by Janine Ryle
Takesh teaches at Indian Valley Junior College and the
Novato School District. For years, he was involved in the Northbeach
scene during the eighties as a drummer while his brother, Jalaleddin
Takesh was a kanoonist and restaurant owner. We asked him
to recall some of his experiences for our North Beach Memories
was, at the time of this interview, on his way to tour
Europe and the Middle East, will be returning in time to
participate in the Middle
East Music and Dance Camp (his 18th year) and the Lark
in the Morning Camp.
usually stays busy playing for private parties and concerts
with various musicians. Salah delights in his ability to
drum with all the various Middle Eastern communities in
the music specific to their countries, whether they are
Kurds, Persians, Israelies, Assyrians, Arabs, Greeks, or
was originally born in Azerbajian, an area within Iran.
His grandmother is Assyrian and from his father's side
of the family, he is a direct descendant (5th grandson)
of the King of Iran.
a dancer and instructor in San Francisco. She and her husband Eliott are
friends of Salah's. The three of them put on Middle Eastern
Music and Dance Jams in Marin for the Bay area dance community.
Janine and Salah had a chance to sit down together and talk
about his career as a musician, and what the North Beach
scene was like.
Do you have any stories from your time in North Beach that you can share?
In 1967 I arrived in the United States. The following 1and 1/2 years I was
living with an American family in Turlock, California. My brother, Jalal was
playing santur in Modesto at churches and at Modesto Jr. College events. He
was busy at college; he was an engineering student, and he was busy weekends
playing the santur at church events.
By 1970 we
moved to Marin County because my sis got married and we all
wanted to be in the same area, and Jalal got a job playing
drums and santur once in a while on Broadway. Before the Casbah opened,
there was a club called Gigi,
today's Big Al's. Gigi's had at least four or five musicians,
(believe it or not), mostly Persians. We had Hooshang Magdarian on
violin. We had Ali Azerdan on drum, Salimpour on
drums, Asghar on santur, and Fadil
Shahin on oud. There were another couple Arab musicians,
but they had a tendency to play at home more rather than play
for dancers in a cabaret or gig.
Cabaret opened by 1971. Jalal got part-time job playing drums
and santur when Asghar was off. Asghar was the main santur
player. How I started is, by accident. I came to the Casbah.
I waited in the back room 'til 2 o'clock, until Jalal would
give me a ride home. So I was sitting down and minding my own
was a drummer named Gilli-Gilli, an Egyptian. He was
the funniest man in the world. (He was a magician.) He
did the most unusual and awkward things on stage, like
putting a sword in his mouth. He was swallowing knives
and forks, you name it. He was bald and had a toupee,
and every time he wanted to say "goodbye",
he would pick up his toupee and say, "Goodbye"!
He would do this on stage!
was on oud, Asghar was on santur, Gilli-Gilli was on drum,
and Jalal had a part-time job playing drum and santur once
in a while. Fadil bought the place I think with percentage
down, his brother Walid I believe matched the amount
and Pamela Ayoub put big percentage down so they all
could purchase the Casbah. I was waiting, and Fadil came down
and said, "I heard you are a drummer!". I said well, "I
used to play drum in Iran. I won lots of awards, but now I'm
studying this and that". He said well, my drummer needs
a break; can you go on stage and play something so my drummer
can take a break? I said, "Well, you have to ask Jalal
because it's not appropriate for me, (his kid brother), to
go to the stage when dancers are dancing, I just can't do that
without my brother's permission. Actually, he never asked Jalal!
He came to me and said, "You have permission to play."
oh! So what did Jalal do?
Jalal was on stage on santur, and I got on the stage and Jalal
said, "Fine". But I didn't know any Arabic music.
He said, "What kind of music?" I said, "Well,
I know Arabic rhythms, but I'm not that familiar with their
style. All I know are the classical pieces. So he said, "Don't
worry, you'll follow. If you're a drummer, I heard the way
you are, you won't have any problems".
So we started
playing, and I started playing. So far so good! I'd never played
with a microphone. The sound was awesome, and I liked it! Everybody
was amazed, it sounded so good! But there was one problem,
I never looked at dancers. I was too ashamed because I was
a little kid.
dancers would fall in front of me, and cross legs showing
their chest and I was getting red and sweating and I
have pictures in which you can see that I wasn't looking. Fadil
kept telling me "You need to look at the dancers!" So
anyway, the following night Fadil said, "I'll give you
a one-night per week job. You're a very good drummer, I need
my drummer to take off one night, and I'll give you Sunday
Sunday nights was the best night on Broadway especially at
the Casbah, because all of the Arab community closed their
stores, and they would all come to the Casbah. It was a family
area, with their wives and children. It was a very cozy area.
