Sami Nossair Orchestra

Beyond the Desert: Classical Egyptian Belly Dance

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Once again, Movses Panossian bucks the trend in world music marketing and issues a fine recording of historical Egyptian belly dancing music by one of the finest ensembles that practices the art form of performing it. Sami Nossair & His Orchestra reside in Cairo and have been playing the Egyptian classical repertoire for three decades, complete with an assortment of antiquated musical instruments to go alongside new ones and a percussion section that rivals virtually any Middle Eastern band on the planet. The music for belly dancing is very specific and formal when compared to other Middle Eastern forms: It is a ceremonial music, full of spaces for ritual and movement. There is a great emphasis placed on repetition of themes and in the variations through which the tale of the dance is told. The strings hold forth -- violins, ouds, lutes, sazes, cellos, and violas -- as purveyors of the narrative framework as the percussion section fills in the individual elements of the story. The dancers are regal in their splendor and majestic in the way their bodies highlight the musical embellishments of their narrational postures. This is authentic, extremely sophisticated music that's rarely been heard like this in the West; it is moving, dramatic, and as finely wrought as the shimmering bellies of the women who dance to it.

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