Review and Rating of

by Sierra/Sadira

This is a review of eight of the most popular Middle Eastern Drum recordings produced this year. The Middle Eastern drum (dumbek or tabla) is the main focus of each album. Each recording has been rated by using a comparison scale. I have used an evaluation scale similar to that which is often used in movie, book, and record reviews in mainstream publication. Each selection is reviewed with the same components and standards.

This review has been done with my utmost respect towards all of the musicians and their collections of works that have been evaluated here.

Truly, music, art, and dance comprise a spectrum that cannot be viewed under a microscope and dissected. All entertainment is subjective, and what one person might enjoy or even love about a piece of music, a story line or a movie may not appeal to another person in the same way.

I have not attempted to grade or rank the recordings' worth or merit. However, I have tried to produce a standardized format on which to base comparisons of music that carry a common theme. The Dumbek is the theme the recordings all have in common, and all of these pieces are based entirely on drum and percussion orchestration as their main focus.

Eight current recordings are those listed below. I have used as a scale rating a system employing a 1 to 4 "zil" quality and accompanied each with a review of the overall product. (ed- we replaced Sierra's stars with zils for your graphical pleasure!)

The comparison formats used were these:

  1. Quality of sound mixing/engineering
  2. Clarity and Distinction (among all instruments used in tandem for each musical piece)
  3. Originality
  4. Stylizing/Formatting
  5. Appropriate level of audience that would most benefit or appreciate the pieces (i.e. dancer, student, troupes, professionals, drummers (student or professional), and other musicians
  6. Composition

= Below average in quality and or recording . Pieces are poorly presented and stylized. Not enough variation. Average level of audience interest, but does not sustain throughout the whole recording.
= Average musical presentation. Standard rhythm forms are focused upon and used. Level useful for students with which to learn. Useable as class instructional music. Some variety.
= High level of presentation. Excellent use of sound and mixing. Clarity and consistency throughout recording. Original and passionate use of pieces. Rhythm styles are varied and performed with a high degree of variety and overlay. Useful to professionals for solo or group music selections in public format. Individuals can feel the interweaving of complexity and use of other percussion elements woven in. High caliber level of drumming skills and technique. Multi-audience versatile.
= a Full Set! Masterful use of drum and personal stylizing of drumming. Ability to incorporate one rhythmic scale into many overlays and expressions. Professional sound engineering and quality. Dramatic, use of more then one or two percussive instruments. Original and artistic in composition and depth. Soul stirring, imagery evoking, and dance provoking.

"Skin Stories": Performed by Armando El Mafufo
Armando El Mafufo is an incredible entertainer and virtuoso of the Middle Easter percussion. For over 25 yrs. Armando has played with his partner, Sulyman, in the band called Sirocco. Dancers from all of Northern California and throughout the Pacific Northwest anticipate dancing to this energetic and earthy style of music. Visions of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire and ethnic/tribal dancing resonate with the dexterity of Armando's skills.

This particular recording uses compositions with combinations of darabuka, def, riq, sagat, dohol, tabla beledi, nagara, metal sounds, hand clapping, along with foot stomps and finger pops.

"Skin Stories" reflects the varied blend of dumbek playing that has a more earthy and grounded sound particular to the tribal genre.

You won't hear the stylized Egyptian snapping accented style, but an individualized form that includes well known rhythms.

This CD is well formatted for using in class instruction for the steady pattern of the rhythms he uses in his pieces. You get the solid base of the count and rhythm. The music flows together well, in a moderately paced, equal temperament which is beneficial for any group choreography, but does not hold the challenging format for a solo dancer.

Unfortunately, I did not feel the high energy in this recording that one feels when Armando is playing in person. The sound quality was average with a bit of a hollow reverberation in the background. The accompanying percussive instruments used did not vary from the pattern being played by the dumbek, leaving a flat monotonous tone. Though steady for counting beats and detecting patterns, there was not a remarkable sense of distinction between the various tracks.

