The Gilded Serpent presents...
Music and Musicians
Our staff columnist
continues sharing her experiences on North
The music of the Middle East
is definitely in my body and in my soul! Every note - the more minor
and odd the better - finds its resonance in me. The drums won't let
me sit still, and I think that the rumble of the tabl beledi would
raise me from my deathbed for one more feeble shimmy! I had never
heard anything like it before I first went to Jamila, but, after
about five minutes, I hardly cared if I ever heard anything else!
I was very lucky to have danced to live music almost exclusively
throughout my career. Dancing to a recorded piece is useful, perhaps,
for choreographed group numbers, but too boring f or solos - there
is nothing there to stir the soul and make the feet twitch, no matter
who the musicians on the recording are.
I was also lucky to have danced
to some wonderful musicians. In the earliest of my days at the Bagdad, besides Yousef,
I danced to people like Louis
Habib (oud), Lemi Pasha (Chakmakshi)
Maloof (oud), and Ardeshir (Salim) Salimpour (Jamila's
husband), Ali Azadan and Vince
Delgado on drum.
Vince and I worked together many times in many places over many years,
though he made it more and more clear, as time went on, how much
he detested playing for belly dancers. His drum solos grew to be
a challenge - at least, when he played for me. He seemed to enjoy
trying to best a good dancer, making it harder and harder to follow
what he was doing. But (I said, modestly) I seemed to have been pretty
much up to his standard. Ismail Khlifa played the drum, too, while
his wife, Fatma Akef,
was working at the Bagdad. He never played as well for anyone else
as he did for her.
This was always a possible
problem with musicians, who were, like the dancers, all too human.
If a musician didn't like a girl, he could really screw up her
dance and make her look like an idiot. Also, the musicians couldn't
help but respond better to a dancer who was not only more proficient,
but who regarded them as real people, not just as a service and
a background for her show. When I started working at a new place,
I always took the time and effort necessary to meet the musicians
ahead of time and introduce myself. If possible, I would go in
ahead and listen to how they played, and even, if they met for
practice, ask to dance a little with them at that practice. I see
the inevitable response of the players to a more magnetic dancer
as a serious draw-back in the dance contests that use live music
for the final test. Even though they use the same music for each
contestant, and even though I think that the capability to dance
to live music is an important one, the musicians cannot help but
play better for some girls than others, and, since the dance is
so much more when there is feeling and communication passing back
and forth between the dancer and the players, the contest is no
longer on an even footing for all.
Anyway, as far as the
musicians went, it was always better to stay friendly with
them, but not involved. If you went out with a musician, the
music would be great for you while you were together, but,
unless the breakup of the relationship were handled particularly
well, the subsequent musical situation could be a disaster
for the dancer! The few times I forgot my rule of not going
out with musicians, no matter how attractive or silver-tongued
they were, I was mostly lucky. The splits were generally friendly,
with one exception. I made the mistake of becoming more than
friends with an oudist named Pete, who performed with his friend,
Jim, on the drum. We had played a lot of gigs together, including
such silly ones as a Eugene McCarthy rally and a show for my
son's first grade class, which included teaching the kids to
dance the hora. It was wonderful - like having my own private
band! But then, Pete and I were through, I was out friends,
music and jobs, and he moved back to Boston, where, the last
I heard, he was still making and repairing ouds. Well...
As time went on, I worked
with some more wonderful musicians a
t the club. Jalal
the kanoun there, of course, before he went to the Pasha. Fadil and his brother Walid Shahin were
a joy to work with before Fadil opened the Casbah (and after-wards, too, of course - just
no longer at the Bagdad). There were two George Eliases who played
the oud - George the
Nice (and his brother, Jad), and George the Jerk. Manny Petros on guitar and Pete
Haramis on bouzouki worked there for quite a while. Tewfik and
Richard Barham, his nephew, were there. Hoshang Moaddeii played
his violin and Asghar Azarvand the kanoun. Some years later, I
ran into Asghar in Sebastopol. He owned a deli, had Americanized
his name to Oscar, and had his kids in the local Christian school.
He looked at me and said, 'You sure look like a dancer I used to
know in San Francisco, named Aziza!" Ho ho! It was, indeed,
I! It is generally such fun to see what has happened to old friends
Baba (Alash) also played occasionally at the
Bagdad during this period. He was a very kind man, and we became friends.
Later, he opened a club on Broadway called Francisco's,
and he had a carpet business, and, for a while, a restaurant/coffee
shop. Naji took me sometimes to dance for Arab functions where he was
playing. He was protective, he always had figs to share, and it was
pleasant to work with him. He also had the first TV show in the Bay
Area featuring strictly Middle Eastern music and belly dancing. There
is a lot to be written just about this lovely man, who died recently.
Other musicians I worked with in
the Bay Area, mainly on outside gigs, included George Bedrosian (oud)
and Allan Ishmael (kanoun). Also the brothers, Joe and Steve Kouyoumjian,
with whom I danced in Jamila's Bal Anat troupe at the Renaissance Pleasure
This is, of course, only a partial
listing of some of the talented men who played while I danced, in the
earlier days of the dance scene in Sam Francisco. Some of them were young
men, some were wizened little old guys, grown that way in the service
of their instruments, but all of them played beautifully that music that
is so dear to me - and I danced.
a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
7-1-00 Jamila and Yousef #3
Even though we
were recognizably taught by Jamila, we were not the cookie-cutter
girls she turned out later.
5-1-00 Working at the Bagdad #2
..in the early days, had to have accents when we talked to the customers, to
carry out the non-girl-next-door thing.
3-22-00 The Beginning #1
came out to dance in the audience, I thought to myself, "She
better not get too near to my husband!"
Beach Part 1
Lessons with Jamila Salimpour (part
2) by Satrinya/Masalima
... would dance instead, without pay.
North Beach Memories Chapter 6: Bert, by Amina
On my first
Monday at the Casa Madrid, Bert came to support the place and me.
Well, what he saw was equivalent to a San Francisco earthquake.