Gilded Serpent presents...
Trance Music for Women
produced by Yasmin of Serpentine.org
Review by Amina Goodyear
It is January
1990 and I am in Egypt attending a Zar. It is in a little apartment
in old Cairo. The room is very small and the walls are lined with
people.women leaning against the wall sitting cross-legged on
the floor. Above the women the blue walls are smeared with bloody
handprints and there are pictures on the wall that are hidden
by fabric. A woman comes with a tray of incense and covers my
head and the incense with a cloth. It is intense and I feel as
though I am going to choke in the fumes. I am then offered tea
and a chance to give a donation. In the middle of the room are
men chanting and playing drums, dufs and cymbals and circling
around a woman who is standing and swaying from side to side.
The repetitious sounds aid in giving not only this woman, but
also each individual person in the room a personal space to think,
to remember, and, if so desired, to release.
I am uncomfortable,
an outsider, being in such a private ceremony.
had been going on for some time, at least a whole day, and I had
just come. I am witnessing a woman dancing and making herself
vulnerable and open to her personal spirit. She has a scarf covering
her head and is completely oblivious to the presence of her friends
who are supporting her and to us, strangers, who have come to
view this very personal ritual. Feeling intrusive of being in
this private ceremony, I try not to stare and so, let my mind
wander and I travel to another world helped by the chanting and
Saturday, not quite summer of 1957 and I told my parents that
I was going the library to study. Instead I left my San Francisco
neighborhood and took a dance class paid for with my allowance.
I had found a dance style and a teacher who called to all the
inhibitions and suppressed energies in my body. I followed my
teacher, Zack Thompson (who had danced with dancer/anthropologist,
Katherine Dunham), from storefront to storefront
on Divisadero Street and finally to Jimbo's Bop City in the Western
Addition. Always accompanied by a minimum of 4 or 5 drummers,
we danced.Afro Cuban, Afro Hatian or just plain "Afro. We danced
to many rhythms, but mostly we danced for Damballah, the benevolent
serpent of the sky. I learned to arch, to contract, to writhe
and to undulate. It was the beginning of learning to dance for
the gods, learning to call the spirits and learning to soothe
winter 1958 and I have rheumatic fever with a heart murmur and
the doctor had prescribed at least 6 months' complete bed rest,
which also included home schooling and monthly shots in the butt.
This kind of cramped the lifestyle of a dance-crazy teenager.
But my music called to me. I played my LP's "Voodoo Suite" by
Perez Prado and "Drums on Fire" with "Caravan" by Art Blakey.
Alone in the house after my parents were at work, my brother and
sisters at school and my grandmother at church, I played my records
as loud as I could and was transported to another land. I communed
with other beings as I was called out of bed and I moved, swayed,
danced and left my worries behind.
of the heart. this music saved my life or at least my sanity.
and drumming has stopped momentarily and I am brought back to the
present. No longer a sick teenager in a past world I am once again
in the present 1990 and in Cairo. I am in a room filled with women
and the music is saving their sanity. I still feel slightly ill
at ease being here, but also privileged that they have allowed me
to be audience to their very personal private world.
who had been swaying and rhythmically twisting her torso to and
fro while standing in one spot with a veil over her head has now
danced it off and is jumping up and down and throwing her arms
overhead with abandon. I noticed that the chanting has become
more frenetic and that the rhythm has changed. The woman is no
longer alone. There are some women standing near her. One, the
mistress of the house, and a couple of the woman's friends seem
to be protectively hovering around her. A short while later, again
the rhythm and chanting change as if calling yet another demon
or spirit and, what seemed to be on cue, the woman throws herself
to the ground and is flailing and tossing her head, hair and arms.
Shortly after that, abruptly, she stops. Prone on the floor. Spent!
And the chanting and drumming simultaneously stop.
years later the cd The Zar - Trance Music for Women
is released. It is produced by Yasmin,
arranged and recorded by Sayed Henkesh and performed
by Awlad Abou al-Gheit at Magic Sound Studio
is a wonderful and educational CD and should be in the CD collection
of anyone interested in and curious about the Middle Eastern
name Zar has always sparked the interest of those involved in
Middle Eastern dance - especially women who enjoy dancing and
just "letting go." This CD entitled The Zar - Trance
Music for Women will naturally attract women interested in
"trancing out," but I would like to make a few comments on this.
Nadia Hamdi once told me "Once a spirit is
called, it must be appeased. Then it will always be there."
And it will have to be periodically dealt with.
In the past
ethnomusicologists recorded folk music in the field and often
the music was crudely recorded - started and stopped - in the
middle of whatever rituals they were recording in order to capture
the authentic. This is quite unlike The Zar cd,
which was recorded at Magic Studios in Cairo under pristine conditions.
Not being recorded "in the field" means that this collection of
Zar songs is a re-creation of the Zar rituals. These are samples
of the different songs used to call out to the spirits. Being
samples, the selections are generally much shorter than what is
used in reality. As samples recorded in a music studio means that
the quality is very high. Also being samples means they are samples.
And I believe not to be used in a Zar.
to "trance-out" in a Zar, one must be willing to release or to
let go. I
don't know how one can release or let go on command, or in the
amount of time given in this particular cd. I do not believe that
this cd was recorded for this purpose in mind. I believe that
the cd was meant as an informative and educational tool to appease
the thirsty mind.
Zar cd comes with an accompanying 32-page booklet that
should be read from cover to cover. It is indeed a rare treat
to have a cd producer take the time and trouble to give the listener
such detailed information including translations of the songs
sung in the cd. This is done by a person who really cares and
wants to share her knowledge.
are 11 tracks in the cd.
Abou Gandara (Spirit from the Mountain Spirit tribe)
Saly ala Mohammad (Bless the Prophet)
Arab al-Hinadwa (Arab spirit from the Indian Spirit tribe)
About al-Gheit (Sheikh from Qalyubia Spirit tribe)
Al Pashawar (The Pashas)
Arab al-Arab ya Zein (Spirit from the Arab spirit tribeSaint
Ya Benat al-Handasa (Female engineers -
Spirit named Rouqash)
Fi- Shamayil (Up North - spirit from the north)
Saleela (Spirit named Bath Flower)
Yousef Madala (Spirit named Yousef Madala)
Ruma Nagdy (A spirit soldier)
is unique and as you can see, calls to different spirits. You
may find that only one track or spirit calls to you. That may
be the spirit within you.
I would like
to quote Yasmin from her very lovely booklet:
the patient holds a private ceremony and her invading zar
spirit(s) has been identified, the woman becomes a member
of the zar cult. Afterwards she is expected to remain
in contact with her spirit masters (asyad) on a regular
Egypt the major zar musical groups hold weekly meetings
called hadra where initiates come to commune with their
possessors or just to dance away stress and problem."
conclusion, this cd is a "must have" in every serious Middle
Eastern dance devotees collection as an educational and inspirational
tool. Enjoy this cd with respect. Yasmin should be congratulated
for her honest endeavor.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Ready for more?
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We do know that today thousands of women in Africa and the Middle
East use this music to cure all kinds of illnesses. They literally
dance until they drop.
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I think that there is something for everyone on this
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