So, I got the Sunday night jobs with the provision that when
I took a break I would go back and sit with families or ladies
so that they would know me. Because the police didn't want
kids in the nightclubs!
I was 16 or 17 years old. I was very young, so the police were
told that I was Fadil's cousin and Jalal's brother so they
looked the other way. Usually, in those times, police and nightclub
owners worked together to make the area safe. I wasn't a drinker
or smoker, and my brother was there anyway! So I got a job.
My pay scale was $17.50 a night plus tips, so sometimes I was
coming home with $30., sometimes $25. or $26. At that time,
for a kid, that was a lot of money!
did they work the tips? Did you all split them evenly?
had three dancers and dancers gave half of their tips. Dancers
made tons of tips! At that time, dancers made about $20 a night,
plus they used to make at least $30 or $40 in tips, each, but
half of their tips "belonged" to us, and the musicians
would split that amount, between three or four of us musicians.
The dancers would sometimes make a lot more than we did!
[ Ed. Note: In San Francisco at that time, most adult musicians
were earning $50. Or $60. while dancers were paid various amounts
depending on their popularity: usually $17.50 to $25. per night,
plus tips. All tips that fell on the floor from the dancer' s
costume were forfeited to the musicians, and all that were thrown
onto the stage were shared only among the musicians.]
tension exist between the musicians and dancers because of
absolutely not. I never noticed it, and the dancers mostly
were from east coast
or Middle East. We had hardly any American dancers. We had
Turkish, Arab, Jewish from New York, Boston, Chicago, hardly
any dancers from the Bay Area except Jamila (when she used
to dance at the Bagdad with Yusuf because they used to date.)
Other than that, hardly any American dancers, (maybe one or
two) but they were very professional, not the young dancers
like you see a lot these days. So I started working, Asghar
quit, Jalal became the third musician. He stopped playing santur
and started playing kanun, and I became the drummer. Gilli-Gilli
quit. His wife was a dancer, Fatima, and she used to dance
at the Casbah once in a while. Gilli-Gilli quit. He was an
old man. He wasn't a strong drummer. He was Egyptian but he
had a funny accent on his rhythms. Especially every time he
wanted to use his left hand, he would go up and BOOM! He would
pick his whole arm up and hit it with his left hand. Very
was a showman. He was a magician, and he wasn't a drummer,
not at all! He used to sing. He was around 60 years old. He
wasn't built for stage, and he was more charismatic. He quit,
and I got his job.
And the rest
is history! Yes, it changed my life! When I started, about
two doors away was the Bagdad nightclub.
I even played in Bagdad with Yusef,
Iraqi-Armenian, great violinist, and showman. He used to have
other musicians playing for him, Tony, and a Palestinian,
no, Syrian oud player. He's a big boss right now in Las Vegas
Yusef still playing?
but every time I go to Vegas I call him up on the phone. Yusuf
called me to work at the Bagdad; Gilli-Gilli was still playing
at Casbah. Fadil heard that Yusef wanted me. Then Gilli-Gilli
quit, and Fadil grabbed me. It was a competition between two
clubs, and because I was young, (I was getting better) there
was a potential and the musicians noticed that. They were taking
me to parties. Everybody was making over $100, but they were
paying me $30. So I was cheaper at that time, too!
I was a kid, but that's how my career began.
there any particular people who stand out in your memory either
as being really, really nice to you?
Shahin became my mentor, and I have a tremendous amount of
respect for him. He became my older brother, my father, my
teacher; he watched over me. He never let me drink. People
would buy me ten drinks a night, and they were thinking I was
drinking cognac, but it was tea. Fadil never let me smoke,
He accepted me like his son or his little brother. I'm close
to his family. I became part of their family, their circle.
Every time his brother, Walid, would have parties, I would
go. I became the drummer that represented San Francisco! Fadil
did that. If there was an event in Los Angeles, I was the drummer.
I represented the Casbah from San Francisco.
he was instrumental (no pun intended!) in really launching
his musical style was different, and I don't blame him! He
came from the nightclub scene. With dancers, you could play
Music, but sometimes rhythms are different. He played beledi
a lot because dancers needed that to follow it. But other than
that, I enjoyed playing with him tremendously. I have memories
that will never go away.
there anybody in particular who was a real character?
