Name Dropping : Tales from My San Francisco Nightclub

by Barnaby Conrad
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Paperback - 212 pages (February 1997)


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Lemi Pasha

The Gilded Serpent presents...
The Music and Musicians
by Aziza!

Our staff columnist continues sharing her experiences on North Beach

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) (kanoun), Antoine 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.

Mr. Salimpour

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 Takesh played 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 and associates.

Naji 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 Faire.

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.


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Ready for more
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 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
When she came out to dance in the audience, I thought to myself, "She better not get too near to my husband!"

North Beach Part 1

10-17-00 My Lessons with Jamila Salimpour  (part 2) by Satrinya/Masalima
... would dance instead, without pay.

8-15-07 Amina's North Beach Memories Chapter 6: Bert, by Amina Goodyear
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.


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