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Gilded Serpent presents...
A Giza Club Lecture
Wacky Woman Traveler-
Leyla Lanty

by Amina Goodyear

Leyla Lanty was the guest speaker at the Giza Club on Sunday, July 22. She was going to tell us of her recent trip to Cairo where she went for a little dance and R and R from Silicon Valley. The Giza Club met a little before Leyla began her talk to work out some details on membership, future activities and how to make the web ( more accessible to members. Any members wishing to volunteer time for administrative duties are welcome to come forward.

Leyla settles into her Cairo apartment
True to Giza Club tradition, the members met first to eat, drink and chat. According to Giza time, Leyla's talk started about an hour later with Giza members ready to digest the cakes, cookies, chips, fruit and drinks and listen as the Wacky Woman Traveler told her tales. Leyla sat in the traditional leopard covered Giza chair and wore a leopard shirt to blend in. She first donned a beautiful caftan printed with "King Tut" designs and told us how Egyptian women always have a caftan handy by the front door of the apartments, just in case. This caftan was for wear around the house and for use as a nightgown.

If you live the nightlife because of the heat being almost unbearable in the day, you may get a visitor before you are out of bed. It's convenient to be able to roll out of bed and answer the doorbell without having to find a robe or caftan with which to cover up. You will already be wearing it. One such example is: the meter reader coming to the door. Leyla said that in Cairo the electric meters are read inside the apartments, and the meter readers come whenever, so it is handy to have something cool and presentable to wear as a cover up for less modest clothing. She proceeded to tell us that after the meter reader leaves, about a week or so later another person comes to collect the bill (in person). She said that business transactions are generally done in cash as checking accounts are only for businesses. The phone bill is paid once a year, cash also. The telephone is included in the rent of short term rentals. In order to avoid big bills, the owner of the apartment restricts the telephone to local calling. Being restricted to local calls can be an inconvenience if you need to reach someone who has a cell phone because in Egypt calling a cell phone is the same as "long distance".

After introducing us to Cairo life, Leyla showed us her "trip book". It is a handy book that she uses whenever she travels. The first sheet in it is a packing list which she said she would share with others wishing to be as organized as she. The packing list consisted of items one would need while living in an apartment in Cairo. She methodically discussed the list, which included items of personal toiletry, clothing, handy household items, and books. Her trip book also had a list of phone numbers from the Cairo newspaper "Egyptian Gazette": bank, embassy, hotels, tourist offices, night clubs, as well as personal phone numbers of friends and connections in Egypt. Leyla discovered that one whole district, Dokki, had new prefixes and she needed new numbers for special people such as Raqia Hassan. Leyla had with her a travel diary with a calendar and her passport number. In it, she wrote impressions, notes, comments on the weather and traffic, and how much she was spending. She keeps a "gift list" that records what was purchase and how much was spent. Leyla also maintains a list of "what to do"; and a current address book.

After Leyla told us how she found her apartment, which was having a Cairene friend go from "bawab" to "bawab asking about vacancies ". (The bawabs, are usually Saidis, Egyptians from the south of Egypt, sometimes including Nubians who are known for their honesty and who are the door men and, essentially, the building's caretakers.) Then

she settled in by relaxing Cairo style which means sitting at home, peeling oranges, and drinking tea. It is unbelievable but ya don't hafta run around all the time!

The Family of Drummers
Leyla began telling us about her adventures in Cairo.
Leyla is friends with Said el Artiste the Egyptian drummer we hear on many recordings including her CD "Ma btishaloosh leh?". During her visit to Cairo this past June, 2001, Said invited her to attend Drum concert. This concert turned out to be a recital of his drum school. However, this was not a recital as we know it. Although many of the drummers were students, it seems that to be a member of the Artiste family, one had better learn to drum.

Leyla said that when a boy is born in this family, a drum is bought for him. No matter that the drum is bigger than him. "He will grow into it."

She said amid the long line of fifteen percussionists on the stage were two of Said's brothers, Sokar (yes, Sugar) and Dedda (dancer Dina's main percussionist). There were fifteen, mostly professional, back up tabla players (Egyptian for drum) and the seven or eight dufs (wood frame drums similar to tambourines) and a student tura (cymbal) player.

They played their own routines and they backed up all the other soloists except the Nubian group. This drum band did not include a riq (tambourine) player. They were so well rehearsed that even without Said conducting them, they were able to make the many drums sound as one. The drumming varied in intensity; sometimes loud, and louder, and then bright, and brighter. At one point, they faded down many decibels and the audience, as if on cue, gasped - at the synchronicity and the musicality of the playing.

The next group was teenagers and very young adults doing a Nubian piece. They had flat hand drums hanging from their necks flat against their abdomens and they played the drums with flat sticks. They were accompanied by Said standing in typical drummer stork position (one foot on a chair) playing his tabla with one hand, using a flat stick. The playing technique was vaguely eminiscent of that for the Tabla Beledi (the large Saidi bass drum).

