Getting the accents right - Outi and Monir Abdel Aziz /

Pondering serious issues

The most important ingredient

Reda Saad

Nader Zakaria with his tools

Safaa Farid with his tea


Greetings from Cairo part V
Published in Ishtar 2/2007

Recording studio, intensive course

In the beginning there was dancer, audience and band

I've been in a great position in the sense that music has not been an issue when working. My own band plays the songs I want and usually follows me with success. Problems arise the few times that for one reason or another my orchestra is not with me at my gig. I will desperately go through a pile of CDs, and can't seem to find any proper music. There is only one solution to this dilemma: making my own music.

Approbatur, the cabaret piece

Almost every performing artist in Cairo has music composed especially for her. Muchancee, the cabaret piece that begins the show, is the most important trademark for the dancer. In her hayday Nagwa Fouad paid fortunes to different composers. She constantly purchased new music and is rumoured to have paid the price of a small apartment building for one cabaret composition. We dancers of later generations should be grateful for her very famous songs that are so much danced to such as Set el Hosen or Pink Lady.

To follow the lead of other dancers I too had a cabaret piece composed for me. Reda Saad has worked with me for a long time, so he knows my style. When I was vacationing in Finland in the spring of 2006 Reda began scribbling down notes at my request. Actually musicians here don't need notes, they play everything by ear, which keeps me puzzled. After my return it was time for studio. First the piece was taught to the other musicians and finally recorded on tape. From the beginning the melodies and rhythms seemed to fall into place and I was very satisfied.

I listened to the music on tape time and time again and steps began to form. I seeked ideas from Aida Nour to better comprehend the piece. Her impressions and the tones she picked up in the music gave some precious depth into the processing of the piece. After digesting some ideas Reda, the rest of the team and I went through the song second by second. We discussed how I would dance the part in question and how I would work the accents and the pauses.

The result of this was that Reda and the rest of the team managed to create a piece that makes you dance and brings a smile to your face. It has been much liked by dancers as well as audiences, and I heard afterwards that one famous Egyptian dancer had wanted to buy it from me. For your information: I ain't selling.

Cum Laude, Shadia from way back

Shadia is a beloved singer, who left the stage many years ago and has since begun wearing the veil. Shadia's merits include many albums and movie roles. A couple of years back, for a reason unknown to me, her song En Rah Minnik Ya Ain resurfaced. I heard the song while working in Sheraton and fell for it immediately. I didn't hesitate for a second - I had to have it!

In between shows at the Nile Maxim my manager Safaa Farid and Reda went through different verses with me. Because the version of a song meant for dancing usually needs to be edited quite a bit, it's important to find the verses with the most functional rhythms, melodies and lyrics for dancing. Of course every dancer has their own vision and style, so they can end up with totally different versions. I'm grateful for Safaa's expertise and experience: he gave me valuable advice and viewpoints, but was always ready to listen to my observations and wishes aswell.

The lyrics of this song include a little trick for those who understand Arabic. In the chorus the lyrics insist that the heart only loves once, not twice. My persistent request was that Safaa sing the last time around that the heart loves ten times, not only twice. This gives the dancer a chance to end her performance with a twinkle in her eye.

Laudatur, recording studio in maximum speed

First the songs must be selected. As a Finn my knowledge of Arabic music is still a tad limited. Fortunately Safaa doesn't have such restrictions. Under his guidance I listened to one song after the other. Together we discussed different options and gave a buzz to a buddy whenever the best option was missing lyrics, melody or title.

As for recording there are two options. In a live recording the musicians march into the booth and everyone plays like there's no tomorrow. The result will either pass or not. If there are flaws, there will be another take, at least partially. No mixing can be done to the track and the product is ready at once. Live recording brings a special flavor into the music, since it really is recorded on spot. Working through one song this way takes a few hours.

Most of the time though recording with guide is preferred. The guide is first played on the keyboard. This is one of the most important phases. Tempo, pauses and other details are finalized here. They cannot be changed later on. After this each instrument is recorded one at a time onto its own track, so it takes a lot more time than recording live.

Actual instruments can be used or their sounds can be digged out of the keyboard. The more musicians rush through the door, the more expensive the recording will be. On the other hand the quality is on a whole different level when the instruments have real strings and skins and the sound is not produced electronically. Tones are crucial especially for the cabaret piece. Music must have depth, because it gives the first impression of the dancer and there are no lyrics yet. Om Kalthoum songs are a chapter of their own. Her voice alone is a carefully tuned instrument, so one shouldn't settle for less when playing her songs with an orchestra either.

A quality recording alone is not enough. After that the tracks must be mixed together, the finetuning takes time and patience, as anywhere in the world. At this phase I understood how important it is to work with a professional team. Without a skillful bunch even the greatest ideas won't materialize into a functional whole. In addition to the previously mentioned Safaa and Reda I had the fortune of getting Nader Zakaria, the owner of the studio, as a mixer and technical engineer, and he is someone who relentlessly seeks for perfection. Monir Abdel Aziz brainstormed with us. In real life he is a top notch tabla player. He took great pride in designing my baladi and he also created the drum solo according to my requests for professionals to dance to.

Liters of tea fuel music making in Egypt. But the single most important ingredient is 'surprisingly' tobacco. I had many laughs as the previous cigarette was still burning in the ashtray as the next one was already being lit. Of course the hardest part was the recording itself. They always needed a hit beforehand. As Safaa was singing, every break that lasted beyond three seconds called for some poison into the lungs of the artist. Since the time for puffing was very limited, it turned nearly manic.

Overall the entire process takes a great amount of work. The whole studio mayhem took several months. Good planning and persistence can be heard in the outcome. Everything is just as it should be and not halfway there.

I finished these studies and after all this mayhem I'm holding in my hands a brand new CD Al Amoura.

with Love,




Photo by Päivi Arvonen

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