TribalCon 10 Highlights

Impromptu ATS by Ziah and friends

Impromptu ATS by Ziah and friends

Mabrook to TribalCon on their 10th Conference! It was another impressive and warm weekend for the mind, body and spirit. Lots of new faces and stellar salutes to the Mommas and the Poppas – founders of what the culture (or as I learned today (Morocco)) refers to as American Tribal Style. Lady Carolena mentioned that she felt one could have called it “Modern” Tribal Style and I agree with her. That also makes sense for so many reasons…but we’ll save that cultural conversation for another day.

Friday’s Show – My Favourites
Banat Almeh…really cool to see some MBD items on one of their young ladies. Their performances were not that of students but highly skilled professionals. The balancing of the swords on chins, backs of one’s shoulders and countless other body parts…yeah, that’s not “student” material.  Mabrook to these ladies…they were an amazing show opener – hands down spectacular…loved it!!

Bazi – stunning!

Sasha – sensual and superb!

Rafiah Dance Company… dear G-d… can that even be repeated? I’m still speechless at what I saw. The use of the song Roxanne (Moulin Rouge version) , the emotion, spectacular costuming, very clean, professional and gorgeous.

Shakra was completely moving… my soul was lifted.  They were impressive and inspiring…

Seeing Carolena, founder of Fat Chance Bellydance perform was…a religious experience, need I say more? I fought back tears… During their performance I was overwhelmed watching Ziah dance and go completely majnoona next to me in the most spirit shifting way. It was like seeing myself at a Nigerian wedding…just being me, enjoying my culture. I feel she was in her element. What a full circle moment to see the ATS troupe that I have admired for 15 years as I stand next to one of the people for which I moved to Atlanta so I could enjoy as much raqs sharqi as I wanted from she and her team… yeah, it was another PERFECT evening and I felt EXTREMELY blessed.

Got to see so many of my favourite people from Jendayi and her cool peeps to those I only get to see two times a year… (i.e. Assim, the first male ATS dancer I’d ever seen (1998)- loved his supportive comments during Bazi’s set)

The famous Hamer sisters!

The famous Hamer sisters!

Saturday’s Show – Live Music

For  me, there were 5-6 performances that really stood out. Jahara Phoenix, Banat Almeh, Teejei/ChristySmith/Majda’s violin solo combo (sorry I don’t know the name of the other dancer and I can’t find my program), The Hamer Sisters (both sets) and the ATS group impromptu set…not to mention the LIVE music was more than outstanding. It was a huge treat that paid such respect to the great classic tunes of African, Middle Eastern art and global dance. It’s very hard to revert away from this LIVE format because it is just too powerful to ignore. I want to say hats off to Majda who played the violin brilliantly and was a force up there not only with her gorgeous ensemble but with her spirit. While I miss her on stage as a dancer I think I feel more of her spirit through her music. I’m grateful she is doing both. Mabrook wa helowa antee!

Let’s  talk about JP – my word, everyone I spoke with (and I do mean EVERYONE)  was like, “ummm, what don’t they do?!” I was shocked to high heaven to see JP and fellow dancers from other groups and bands so to speak singing, playing instruments and more with great skill as though they’ve been doing this for decades. Heidi is on the zills, there’s singing, the playing of frame drums and the whole nine yards as Sherar perform. Then as they leave the stage Nikki Jamilah, Heidi and another gorgeous girl in their troupe that I have a girl crush on start dancing with some of Jaki’s henna art instruments looking like various goddesses. Where’s the video for this…omg, whaaaat?! Let me declare, they won me over and many others. JP is a tough act to follow and excel way beyond their call each and every year with extraordinary cultural salutes that leave their fans and new audience members talking about them with respect for months and months. They even incorporated moves I’ve seen on legends like Donna Mejia…there were so many cultural salutes there that I was speechless and my soul fled. This was a moment I will not ever forget… I was so smitten I had a dream about the performance and have been “shaking” ever since…yeah, that happened.

The Hamer Sisters  – I learned about these ladies AFTER their performance. I had no idea that these were the ladies I used to watch on Pennsic videos and stare at for hours in the various Pennsic photo albums. I had those video clips saved in an email draft and would literally spend hours watching their every move. Christy Smith, singer with Allah Yustur band, told me about them and their relation to Awalim. Everything they did made sense to me. Their performance/presentation was “culturally familiar.” It recognised so much of the “real” India that I dare say none of what they did was fantasy or something they “made up” because I’ve actually seen this growing up. There were groups that would visit us for holidays and put on music and dance shows…some legit, some underground and I saw ALL of that in the first performance. Their second one, featuring all three sisters, was even more extraordinary because they did moves that I have only seen in North African tribes, “dwellers” and those that travel from South Asia into Iran and North Africa. I don’t know if that was their intention but I know I’ve seen that before. My heart just lit up like a desert flame. I was so happy to see this incredible music being used the way it still is in many eastern (and African) regions. I’m a big fan of these sisters, I had no idea that they were members of Ghawazee. Valizan helped me realise that just today…I’m totally…just so grateful I can’t find a way to put it into words…this was on! Wow, what an honour.

