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Gilded Serpent presents...
How to Start a Middle Eastern Band
or How The Arabian Knights Came About

by Amina Goodyear

The dream of having our own band came about when Jacques and I went to Egypt together about three and a half years ago. We spent every night for three weeks at a club or hotel watching dance shows, and fantasizing having musicians at our command; ready, willing and able to play the "ultimate" music to perfection so that our dance shows could also be done to perfection.

We argued about the possibility of realizing our dream. Would it be possible to have musicians and singers be that consistent and (for choreography) play the pieces exactly the same? Our conclusion, after repeatedly seeing some shows at the same clubs, was that, yes! It was possible to have the same pieces played exactly. The energy between musicians, singer(s) and dancer(s) might vary, but the show would always be exact and good. Some shows could be memorable, some exciting, some great, but at least, the they would always be good!

We dreamed of a band that would play music to make us look good always.

This dream band would feature us just like the bands do for the stars in the Middle East! Also, we dreamed of complete Oriental floor shows with choreographed pieces for our group (The Aswan Dancers) accompanied by a band that would really learn the music exactly so the Aswans would always look good. We felt that if the music were arranged to the "T" for our shows, we could perform at our best. There was a hitch, however; how could we accomplish our goal?

Jacques and I also played drums occasionally, so we figured that if we could control a band with our drumming (and counting out measure for measure all the musicals and songs), then we could indeed have a band as exact and consistent as the ones we saw in Egypt. Could we play drums and dance at the same time? This was a dilemma. Of course we couldn't! Well, at least, we could take turns, or maybe we could just play for the group. So we practiced earnestly and invited various musicians and singers to come and practice along with us. Eventually some of our enthusiasm started to wane
as various musicians quit on us. Really, it is not fun to practice songs until at least two hours worth of songs are perfect and ready for performance. Finally, when Jacques and I were left practicing to recorded music, we quit also.

A couple of weeks later Jacques and I went to Rakkasah and wound up our day at The Cleopatra Restaurant. Raed Zawaideh (now professionally known as Raed Tewfiq) and Hussein Dixon were playing the keyboard and oud. Nobody was drumming that night, so we ingratiated our way into (Ahem) "helping them out." Because of our participation that night, we were able to return to my studio and form yet another band. This time the band included Raed and Hussein. We rehearsed every Wednesday evening again, but to achieve a fuller Middle Eastern sound, Jacques played solo drum while I played tambourine or duf. After a few months of this type of rehearsal, we finally felt strong
enough to get a job.

We started working every Wednesday and Friday evening at the Grapeleaf Restaurant in San Francisco. However, we would still get together and practice new songs, work on old songs and talk about where we wanted to go. We did know one thing; we were no longer a "garage" band. We were "THE ARABIAN KNIGHTS" and we would stick together.

Things went well for a little over a year, but due to a disagreement with
the management at
The Grapeleaf, I quit. The rest of the "Arabian Knights" said that they would quit too; however, we agreed that they would quit only after we all found another venue in which to perform. This new venue turned out to be The Amira Restaurant (also in San Francisco).

We were once again, faced with another hitch; the stage and management couldn't accommodate all four of us on the same night, so we all ended up working at The Amira, but not altogether.

One night Loay Dahbour (the original drummer with Raed and Hussein from the Cleopatra days) came into The Amira, and he was excited . He wanted us to get together and have a band meeting. We met a week later at my house: Jacques,Loay, Raed, Susu, Hussein (by telephone) and me. Loay had heard of a place that was looking for an Arabic band! It was a Latin club. So we talked about our goals and decided we would go Latin/Arabic. We found old Latinized Arabic songs and new ones like " Habibi Nour al Ain" and we felt that, with lots of rehearsal (to which were were already accustomed), and by using Spanish and Arabic words, along with Latin intruments and a heavy percussion section, we could promote our new fusion sound.

Naturally, all bands need a leader. Jacques, a natural leader, and the most charismatic person I've ever known, became our leader.

Jacques and I were the happy percussionists once again. Leaders sometimes have to take other roles (such as the un-fun job of actually managing and keeping a band together). We asked Reda Darwish to join us so that Jacques would be more free to jump off the stage to work on sound levels. Raed played keyboard while Hussein played the oud and was our lead singer. Eventually, we asked Fadi Hanani to join us as our main singer, with Raed and Jacques singing back up and with me doing back up lip syncing. It was so much fun! "The Aswan Dancers" performed ensemble dances during the break and took turns dancing solo. It was such a great feeling to be one happy family, doing just exactly what we all wanted to do!

Jacques' dual role as both drummer and our leader is the best thing that happened to our band. His upbeat energy, choice of modern popular songs, and even his nagging to make us learn more new songs, sets us apart from other Arabic bands. We are a lively dance band rather than a "sit down and listen" band. We also are constantly adding new sounds. Our latest addition, Fouad Marzouk, adds the traditional sounds of the kanoun to the band. Best of all, though, is that we are developing a "following"! It is embarrassing, but also wonderful, to get to our gig known as "
Salamat Sundays" at El Valenciano Restaurant and have some of our audience patiently waiting there before our arrival.

All of this happened over a year ago, and we are still going strong. We are still happy and still very excited about doing what we always dreamed of doing: Dancing, playing, and singing Arabic music. For me, our band is my "dream-come-true".

Much has happened in the year and a half since we, 'The Arabian Knights", began our Salamat Sundays. Jacques is not only our leader, percussionist and singer, but now he is also an expert sound engineer and DJ. (He started playing dance songs "DJ" style during the band's break, and recently started a "DJ" international night called Kaza Blanka at El Valenciano on Thursday evenings.) I have a place where I can play music, dance, lip-sync, and have fun. But there is still the dilemma. Can we play and dance at the same time? We're working on that.

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

5-3-01 Fouad Marzouk, Interview by Amina Goodyear
I remember at first feeling intimidated dancing to one of Soheir Zaki's musicians.

8-12-00 Dancing on the Edge by Amina
I learned from the first evening chasing Fatma around the stage that in order to have a serious dance company in the Egyptian style, I had to seriously play with the appearance of disorder.

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