I recommend as my favorite, the pieces:
#5 "Fusion": Wonderful variety of 6/8 rhythms, lively and exuberant. Excellent for group choreography. #8 "Masmoudi": One of my favorite rhythms, underused in dance music..a unique
blend of percussion sounds, blended with a jungle like-tribal fusion.
#14 "Arruga La Camisa": This piece is classic Armando Mafufo! Finally we get a taste of Armando's playing and his incredible joy of drumming; life and the heart of the artist comes alive.

"Magical Fingers /Middle Eastern Tabla" by Various Artists
My first disappointment with this recording is that it does not list the various percussion artists who are playing. There are liner notes describing the Tabla, its origins, etc. However, there is no mention of the type of rhythms used, the specific areas that utilize particular rhythms or any other pertinent information about the album itself. The sound quality is good and clear, and the strong, heavily accented Egyptian style tabla playing comes roaring out from the very beginning. The editing is very good in this recording; the drumming appears to have been played by one musician alone throughout all of the pieces, but as you start to listen more closely, you can begin to hear where loops from other performers have been edited in.

This is a very disappointing CD. 90% of the drumming is done in a 4/4 pattern, or beledi rhythm. Though the artists are strong and excellent in their playing techniques, it comes across as a monotonous marathon of fast paced executions on the dumbek.

Unless you want to use this as a practice to see which dancer can outlast the other, it becomes so fast paced and jazzed up over the rhythms, that it seems impossible to attempt to accomplish any credible dancing or shimmy movements.

Nonetheless, this is a strong example of Egyptian style cabaret playing and would be good for drum students to have to hear the stylizing and incredible overlays that are achieved. It contains every typical drum shimmy solo pattern I have ever heard!

One piece that I enjoyed more than the others was the 2nd piece, which started out with what is commonly known as "The Wedding Beat". This very stylized particular rhythm, which is usually used in the entrance parades for a wedding party called a "Zeffa", is not heard much in dance music or recordings. It's a heavily accented rhythm, and in this presentation the drummer builds it from its traditional stylizing into a modern interpretation.

Primarily this is a useful recording for drum students to hear and learn the basic formula of "slap down, shimmy solos". I warn you, if you play this fast and with no breaks in patterning, you will make enemies of any dancers for whom you (as a drummer) play.

"Rhythmic Journeys": Suhaila Salimpour Presents Ziad
I believe that this is an exquisite CD. Ziad is a premier virtuoso on the dumbek. He takes the level of drumming to a dance-inspiring, provocative experience. The sound quality and professionalism of this CD is first rate. The levels of musical instrumentation and variety are excellently balanced and mixed.

Ziad's improvisational inspirations are poetic tableaus, weaving a myriad of story tapestries that engulf the listener, whether dancer or non-dancer. The pieces presented tell a story, weave a dream, and take you on a journey. You cannot be anything less than captivated or inspired.

Here we see drumming transcending the rhythmic steady beat of the music, to become the music itself, the inspiration and muse for the dancer's heart and spirit.

Each piece in the recording is unique and artistically arranged. It cannot be copied as a shimmy drum solo pattern, or heard with the intent of recreating. It is through these pieces that inspiration from within a person is born, and they begin to have a relationship with the many shining facets of the composition.

The instrumentation is well balanced musically. The dumbek is not left as a simple accompanying percussion instrument as in other percussion renderings. The difficulty in producing a recording that is primarily percussion-based with no additional instrumentation, is that it can quickly turn to a monotonous lassitude or a backup drone in musical pieces. Ziad's format creates balance, harmony and change throughout with layers upon layers in the compositions. His masterful drumming technique takes nothing away from the ability to respond with complexity.

His drumming carries the strong form of Egyptian stylizing. Each piece carries its own uniqueness; at times it is mysterious and mesmerizing; other times, it is wild, captivating, and engulfing. (I love especially the intermingling of other elements of sound and the spirit-wrenching mawaal.) This CD is an entertainer's delight.

