince, Mimi and DeviJa are some of the musicians who played with us. There were many more who would also occasionally play with us also. Out of this, Susu developed her drum group and drum compositions and the Cairo Cats Band became the Cairo Cats -Drummers who Danced and Dancers who Drummed. (Now it's1990's)
*Shaherezade opened in Jack London Square and the unemployed musicians were not so readily available like before because of this club and a few others that opened such as Petra, Luxor and Arabian Knights. The Pasha on Broadway was the only Arabic club that remained from the old days. There were other clubs in the north, south and east bay - but I’m pretty much talking about San Francisco area..
*Amina and the Aswan Dancers start new bands - El Scarabu featuring Shar on oud (we were Cairo Cats/Aswan Dancers and other American born musicians) played locally and even at BDUC) and The Karnak Players.
*The Karnak Players were more American born musicians and consisted of a Sax, a marimba and lots of percussion left over from the Cairo Cats drummers - Susu, Gregangelo, Daria, Marsha and Amina. We played at an Arabic event at the Mission Cultural Center and Jacques al Asmar and I met. Jacques told me he was a dancer so I took his number wanting to use him for debke and folkloric with the Aswan Dancers.
*Long story short - we eventually became friends, we started drumming and dancing together. When he got a dance gig at a Magana Baptiste show, we found musicians to play for him. This included Loay, a drum student and his new friend Husain who just moved here from Iraq via Kuwait because of Desert Storm. We also found Raed a keyboardist (who now lives back in Jordan) and Reda, a professional drummer. This was our band and we practiced in my studio for that gig. After that, Loay got a job playing at Cleopatra in the avenues.
*Jacques and I wanted to play drum too so we went to Cleopatra with our drums and hoped that Loay who wasn't much better than us at that time would forget to show up so we could drum in his place. Well luckily it happened and we got to sub one night. The bug hit us and we decided we wanted to form our own band.
*We kept practicing in my studio on Wednesdays - Raed (keboard and sometimes oud), Loay, Husain (violin and oud), Jacques and me and sometimes Susu but she was usually too busy playing at Amira and with other people or other bands.
*We got a job playing Friday nights at the Grapeleaf and we called ourselves the Arabian Knights.
We soon learned that nothing is permanent so when that job dissolved we moved to Amira but the stage wasn't big enough for all of us so - at Amira we had to split up - Loay, Jacques and Husain on oud played Friday and Raed on oud, Jacques and me on Saturday. But it wasn't fun to be split so Loay started looking for another place to accommodate all of us.
*Loay found El Valenciano and we all got to be together again and we made our band even bigger - we invited Shar to play bass guitar, I played congas, Raed played keys, Loay played duf, Husain played oud, Reda came back playing tabla, sometimes Imad played percussion also. And then we started looking for a singer. Jacques wanted to have a dance band just like “back home.”
*The Aswan Dancers performed at the Jerusalem Festival and there was an Arabic singer. I went up to him and said I'm starting a band and we need a singer. He gave me his card - Fadi Hanani - Sun Microsystems. I gave the card to Jacques and he called Fadi and that was the beginning of our Salamat Sundays at El Valenciano. Fadi was our first singer. Later we also got Mohamad Kasab who I found at Aswat. Jacques renamed him Jamal Kasab and then we had two great fantastic singers and we really had us a real Arabic dance band. Am I a great talent scout or what? The Aswan Dancers got to do group dances and and also solo performances to CD during break time. Jacques' brother Raffy later joined us and became DJ Raffy so Jacques didn't have to DJ anymore. But with all of this admin work neither of us got to do what we liked doing most - and that was dancing. But - oh well - at least we had a really great band and lol, we could even play with the band when we weren’t being go-fers, gaffers or bouncers. But once in a while we would plan a night or a special so we could even dance.
*Things happen and we moved and did Saturdays and Sundays too at Club Galia where Fouad Marzouk joined us. Loay got better and was now the main drummer and Jacques and I got to be his back up drummers as usual. At Galia we even had go go belly dancers in blue jeans and high heels. Kind of like the Lebanese dancers on the game shows. Then we returned back to Valenciano and finally went to Tropigala.
*At Tropigala we had more musicians and singers added to our lineups - this included Khader, Georges, Musa, Murad, Elias Lammam and even a drum set and Brazilian drums and guitars. We experimented trying to be cutting edge visionaries. We brought in other singerssuch as Safwan and Bashir or was it Bashar or was it both Bashir and Bashar? And of course the Aswan Dancers did group and solo dance show. And if that wasn’t enough, we also added Thursday nights and I would teach my performance class on stage and then the girls could later perform to live and/or recorded music. And we also added guest soloists and these teachers would bring their students. Throughout all of this, Jacques and I got to play and sometimes even got to dance.
