Gilded Serpent presents...
with Michael Beach of the Brothers of Baladi
on June 15, 2000
We were lucky enough to catch Michael Beach on his way through town
on his most recent tour. He agreed to an interview. We began by talking about how he got involved in the Middle
Eastern music and dance scene--.
I am this normal American guy! The biggest question in my life might be: Why am I
involved in Middle Eastern music? I fell in love with oriental music when I was in
Arizona. I can't explain what draws me to it because I grew up unexposed to any ethnic music.My parents didn't
play any musical instruments or anything. I first heard Middle Eastern music in 1974. I was living in Yuma, Arizona,
teaching sixth grade at the time. A dancer friend turned me on to its sensuous strains. Isn't that the way it sometimes
happens? It was a turning point in my life.
That's when I started the band, which we named "Brothers of the Baladi". I love the
dancers! Though I am doing something different now, Ishmael and I talk about dance
all the time. Where would we be with out you dancers?
As much as we would like to think we could go out and just play, a
lot of the time the dancers are the ones who support us and hire us.
In the beginning, when I first started the band, we didn't know what
we were doing. We were doing it for our fantasy dancers. Now we realize that we were pretty bad then, but we liked
it. Everyone has to start someplace!
After a couple of years playing in Arizona, the music progressed from bad to
"adequate". That's the time I left Arizona and moved to Oregon. I saw and was inspired by Suleman and
Armando of the Band "Sirocco." Just about that time that I met Joseph Pusey. We played music together
for twelve years. During those twelve wonderful years we became better known, and we traveled across the country
presenting our music. We put out three cassettes, "Dance with Gladness", "Food of Love", and
"Beyond the Tenth".
Next, Michael Kearsey joined us, and we became a three-piece band. Michael's
influence is what changed everything for me! He was not from a Belly Dance
background; he was and still is in the music industry, well-known in Blues and R&B
(Rhythm and Blues) with a band called "Upepo". He has brought a professional flavor to our music. Joseph
left the Brothers of the Baladi in 1990. Michael Kearsy was
instrumental in introducing the members of our band to Michael Schrieve of "Santana", and it was he who
produced "Eye in the World" our next CD. A Moroccan guy, Tarik Banzi, replaced Joe. This was about the
time when we started moving into the world music genre and playing gigs at large festivals and colleges. I am happy
to say that now we are playing in more diverse venues! Usually, Brothers of the Baladi tours about twice a year,
back East as well as the on the West Coast. I have always loved playing for Oriental dancers and always will, but
in addition, now we play for everyone to dance. One third of the time we don't even have dancers and we are in
concert. When we do our tours, we "plug in" local dancers to our shows, calling it "Brothers of
the Baladi and Sisters of the Dance".
The newest recording we have is our Christmas CD, and I'm very proud of it. It is titled
"A Time of Peace". It is an instrumental seasonal CD, played on acoustic instruments
but with traditional rhythms. That's part of my thing now. The western world has embraced Reggae, African, and
Latin music, but it never has embraced Middle Eastern music, and probably never will. However,
I think that the Middle Eastern sound deserves to be right up there
with Gloria Estaphan!
I love turning Westerners on to this music! I think I do a good job.
First of all, I am an American and can present it in a very palatable way so that westerners can relate to it and
like it. That is pretty cool! I can still go on a gig playing with a totally traditional band in an Arabic nightclub.
I feel confident that my drumming is totally traditional, but when
The Brothers play, I believe that my singing stands up to a Middle Eastern singer as far as quality, not quantity.
I take great pride in the songs I know and sing. I'm not trying to be an Arab and can't sing like an Arab singer,
and most likely never will. However, I have confidence in what I do with my music.
Our next project will be Middle Eastern CD also. We play the "real
stuff", all traditional music. It's hard to find traditional instrumentation.We would love to add an Arabic violinist.
The band consists of:
· Michael Kearsey on Bass;
· Geoff George on Keyboards and bazouki,
· Dennis Elmer plays a drumset and Middle Eastern drums,
· Brad Rapp plays guitar,
· I sing, play mizmar, mizwiz, tabla baladi (davul), and dumbek.
I'm the main Middle Eastern influence for The Brothers; the rest of the band comes
from other music backgrounds. For instance, Geoff is well know Reggae artist, but
everyone does jazz. Michael and I front a well know Blues and R&B band, "Le Blake".
We will play at the Portland Blues festival in a couple weeks. I wouldn't want to play
Middle Eastern music all the time. I have a regular gig at the "Green Onion" every
Thursday, in Oregon, playing with an Arabic band. 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.
My teaching is a
very important and strong part of my life. I enjoy it, and I believe I'm
good instructor. (I had the first instructional video out on drumming). I will be teaching in Santa Barbara with
Alexandra King on Aug 27, this year. Many dancers do not know much about the music, especially dancing to live
music. It is always a thrill to help them understand.
I approach the subject of musical interpretation as an American who
can help American dancers understand the music to which they are dancing.
For more info on Michael and the Brothers of the Baladi see their website: www.baladi.com