My only negative criticism is that the Suhaila and Ziad duet piece continues too long past the time when it would have been best to end it. It's still a beautiful piece, but because of its length and repeating similarities in modality, it becomes the weakest part of the whole recording. The cymbal solo is marvelous, with incredible patterning, but becomes boring after awhile with no accompaniment by other instrumentation.

"Dance With Samara" - Arabian Tabla Dances
"Dance With Samara" is another recording that does not list the artists who are playing but generalizes them as the ever-popular "various artists". There are no liner notes included, and no clarification of what type of rhythms, styles are being presented. Detailed descriptive notes are not necessary to make or break a recording, but I find that if you isolate a presentation to a specific instrument only, some detail should be included for those who would like to know more about the rhythms, origins (if it is region specific) or at least, a feeling that the total product was produced with real people working together, instead of looping pieces of music out of random sources to produce another new CD.

This is Cabaret Egyptian style drumming. It is extremely fast paced; at times the main melody or count is floated over so quickly, that it loses its impact.

This is definitely a pick for those who welcome marathon dancing! However, it is not a production for dancers. It presents orchestrated pieces with other musicians and instruments. The drummer plays a heavy, sharp, drill-paced tempo. None of the pieces seem to highlight a point in order to showcase the dancer. This is not a CD for the amateur or non-professional dancer, and I suspect that it would not appeal to the general public.

Once again, we hear the standard 5 major drum solo pieces that have been played for over 20 yrs. If you are looking for something to put into your musical routine, there is a large selection from which to pick for solo shimmy pieces, but none have many accents or breaks throughout the routine. On the positive side, you would be prepared to dance to any Egyptian drummer's solo style after practicing with this recording.

The sound quality is basically one modality; it is loud and the bass is heavy.

There is one piece I enjoyed more than of all of them; it is song #7: "Badawiyya's Teasing". The beginning is a strong 4/4 rhythm; it is excellent and often used in Raks Al Assaya ( the Cane Dance). It has a good heavy up-beat beledi rhythm with variety and is a good arrangement.

"Drum Talk" by Reda Darwish
Reda Darwish is one of our foremost, unsurpassed current musician/drummers. He is well known for his incredible artistry with the dumbek. Reda became a musician extraordinaire in his native Egypt, playing for the best Egyptian dancers and musicians. It has become our fortune to have Reda Darwish as a permanent entertainer and import store owner in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the formidability of his playing skills and notoriety, one would think of Reda as being someone inaccessible in person. This is far from the reality. Reda is the most outgoing and giving person in this often ego-driven field whom I have ever met. He is compassionate, down to earth, gregarious, and funny. His passion is his music and the drum. With his musical passion, he has played with many bands, at festivals such as Rakkasah, simply for the enjoyment of the music and the camaraderie. He is a dancer's drummer, a drummer who instantly brings any group of musicians with whom he plays to the level of competency that is an audience's inspiration.

"Drum Talk" is a lively, fantastical presentation. It is imbued with artistry and musical passion. Each piece is unique and flawless. With this music the dancer and music enthusiast join together to enjoy a rich blend of excellent sound, professional editing and balancing qualities that take different instrumentation, moods, vocals and overlay them in perfection.

Of all the drum CDs that I have heard and reviewed, Reda's is the only one that has taken the poetry, beats, musical styles, and heart from all over the Middle East and Africa to create a multi-cultural ambassador for the finest of them all.

Each is kept unique and in it's own tradition, yet composed by Reda it becomes a piece of art. Each piece reflects the life-blood and spirit of the desert people. As you listen to each rendition, you begin to see in the beauty of the uniqueness, the reflection of oneness that binds it all together: the soul, the heart, and the joy of music and dance.

You will be transported to the desert, with the Bedouins, North African's, nomads, Nubians, Arabic villages and classical diffusion. Every piece is timed well, to get the full body of the music and drumming without drawing out or ending too soon. Each flows into the other as the different bodies of water eventually weave their way through Africa to become the great Nile.