Salah: Aida, Jamila's
student! Jamila had three students that I respected a lot.
I think the best dancer Jamila produced was Galia. The
second best was Noura and the third was Aida. Aida's
style mixed with a lot of Kathak dance from India. So she took
a lot of things from the Kathak dancers. But Aida was, in my
opinion and a lot of musicians' opinions, had a kind of mischief.
What do I mean by that? She used to record our music behind
the curtain and never told us that she was recording. I just
heard a year ago from Fadil. He said Aida brought all your
tapes, (over 200 hours) that she recorded in her dressing room,
and she wants to give you a copy! I think she should have asked,
not been so conniving about it, but that's what she did.
she did it so she could practice at home?
true. She was a very good friend of Fadil. She told him a lot
of things after everybody left, what was going on, what was
happening. Everybody knew it. Other than that, everybody was
friendly, from George the
doorman, Haroun the bartender, to Walid, my favorite,
fun oud player. He came Friday, Saturday nights to play with
me. Zahra his girlfriend. I still think he should have
married her! Saida came,
and she married Jalal. Jalal would never let me play drums
for Saida. He always wanted to play for her so he'd get to
know her better! Everybody picked on me because I was the smallest.
I was the victim. I was innocent, but over all, people were
very friendly. We had something like a family. We had another
guy, a prince from Saudi Arabia, who brought a lot of changes
like giving us big tips, and bringing us to his place. We had
a great family, and I miss it very much.
you know of anything that happened there that maybe the public
didn't know happened?
definitely! Obviously a lot of things happened. It's the nature
of human beings that we all make mistakes, and we learn from
these mistakes. Mistakes are expensive. We have to pay for
them. I dated many dancers and fell in love with a couple of
dancers who broke my heart! There were a lot of things happening,
but who am I to say?
very diplomatic of you! The musicians all sounded like they
got along. Was there a lot of infighting among the dancers?
a lot of competition where they would sabotage each other or
gossip about the other to get her job?
end of 1970s, Jamila used to have student nights and bring
a lot of dancers. By then, a lot of our east coast dancers,
our original dancers, left for various reasons. A lot of young,
they less expensive? Was that one of the reasons?
I'd say financially Fadil was… He wanted to change. He
wanted to put more young dancers, more pretty dancers.
In my opinion the talent wasn't there.
was too small to begin with. The music was awesome, but the
quality of dancer that needed to be there was not there. That
was the unfortunate thing. I was too young, going to school,
working at nights, I'd get home at 5:30 am and have to go to
school! Yes there was a lot of gossip among the dancers. Bert
Balladine had a lot of dancers come to dance at the Casbah,
and Jamila had dancers there, several other dancers had students
there, too. So of course, there was competition, like, "Look,
I'm one of So and So's students, I should have first choice," or "I'm
one of this other group." But, Fadil was very diplomatic,
he kept everybody happy.
was different about the East Coast performers, because I know
you also played in New York, didn't you?
I used to
take summers off, and Vince
Delgado and Mark Bell used to sit in for me. There
were two other Arab drummers that used to play for me, but
Fadil kept my job. He organized it so that I would leave with
my girlfriend, (in fact I went for five summers), she was a
dancer in the Casbah, I won't say her name!
laughing: Anyway, we used to go to New York and work
in the village in other nightclubs, then go to Europe, go
to London and work one night in Omar Khayyam, from
there go to Paris, work one or two nights in Jazayer in
St. Michel, from there go to Barcelona and work in North
African nightclubs. We used to rent a car, or purchase a
car in Germany, from there we would drive to Turkey, do our
shopping, drive to Lebanon, sell our car there in Beiruit
before the civil war. From there, we used to go to Egypt
and spend our last penny in Egypt! When the civil war broke
out in Lebanon, we stopped going to Lebanon and went to Turkey
and Greece; from there we would fly to Egypt.
you used to drive from Paris, through the Balkans...
...through the old Yugoslavia...
...and you can't do that anymore, either!
We were kicked out of trains once because we didn't have the
transit visa! But it was fun, and it was challenging!
