Arabic Music Listening Exercise

This photo is for Kiki 😉

It’s a new year and I couldn’t be happier! January is always an exciting time, especially if you are excited by goals, resolutions and new office supplies like me…truly I am still on the hunt for a stylish weekly whiteboard for my office. I find myself trying out new activities to satisfy my resolutions. Last year, it was new ways to organize and inspiration boards.

This year, it is journaling and writing. I’ve found myself diving into blog posts, journals and collages. I’m writing a lot for my Suhaila Level 3 preparations and many of these posts and journals surround Arabic music. I feel like I’m in college again and my belly dance nerd heart couldn’t be happier. All of this to make a point – I have an exercise for you, the belly dancer and lover of belly dance, to try to help you dive deeper into Arabic music.

As a lover of Arabic music, I’ve found myself diving deeper and deeper into Arabic music poetry and theory. The more I dive, the more I want to share with the world and more I’m met with wide eyes of terror. Yes, Arabic music is complex, but it’s not complicated. Many dancers who I have had the pleasure of teaching ask me, where do I begin? The answer is easy – listening. But for those of you who want to dip your toe in a little deeper, I offer a simple exercise to try. For this exercise, I suggest you dedicate an evening to yourself. Luxurious as that may sound, keep in mind this is for your belly dance education and should be prioritized as such 😉

Step 1: Pick a Song. Pick a song with lyrics. One that hails from the classical era of Arabic music You can’t go wrong with anything sung by Om Kalthoum or Abdel Hafez or composed by Mohammed Abdel Wahab. For a starter’s list, check out my previous blog post.

Step 2: Find an original recording of this song. I highly suggest using YouTube as your source. Most of the classic songs are on YouTube. Find a piece that was sung live so you can see the singer’s gestures and hear the audience’s reactions. Do not use a modern recording of  your original song, you may lose some of the magic.

Step 3: Find TRANSLITERATED and translated lyrics. This is important. The good news is that has a ton of these with Arabic lyrics on one column and English on the other. Print this out if you can.

Step 4: Listen. With the song playing in the background and the translation/transliteration in front of you, follow along with the lyrics so you can experience the poetry of the song. Listen to the entire song.

Step 5: Reflect. What did you just hear? What was the song about? What lyrics were repeated? Do you have any connection to the feeling conveyed from that song to your life? Reflect on this. Wine helps.

Step 6: Repeat. Every so often, select a piece and repeat the exercise. Document your reflections and actions. This depth will help you as a human connect to the very human topics of Arabic music.

So many people tell me that they can’t connect to Arabic music. I hear that it’s foreign, that you can’t emote to that because it’s too complicated. Then don’t. Connect to the story or poem it conveys. Fall in love with the way in which the story is told and emote with your own past and experience. The next time that classical song is played, you now have a personal connection to that piece. You wonder why you see Arabs respond to these pieces? Now you have a little piece of that knowledge too and it will help connect you with your audience. You’ll find yourself yearning for the entire song when only a short snippet is played. At least, that is my hope. I find myself mourning the loss of belly dancers not connecting with Arabic music. Instead of lamenting over the fact that dancers don’t appreciate Arabic music, I want to help. Here is an exercise you can do, for free, to help you connect to music that inspired what some argue as the gold age of belly dance. All you need is some time, your computer and an open mind and perhaps a glass of wine.