Reda's drumming is superb and goes beyond one style. Every piece has a feeling, a life of its own, with variety, excitement, alluring and driving! One moment, you feel as if you are in a marketplace in North Africa, while in the next moment, you are transported to a fusion of world beat music and whirling Sirocco-driven winds. Reda takes percussion, the dumbek, tabla, def, and brings each aspect of its own life into sound, representing the heartbeat of the soul, dance, and Mother Earth. Each sound of the hand upon the drum skin is clean, crisp; even when played at a fast tempo, you can still feel the patterns.

This CD will capture your spirit and bring your dance alive! Whether you are using this for listening or performance, you will be deeply touched by the music. It is the closest you will get to experiencing the people's music from their part of the world, whether in the marketplace, in a Bedouin tent, or a faithful praying with a wrenching mawaal. The voices are professional in their beautiful and haunting singing styles. There are many pieces that carry woman's voices in beautiful harmony and styling.

Of all the CDs, "Drum Talk" has the most diversity, passion, and quality of all I have heard. I think that whether you are a dancer, student, drummer, world beat music fan, or lover of passionate, living music, you will be inspired by this CD.

"Sabla Tolo: Journeys into Pure Egyptian Percussion" by Hossam Ramsey
Hossam Ramzy is one of the world's current leading tabla players and recording artists from Egypt. He has not only surpassed other musicians in his field with classical and traditional tabla playing, he has also become the 20th /21st centuries' most recorded tabla player. His compositions are conceptions born from a passion for hearing and understanding the magic soul of music and art. He is well known as playing with contemporary artists from non-Arabic nations. His accomplishments have included recording with Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant/Jjmmy Page, Pavarotti, , Cheb Khaled , Gypsy Kings and on recording tracts for major motion pictures. He is considered by many as unparalleled in his field and combines classical Tabla with innovative styling.

I consider this recording as a dancer's dream. All of the solo pieces are designed for dancers and are titled after favorite Middle Eastern dancers that Hossam admires. This production is a dedication to Egyptian women's solo dance performances. His pieces are named for a particular dancer and the composition written around her style of dancing. Some famous examples are: Naima Akeef, Taheyya Karioka and Lucy.

The sound recording and mixing is professional and clear. He has included incredible liner notes with his packaging. Each piece is named and a description given of how the piece reflects that dancer's particular style of dance. He also includes a very detailed description of each type of rhythm he plays during the pieces, their time signature, and musical composition. This enables the drummers, drum students, and musicians to understand thoroughly the mix being created in the piece. It's another important step in a dancer's knowledge level to begin to recognize the variety of rhythms, their names, and their counting measure. Many dancers have very little understanding of the music to which they dance. Here is a wonderful opportunity for all artists to learn the subtleties in his versions of rhythms and distinguish the different elements.
This CD combines an excellent use of other percussion instruments, rounding out and accentuating the pieces.

At points, you forget that there is no other instrumentation used here except the percussion. It is fully captured and melodic. Each beat is clear, crisp, precise and fluid. The essence of the pieces are enhanced with their emphasizing patterns, nuance and accenting.

Hossam Ramzy's drumming is beyond belief; it carries patterns so smooth, yet extremely layered in command and complexity. The patterns are recognizable, but they carry an extra sharp edge that brings a brilliance of clarity and complexity at the same time.

Any of the pieces listed here are excellent for use in professional dancing. Some are whimsical, mischievous, while others are passionate and driving. There is definitely an arrangement here that would compliment a dancer's own particular style instead of the dancer's working her style around a standard piece of music that anyone can modify.

Selection #2 "Kholkhal Taheyya" (Taheyya's Anklet) written for Taheyya Karioka, is one of my favorites. It has dynamic changes in patterns throughout the piece with a heavy riff , which accents and drives the whole feeling.

