Casbah Orchestra

Exotic Excitement of Enticing Belly Dance Music

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Belly Dance Music is really a marketing category for Western consumers, not a way of classifying Middle Eastern music. At times, this marketing can become indiscriminating. This particular disc represents an extreme example: the ensemble is not named, the country of origin is not named, the date of recording is not mentioned. In addition, the recording is very fuzzy and sounds old, although it probably isn't. It was recorded in mono and was probably re-recorded off of a 33 rpm record; one track has a pop every two seconds. It you can get past the scratchy high end and the murky low end, however, it's not a bad album. The ensemble is a large group for the region, and has the same general sound as someone like Hossam Ramzy. The group features male singer, chorus, oud, tambourines, larger drums, some sort of fiddles, a kanun or santur and a flute -- something less breathy than a ney, more like a recorder. For some tracks finger cymbals and clarinet join it. The second half of the disc is instrumental only and is in a slightly different style (and is clearer) suggesting a two-in-one repackaging by the uninformative Legacy label. Overall, the music is dramatic but a little overdone, with competent performers and professional arrangements. The vocalist is quite good, although his occasional, echoy bawling sounds oddly similar to Tom Jones. The beat on the first half is rather heavy and unsubtle for Middle Eastern music. Add it all up, and it's a good bet that you're looking at night club music from Tangiers: the product of the first wave of Westernization in the 1930s, but probably recorded in the '70s or '80s.

Judging it by its two likely uses, The Exotic Excitement of Enticing Belly Dance Music is a good bargain belly dancing disc if you're not too concerned about the sound quality; for the world music listener, it is a pleasant if frustrating trifle.

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