As the duet Raks Africa, Tammy and I are known for our upbeat, joyful expression of the dance. So much of our ease with emoting comes from the inspiration of the music we dance to, especially with our favorite Shaabi music.
I was first introduced to Shaabi music in a workshop taught by Tarik Sultan at the 2005 Bellydancers of Color Association Festival in Washington D.C. As a self-conscious baby dancer, that workshop was liberating. I learned to relax into my posture and ground into the beat of the music. My perception that I needed to constantly hold myself lifted because “that’s what dancers must do” was thankfully shattered. The dance and the music reflect the spirit of the people. I learned that this dance is not just about mastering movement and technique, but also about communicating feeling, spirit and attitude.
Tarik Sultan of New York performing his own choreography to Saad Il Sughir’s Shaabi song Il Abd Lelah
Shaabi in Arabic means “of the people.” In Egypt, Shaabi music refers to the music “of the people.” Shaabi is class-based music–the music of the streets of Cairo. There’s no pretense in the music, it gets to the raw emotions of the human condition. The music has a strong beat with a party feel and the lyrics are laced with social commentary or cheeky double entendres. Shaabi music is infectious and makes me want to shake it ‘til I break it.
Living in the Bay Area, we are so fortunate to have a local treasure that is a Shaabi enthusiast and historian, Amina Goodyear. As we continue to grow in our contextual understanding of this dance and develop new works, we are excited to learn more about Shaabi from Amina. For more information about Shaabi, check out this excellent history of Shaabi written by Amina.
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