Belly Dance Music (Really!)

Jalilah’s Raks Sharki Stage Cuts
Piranha 2856
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Who can explain passion? The performer known as Jalilah was born Lorraine Zamora Chamas and raised in California. Thirty years ago she fell in love with the raks sharki dance style–that’s belly dancing to those of us whose midsections jiggle more than jig–and began a journey that’s taken her to Egypt, Germany, Lebanon, and Canada. She’s made six albums of belly dance music, usually with highly regarded Middle Eastern orchestra leaders such as we find on this culling from her previous recordings: Mokhtar Al-Said, Hossam Shaker, and Ihsan Al-Mounzer. If the music reminds you of music you’ve encountered in old black and white movies, it’s because Jalilah prefers the vibe and rhythms of 1930s/40s style dances. Her major nod to modernity is the realization that today’s audiences have shorter attention spans. These are indeed stage “cuts,” in that she’s taken music/dance performances that would have originally run up to twenty minutes and knocked then down to five or fewer.

Belly dance music, you say? Isn’t that a bit (as the British say) naff? It can be. Raks Sharki thrives in the seam between don’t-touch eroticism and melodrama. The music is look-at-me diva style that wiggles its way to the line separating dynamism and histrionics and sometimes transgresses it. You can close you eyes and conjure the jingling bells, slapped tambourines, swishing veils, gyrating bodies, and colored backlighting. How long can you hold the fantasy? How many dramatic pauses, sudden restarts, and swelling interludes are your limit? Some may find that sixteen tracks of this are too much, even in truncated form; others may wish for more. I wouldn’t want to listen to this every day, but it’s surprisingly good road music and it certainly serves to demolish any rut in which you may find yourself stuck. My bottom line is that I overcame my abiding dislike for performers with just one name and listened to the whole thing. It’s a small standard, I realize, but how else is one to judge something this far from one’s own journey?  Rob Weir

Here’s a clip of Jalilah doing her thing. And if you mail a check for $20 to my private bank account I promise not to post a YouTube of me attempting the same thing!

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