It was the
70's, Communists everywhere. We couldn't go because we had
American passports. It was kind of difficult, but overall,
Fadil let me go. I played and got experience. The reason I
got so knowledgeable about the field of Middle Eastern music,
was that I was fortunate to play with hundreds of professional
musicians from the Middle East and North Africa. So when I
play Persian, I play like a Persian, when I play Turkish I
play like a Turk, when I play Turkish folkloric, I play like
Turkish folkloric drummer. When I play Egyptian, I can play
exactly like Egyptian drummers. I could play like a Lebanese,
North African, Moroccan drummer, so that, to me, was an opportunity
to work with Moroccans, Egyptians, Lebanese, gulf musicians
and that variety gave me experience…
of being locked into just one style?
That's the unfortunate part of some musicians, they stay in
one dimension and they cannot grow. Since my father was Turkish,
and my mother was Russian Turk, I was born in Iran and loved
Arabic music. I was born in a very unique area. I had the opportunity
to see and hear everything. Like with my Armenian friends,
and my Turkish friends, I played with everyone!
Janine: What was the difference in the quality in
the music and dancers from your work in San Francisco and
those summers when you traveled abroad? Did you feel it was
more professional in New York and overseas than it was in
question! San Francisco musicians were more "cozy type" musicians.
They played only one or two rhythms.
that because of the dancers?
don't want to say because of the dancers because, like, Galia loved
9/8. The 9/8 rhythm actually did not become popular until the
late 70s in the Bay Area. When you go to New York they don't
play 4/4 for you. They play-- mmBOP, mmBOP, mmBOP, mmBOP: 2/4…,
fast 2/4, then go to 9/8, then 7/8, then 6/6, then 4/4, then
into Samai, and a finale in 2/4. All kinds of rhythms! Even
today they do this. But here in San Francisco, you go to Pasha or
anywhere else, you get one set of rhythms.
true, and that must get really frustrating for a musician.
just talked to Abdullah yesterday
and he said "Salah, I'm playing dum-dum tekatek dum tekatek
all night, dum-dum tekatek dum tekatek all morning!"
wonder it's hard to get musicians to play for dancers sometimes!
very difficult. I think the musicians in New York, (they were
the musicians I loved to work with) were my style.
they were playing different rhythms, probably more unusual
My idol lived in NY, and every time I went to New York, I just
wanted to sit next to him.. He knew, and he would play oud,and
I used to play his drums. God bless him, he died! He died very
young, about 12 years ago. He was my idol, and I was fortunate
to go onstage with him, and play with his musicians. He had
6-7 musicians in Finjan, in the Village: bouzouki player,
bass, oud, drummer, keyboard in background, and tambourine.
Also, the musicians used to come in the Basement and
that's the music I loved.
[Ed note: What is the idol's name?]
they getting paid better than in San Francisco?
yes, even today, the dancers coming from Chicago and New York
get much more than dancers here. Dancers here are getting,
what, $40, $50 a night, plus tips?
think it's more like $20, not that that's right, but I think
that's about what it is.
[Ed note: Currently the range is between $20. to $50. In most
Bay Area restaurants, splitting tips with musicians.]
New York, the dancers won't dance for under $50 a night, the
same as it is in Paris, or London, or Europe. They have Middle
Eastern dancers. When I was in Egypt, I saw a lot of Russian
dancers, believe it or not! The times change… but yes, the
musicians in NY were more professional, but the musicians in
San Francisco were more cozy, more like a family of musicians
playing in your living room.
a big difference!
all you've learned, what would you tell musicians or dancers
starting out today who want to play this music or want to dance
to this music?
Eastern music, in my opinion, is very rich music, very passionate
music, very emotional music, very aggressive music. It's the
mother of the music of the world, in my opinion. We have a
variety of music. You can't compare Armenian music to Gulf
music. It's totally different. If I were a musician starting
right now… a lot of friends want to get into Ph.D. programs.
They need to focus on one subject area. For example: Arabic
music or Egyptian music. They should also focus on the kind
of music that comes from that area. If you know that you only
enhance your knowledge of the music, you'll be a better performer,
and you know exactly what you're going to do on stage when
the music begins. A lot of musicians today--this is true… You
cannot find an Arabic musician to play Persian music; that's
terrible! You can find Persian musicians that can play Arabic
music, why? Because they're willing to learn. If you find Turkish
musicians, and ask them to play North African music, they will
get stuck. They wouldn't know, even though the Turkish maqqam
system is complicated.. They cut boundaries. But here in America,
we're in a diversified country, so we need to learn to be diversified.