Again Hossam Ramzy has brought us a unique and unparalleled recording masterpiece. If you love Middle Eastern music, and the passionate quality of the dumbek or tabla, this is a must for you to own. You will become lost in the sheer magic of its sound!

"Shake Me Ya Gamal! Hot Tabla Solos": Dance with Fifi Abdo
When I looked at the selections on this CD, I was very interested and excited to hear what would be presented on the recording. The titles included several very specific rhythms that are not always used in cabaret dancing, but are used in the more traditional areas of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and for particular dance styles. It was wonderful to see such a selection to use, especially since I have specialized in the more ethno-regional type of dancing. I thought, "How wonderful; here is a CD that offers the first variety of traditional rhythms from which I can choose." Most recordings like these are limited to one particular stylizing of that region and not a combination from throughout the Arabian nations. This would be perfect to have for the dancer who knows what a Saidi dance is and the particular rhythm used for it, and the same for Hagalla, Ayyoub, and Khalligi.

When I heard the pieces, I became confused. None of the rhythms used, were in any way shape or form familiar to the grouping of style to which it referred.

Of course, I am not an ethno-musicologist, but from my lengthy experience I can definitely recognize the rhythms used for specific dance styles indigenous for a particular region. This was not the case with "Shake Me Ya Gamal"! It is misleading in its classification of patterns of drum styles particular to a type of rhythm and dance.

The first piece was labeled as a Saidi piece. Most of you who know the Saidi rhythm will recognize its classical structure in the music from Upper Egypt, and the famous composer Metkal Kenawi. This was not any Saidi rhythm I had ever heard, unless it was being played so fast that it got lost in translation from its original heavy folkloric/ beledi style of the Saidi people.

Next came a tune said to represent the music used for the Hagalla Dance. I taught and performed the Hagalla for many years before it became as well known as it is now. Yes, the pattern contained a 2/4 beat, but was a jazzed-up version with many riffs on the teks and lots of floating through the primary count. Hagalla or any country style rendition relies a lot on a decidedly heavy, strong beat and rhythmic count that is constant. This piece was hard to tell apart from a regular 2/4 rhythm .and Hagalla has its specific pattern that this in no way resembles!

As a matter of fact most of the pieces, regardless of what style they were labeled, seemed to rely on a basic 2/4 rhythm or 4/4 Beledi. Each sounded similar to the selection before it. Basically every thing sounded alike to me.

In regional music the rhythm's emphasis and patterning on accents creates the differences in style and is highly important. The heavy consistency of the regional pattern in drumming is the most important aspect of these dance and regional styles. The tabla plays a very strong role, as the beat is the piece to designate the particular style. This was not demonstrated in this production.

For example, they had a piece labeled as Khaleegy. This is the popular Gulf Coast or Saudi style of music. It has a very strong, rhythm, where the drum is predominant in all the musical pieces. In Khaleegy, you know its origins from the minute the drumming begins regardless of which piece of music is played with it. Without this known pattern, it is no longer Khaleegy or Saudi style.

Basically, it would be disastrous for anyone who did not know the true regional style of dances and rhythms used for that style to try and use any of these "labeled" pieces for those particular dances. It is misleading and ill-advised to follow this format with what is presented. That is not to say that the drumming was bad; just incorrect as far as its labeling and reference.

This would be a good CD to use for beginning drum students' practice, since the percussion beats are clear and steady. There are some semi-useful pieces to use in a dance selection.

Be aware that this is not the style of music it says it is representing! Because it is a similar heavy 4/4 count beat and variation throughout, it might be good for practicing. It has wonderful liner notes on the origins of each particular piece that are correct and very interesting in how the pieces evolved. However, don't expect the actual recording to reflect the accuracy of the liner acknowledgments.

: "Susu Pampanin Hands of Time: Belly Dance Drum Music"
Susu Pampanin is a master of all types of percussion instruments and styles of music; and her incredible talent is especially evident in her work in Middle Eastern drumming. Susu is well known for her virtuosity in Arabic drumming and is one of the few female Middle Eastern drummers highly respected by the Arabic professional music community. Additionally, she is proficient in Salsa, Latin, African and many other types of fusion and individual composition of drum styles.