*While at Tropigala, Jacques also decided to have us also try a night or two at the Pasha and it was fun to move around to other clubs.
*Then Jacques and the Arabian Knights brought Hakim to Oakland. This was a great idea and a great musical success but it was also a huge financial undertaking and an emotional disaster. Jacques wanted to quit everything, and let everything dissolve . And as luck would have it, Al, Tropigala’s owner’s son/manager told us he was leaving to start a Spanish restaurant in another city. Once again we would be on our own. Fadi and Jamal had already become too successful and were starting to get conflicting gigs. It was becoming more and more difficult to run Salamat Sundays. We all had “day” jobs to consider anyway. Would it be easy to find another venue? Jacques wanted out. It would be easier than to try to find yet another new venue.
*I went back to Amira and just concentrated on the dancing part of my career, but very soon heard about a new club opening called Excelsior. So one night after Amira I went and talked to Saeid the Egyptian owner. I got the Aswan Dancers hired to perform Egyptian group folklore. Yay! l also managed the rotation of the many solo dancers who wanted to work there. We (the Aswan Dancers) would start the show, hang out and watch whatever solo dancer worked and by the end of the night, musical instruments that were decorations on the walls would be pulled down by the customers and be played. At first this was all very casual, but soon Elias Lammam became restaurant manager and eventually at the end of the night he and his brother Georges would play. Sometimes Fouad Marzouk would come too and play. The drummers were incidental at first - Hani (a drumming customer), me or another customer would just take a drum prop/deoration off the wall and play. Later I think Faisal may have started playing or even working there with Fouad and Georges..
*When Excelsior closed, again there was no place to go, so Georges said - "I'll find us a place." I'll never forget when Georges found us a place - I was in Long Beach at BDUC and he called and said he found Pena Pachamama and could I find him a dancer. So I did and the following weekend I went to Pachamama as a customer to see Georges play with his new band that included Loay and Husain on contrabass. I was there as a customer and so happy to see my student dancing and my friends playing. I went two more weekends as a customer and then Georges asked me if I wanted to bring a tambourine and play with the band. Of course I said yes! And that was the beginning of yet another band and venue.
*A few years later after the Grapeleaf became Al Masri and Sausan became sole proprietor, Sausan wanted to start up live music again. She asked me if I wanted to get something going at her place. Well - of course I did! It would be another opportunity to play music and more opportunities for dancers to try out their talents. Now at Al Masri we have moved to just one live music night a month to live music every weekend. I get to organize two Sundays a month and Nazir organizes the other two.
*In the meantime,Georges Lammam and Pachamama has been going strong. It's.probably about 15 or so years now. And all of this leads back to now I get to play again at Valenciano which is sort of almost where it all began 30 years ago. How lucky am I?
June 1, 2019
More tales from Alf Leila wa Leila
Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day looking at various dancers performing to Om Kalthoum's Alf Leila wa Leila. I like to see how different dancers interpret the same song. A few months ago I made a DVD of you tube clips of dancers performing to Daret el Ayam. I showed the clips in class and we had a great time watching, dissecting, critiqueing and enjoying this song through other dancers' eyes, minds, bodies and emotions. At one time I thought about doing a show using Fakarouni as the only song showing different musical interpretations and all the different emotions and choreographies and stories that come up in my mind when I hear that song played by various musicians. Since I've thought about it for so many years, maybe someday I'll do it. In the meantime, the song Alf Leila wa Leila is the one that keeps popping in my head.
Alf Leila wa Leila is not just a song, it's a story. Or should I say a thousand and one stories. I already have produced three shows called Alf Leila wa Leila and each has been very different and with very different stories. Composers like Baligh Hamdi and Mohamad Abdel Wahab wrote intros to many songs that really sparked my imagination. They talked to me and told me stories that needed to be told to others. I would then produce and choreograph dances based on their compositions and my imagination. And so Alf Leila wa Leila - One Thousand and One Nights- which was composed by Baligh Hamdi became the vehicle for me to tell some of these stories.
June 10, 2019
New/Old Hit Song - Amal Hayati
Just like Alf Leila wa Leila was in the air waves last month, it seems that Amal Hayati is the new song of the month. I really wonder how this hapapens. A while back, it seemed that every musician I knew was playing Khousara Khousara for Abdel Halim, and before that it was Aal bab waef Amarain for Melhem Barakat. Is it really in the musical airwaves and we all get wafts of it and I play in class and then dancers request and muscians again get reminded and then play again or is it just coincidence - serendipity? But when I look on online sometimes I notice that the re-popularaization of certain songs is not just local, but is globalized as I see you tubes of dancers in other countries not affected by our crazy song requests. And now, it seems that the somg of the month is Amal Hayati. How does that happen? why does it happen? Are we just reaching back into the deep recesses of our song memories and simulataneously pulling out the same songs?