The next act was Dedda's two sons, one aged 7 and a very short 11 year old named, believe it or not - Hummos. These two boys played so hard on drums proportionately too large for them that the senior Artiste's had to help hold the drums in place. Hassan Anwar, the tambourine player, did a long solo with technique not to be believed. At one point he balanced--did not hold--the tambourine on his hand and proceeded to do a series of rhythmic changes while continuously rolling and shaking the tambourine. Said also featured women percussionists and played duets with a woman drummer and riq player. This recital was really a bargain too. Only 10 Egyptian pounds! Not to be confused with the English pound, the 10 Egyptian pounds are equal to about $2.50. Besides Said's drum school, there is also a state run music school.

The Music Scene
Though it was only $2.50 U.S. to see a drum concert, the nightclub shows in the five-star hotel nightclubs (the few that are still doing shows) run a minimum of $65-$75. This does seem quite high, but then this usually includes a full meal and a show featuring big stars from midnight until 4:00 or 5:00 or later (not including beverages and/or bottled water). Although many of the shows seem to be losing their quality dancers and folkloric shows because of economics, Leyla did see and meet many famous dancers and musicians. She also saw and met dancers and musicians the natives' way, in the street, or rather, in the coffee houses situated in the street or square around the Khan.

Leyla told us of one incident where she had become acquainted with some young musicians who would hang out and perform for free after hours at a Khan el Khalili coffee shop. (They seem always to be dressed and ready for action, in tuxes.) Later she saw them again on a subsequent trip to Egypt as featured singers with their own bands!

Hard work and familiarity pays off. Leyla told us, as a result of hanging out in these Khan el Khalili coffee houses, she had several opportunities to perform at various parties.

Life in Cairo exists in the coffee houses for many of the men. The women "like" to stay home, but the men "need" to play backgammon and dominoes in coffee houses.

Nowadays, women can go in more coffee houses besides just el Fishawi in the Khan, but usually they must be escorted in order to be considered respectable. Across the street from the Khan el Khalili is a wonderful stone mosque/palace-like building of Islamic design. It is home to the government -sponsored tanoura troupe (whirling dervishes). They give an awe-inspiring, breath-taking, yet spiritual performance. However, after hours, you can find them also playing music and dominoes in the coffee houses at the Khan. Sometimes, though, they have to be reminded to turn off all cell phones which play Arabic tunes instead of ringing.

Leyla showed us some beautiful costumes she bought at Mahmoud's, which is also in the Khan el Khalili. As she said, she didn't really need another two or three costumes, but how can one not buy a few costumes when the "price is right"?

Showing the costumes led her to stories of the dance festival in Cairo. I must admit, I was green with envy when she told us that she (and another 150 to 200 attendees) got to dance along with beautiful Soheir Zaki and do three choreographies for three hours. These were typical "I do, you follow, I do again, you follow again" format. What better way is there to learn and capture the spirit of the beledi of MY favorite dancer, than to dance along and hope some of it rubs off? Oh, well! She got to dance along, not me, but at least I got to hear about it, all for $60. That's only $20 a dance!

By the way, it seems true: Westerners can't ever dance like Egyptians! If you're not dancing with the music coming out of your ears, your body, your pores, you're not dancing. If you don't know the idioms and are unaware of all the customs and cultural Miscellany, how can you really "Dance like an Egyptian"? Many of us try, many of us are almost there, but are we even close?

The Cairo Dance Festival, produced by Mme. Raqia Hassan, did not just feature Soheir Zaki. It featured Kayria Maazin and two of her fellow Ghawazee dancers and many new rising stars of Cairo. Surprisingly they were not all foreigners.

Leyla saw Dina in costumes she described as brief, briefer and briefest. She saw Egyptian Amani do a nice, but not very emotional show. She saw rising star Bedia and the new Soheir -- a kind of "Dina look alike" and Leyla told us of her new favorite rising star - Randa. Randa, wearing a short jungle outfit danced with Fifi-style pizzazz and Soheir Zaki-style emotions. All in all, the rising stars seemed to be following Dina's trend of brief and briefer. How can she get away with that? There were many cut outs, minis, micros, sheers, and what seemed to be skirts with built-in panties. Were they, perhaps, to help keep the decency level from rising above the level of the crotch?

Raqia presented some Brazilian dancers and featured some of her protégés, such as the Russian dancer Noor. Noor is technically perfect, but she still doesn't "get it". Yet.

Besides dancing with Soheir Zaki, another highlight of Leyla's trip was performing at the Alhambra Nightclub at the Cairo Sheraton. After Leyla finished her talk describing her performance, and some favorable comments from Dr. Mo Gedawi, we went back to our cakes and cookies and wished that we, too, had been there. When reality set in, we decided to finish the night dancing along with the music of the Arabian Knights while dreaming of Leyla's real life Arabian Nights.

So ended another fun Giza Club meeting.

Ready for more?
More by Amina-
8-31-01 Make a Giza Club!
...She was to become our first Wacky Woman Traveler...

11-12-01 SUMMER CARAVAN 2001, Scottish Rite Center, July 28 & 29, 2000 by Susie Poulelis
another beautiful photo spread by Susie

11-4-01 Tribute to Dalilah!
Dalilah began dancing in the 1950s...passed on September 18, 2001



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