different here in San francisco. When you hear music in the
nightclubs here, you're not just hearing Arabic music. Somebody's
going to ask for a Karsilimah, so you're going to get a Turkish
song. Then someone else may want to do veil work to a Persian
song, and so you'll get a whole variety from all over the Middle
and I think that's better! I think that gives you diversity
on the stage, it gives you different sounds and variety on
stage. I don't like keyboards, electronic music and I think
that unfortunately, after Umm Koulsoum, after Abdel
Halim Hafez, and Farid Atrache… After they died,
in Arabic music, all I hear is keyboard! Maybe I don't have
the right CDs! But I just came from Syria with 200 tapes, and
in 180 of them, it's all keyboard in them! I find very few
tapes that have the classical pieces! But it only takes one
person to play a keyboard.
have to have a little bigger band if you're going to have a
ney and a zurna and….At that time we had original instruments,
we had oud, kanun, violin, drums, daff, riqs, bouzouki at that
time, we had all sorts of musicians!
the clubs must have been expensive to go to?
the drinks were $2.50, then went up to $3. When Pasha opened,
drinks were $4. or $4.50. Fadil even allowed me to work one
night with the Greek Taverna. I played with the great
bouzouki player. I played a trap set. But Fadil didn't want
me to play at Bagdad. He even let me play at Scheherezade,
a new nightclub that came on Broadway. Anything but the Bagdad!
It was competition!
they were only 2 doors apart.
right. I had a lot of respect for George, George
Elias. I think he was the greatest oud player! He played Farid
Atrashe solos perfectly! I have a recording of him. He
played perfect solos. I had with him , on many occasions, played
on television, KQED,
in big events at palace of fine arts representing Arabic music.
Fadil didn't know about it!
took some pictures off the TV. I played many famous occasions
with him. He loved to play with me. When I decided not to play
at Bagdad, he brought Jamil, the famous Iraqi drummer, from
Los Angeles. In my opinion, I think he was one of the greatest
drummers. The only problem I didn't like about Jamil was that
he put the drum between his legs! But he had the fastest fingers!
I learned a lot from him!
is there anything else that happened, anything else you remember…?
miss it very much! Any more people that stand out? I'm sure
a lot stand out! I have a lot of respect and gratitude for
Fadil Shahin, his brother, and his family. Once, I cried onstage
when Fadil's brother came from Palestine. They were from a
religious family, and I didn't know he played oud. He took
the oud--all the brothers played the oud--and he played solo.
That night, I think everybody was crying. The only person that
has that recording…
Jalal did some recording too!
did some recording. He has Fadil's brother's solo, which I
think is comparable to Ryadeh Sombati's solo. He was
at that time compared to Munir Bashir. He wasn't active.
He was very religious, and the oud was played in nightclubs.
It wasn't his way, but that was a memory I'll cherish the rest
of my life. I think Ahmad Sharif, when he came with
his oud from Lebanon, I played with him on stage, I played
with everyone on that stage, I have tons of pictures, I will
show them to you.
want to get some of those recordings! I would put out a best
of the Casbah Cabaret CD!!
would have to go into Aida's tape collection!
do you think of the scene today as compared to back then? It's
just not the same at all, is it?
not at all.
it the caliber or the talent that isn't there, is it the audience,
talent is there - we have great dancers, great musicians now,
but how do you get them together? The key is; you cannot survive
just playing music or just dancing.
they surviving back then, by just doing music or dance?
That was the difference. Today, paying rent and expenses… You
said just a minute ago that the dancers are only getting $20.
How do you dance for $20. and pay $2,000 rent? So, I talked
to most of these musicians and most of them have daytime jobs,
like I do. I'm the only drummer that has weekend jobs. Most
musicians have to work in nightclubs or ask for gigs to play.
But I don't ask, so I'm very fortunate about that. Expensive
rents, leases, parking situation--you can't find parking, so
you have to park in a lot and that ends up costing you $15-20!
And that's your salary: $20!And
of course the owners are looking for the best price they can
I had a partner who could run it for me, and I could come
and play on weekends, I would purchase the Casbah back!
I've thought about it a lot, I've gone by there, it's a
strip joint, but the guy's making tons of money. I don't
think he wants to sell. I wouldn't mind opening something
like our Casbah. It's always my hope to find a musician
to come join me and open a place, so I hope this interview
will make that person available, and come forward so we
can open our own place. That's my goal, and, hey! We could
a comment? Send us
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