This particular recording is an all percussion anthology in which each piece was composed by Susu, personally. She is also the only musician on this album. She plays all of the different percussion instruments used and then they have been finally mixed together to create each piece. That alone is quite an endeavor and the result is an incredible sound quality and mixing modulus. The engineering on this CD is very professionally mastered and well balanced and mixed.

Susu plays the Dahola (large Bass Tabla), Tabla (Doumbek), Deff, Tabla Balady, Riq, Sagat, Muzhar, Bendir, Cajon as well as other percussion instruments throughout the entire mix.

In this CD, Susu is allowed to freely improvise, create and artistically produce her own compositions.

The sound is great, and from the minute the recording begins to the last song, the dancer can't keep still. The fiery and passionate energy of Susu's style is evident throughout. It also reflects her incredible virtuosity.

There are musicians who transcend their instrument and the melodies, to meld and become one with the entire piece and each component...that is Susu. These are hot combinations of patterns and strong rhythms that pull you into the music and feelings of connection to the piece to which you are listening and relating.

The emphasis is still the strong, driving Egyptian style of playing, yet intermingling with elements of other percussion styling to create signature pieces. The drumming flows from an inner connectedness, that makes it driving in a set, flowing together. The improvisation and unique blending of styles makes it a CD not just for drawing upon a new reservoir of challenge to a dancer's interpretation, but to the listener also.

She creates a formidable combination that includes lots of breaks, accents, style, and rhythm changes throughout. This forms a dynamic one of a kind set, where each piece carries its own charisma, sometimes haunting, fiery, passionate, and synchronistically intuited.

My favorites have been:
#7 "Mood for Six": Breaking out of the standard formats, we hear unusual yet powerful combinations set together to create a utilizes the chiftitelli rhythm out of the context of a slow taxim, creating a river of motion, where she then breaks into the wedding beat and into a masmoudi. Incredible!!!
#10 "Nine O'clock Sharp": Heavily charged, winding through a myriad of emotional feelings in the music changes. It is unstoppable in its energy.
#11 "Tranceformation": My absolute favorite! It is invocative of the Sirocco desert wind, mysterious, engulfing, trance-like and haunting.
The quality of this CD is superb. It is almost impossible to believe that only one person is playing in the sets; that is how flawlessly the components are arranged and mixed together. This is a powerful and passionate journey for Susu and the dancer!

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Ready for More?
More by Sadira
10-8-02 Charismatic Sultana changes North Beach
She was the only dancer I have ever seen walk off in the beginning, or middle of her set , not to return, because the music or audience did not please her.
5-13-02 Aisha Ali & The Birth of the Ghawazee
" This could not possibly be a dance to take seriously", people whispered
8-14-02 "Right Where I Want To Be" Mimi Spencer's newest CD reviewed by Sadira
...will be spellbound by this CD.

Drummers featured on Gilded Serpent
7-31-01 Salah Takesh Interviewed by Janine Ryle
For years, he was involved in the San Francisco North Beach 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 series.

5-16-01 Yousef Mustafa, Master of Percussion by Jawahare
When the musicians came from Egypt we promoted this type of music for the shows here too. So, now it has become more popular.

9-22-00 Interview with Michael Beach of the Brothers of Baladi by GS Staff
We are a versatile group. One night I play blues, the next jazz, then I become part of The Brothers, playing either a drum set or dumbek.

9-6-00 A Drummer's Advice to Beginning Dancers - by Kirk Templeton
"...Know your rhythms! I have drummed for bellydance classes where the instructor not only couldn't clap baladi but didn't even know what it was..."

7-1-00 Child Prodigy grows up, Reda D! An Interview with Reda Darwish
"I knew Sahar Hamdi from the time when she used to be a customer watching Fifi Abdu."..