The Grand Trio w/the band -Smith/Anwar/Teejei ++
This was a great salute to the songs used, one Turkish and the other Arabic (Lamma Bada). The costuming, the way in which they interpreted the piece and the segue from one song to the next, just prove, yet again, how well researched, knowledgeable…and CREATIVE Atlanta’s raqs community is. Members of Awalim (past and present + those who come in for conferences and presentations)  have often shown their knowledge through movement. They are not taking their lessons and history then going out in left field doing a hodge podge, instead, they are taking it to heart and really putting forth something that is understandable, cultured and can be presented to not only an “American Tribal Style” crowd but a global one. This set was moving, soul stirring and overall “complete.” Christy added a little more to Lamma Bada than expected and it worked…the band just “flowed” with her… and that spoke volumes about those musicians…more impressive is the fact that they don’t even live in the same town but could pull that off… puleeeezze, you can’t say they don’t express ta’arab… it was flooding the entire auditorium. Standing Ovation!! Mabrook!!! ::throws flowers::

Banat Almeh –
These daughters of Awalim have surpassed the level of “students” in so many ways. I loved their tahtib presentation to classic Arabic music. Their outfits were perfect, long thin ghawazee style sheaths with bra tops. They had slender tahtib/sticks and did a very simple routine featuring the “spinning of the cane.” I loved it from start to finish. Having it accompany live music made “the culture” come alive…reminds me of haflas past and great dinner shows featuring legends visiting the area… I miss this and Banat Almeh gave me (and I’m sure many others) a little trip “home.” Merci, shukran! xoxoxo

The  Lecture – What is ATS?
I went to one lecture this year…and that was Lady Carolena’s talk on “What is ATS?” I don’t want to try and condense it. I think this is something everyone needs to hear for themselves in person. Brief highlights for me were hearing that Morocco (my favourite Aunt so to speak) named this genre “American Tribal Style.” There was also a shoutout  to one of my favourite Tribal Raqs artists, Valizan of the Shades of Araby (Canada).  Those in attendance sure walked away with gold…and memories to last a lifetime. Good stuff!

AND to top it all off…MARGARET CHO SHOWED UP… (~~~shockwaves~~~ ) ::drops mic and pen::

Candid Moment featuring Jahara Phoenix and Sherar

Candid Moment featuring Jahara Phoenix and Sherar

Great Conference!

At the end of the day I’m grateful for those like Jahara Phoenix, Awalim and the Hamer sisters who do as much research as possible followed by an  embrace of ethnic music coupled with salutes to the cultures of which the music originated. I’ve noticed that they admire and are influenced by more than just the American icons of “bellydance.” Most of all, I’ll always be grateful for the kind faces and warm embraces that those troupes have given “different” people like me who have wandered into the world of American Tribal Style. I hope to continue to support them and see them at their best!

Thanks for reading!


Review – Open Mic @ Steve’s Live Music (February)

crowded house as Steve's

crowded house at Steve’s

First off, hats off and ‘Good job Jenny,’ who came storming fashionably down the walkway at 8pm, on time! She also introduced Haleisha and other special guests that were in the audience plus the sponsors of the event/contributors of door prizes and more. She also gave lots of love for Steve and his team. Her goals always seem to be to show as much appreciation as possible and that’s admirable.

She and Haleisha, who is such a great MC, clear and understandable, announced the performers before each set. Though the show went fast, it was filled with top quality raqs art and energy. I’m not sure if this is a result of practice, new found dedication or a little bit of the Salimpour spirit from an earlier show this month…perhaps all three.

You may have already seen the line-up:
Jendayi Dance Company
Karma Karmelita
Oliva & B
Amirah Bey
Jaki Hawthorne in a solo
Black Sheep Ensemble in live music

Black Sheep Ensemble - Top Notch!

Black Sheep Ensemble – Top Notch!

Here are some highlights from the show…

Karma Karmalita was hot! She had impeccable, excellent execution from start to finish, a bit of a hot pepper at the start (something Tarik used to catch me on in my early days as dancer) but she managed it… overall, this is what one pays to see. I would hire her in heartbeat. She had an incredible drum solo and was indeed one of the top notch soloist of the night… the room was speechless at times, hung on her every move. Standing ovation from me, loved how she worked that bedluh, very professional. Very nice!

While the band set up, we did a little trivia. That was fun. It was branded the Faaridah and Andye Trivia hour out of respect for a great bellydance trivia game played at Fanoos during the AFBD show. I suggest everyone brush up on their dance history, costume terminology, Arabic language skills and more because this tradition is not going away. There will be bigger prizes and maybe even money for correct answers in the future. Big thanks to all the prize contributors including Amani who provided tickets to the 3rd Dancers’ Intensive. And to MBD for the tribal necklace from…so many great prizes that night! Who won the henna design??

Black Sheep Ensemble followed the trivia…and wow… This is what I like to dance to… my goodness… I want them at every single event! Every. Single. One. The power of those horns…was majestic. The dancer provided the zills and dance leads…they sang…it was unreal. We NEED that energy, nothing compares!

Amani with Tahtib

Stealing the show tonight was Amani Jabril!
I mean, we were up dancing in the clap section within seconds of her getting to the stage. It was just …ohhh man, I swear… anyone that does Tahtib well…is a friend of mine. I was just enamored, smitten and channeling the uncles tonight. She was so good I shot up out of my seat like the man in the yellow jacket at Dina’s (Al Msr) show. I mean she laid down the law with some truly authentic, original pieces known only to those in the east and hard to replicate in the west (but by darn she did it!) She gave us a very polished, raw and perfect first dance, then Amani worked that tahtib and produced a number so powerful the entire house just lost it in admiration. She ended with the infamous and respected “drop the mic” (in this case, tahtib) moment which sent the crowd into a well-deserved roar of applause. I felt very “at home” at that moment. I long for these types of dances at every single show…I’ve seen them attempted but no one does it like Amani. Mabrook ya jamila!!!

Black Sheep Ensemble ended the night for us with stellar music and tunes…again, this band is crucial for a good show, I’m convinced. I loved them from start to finish…even if their warm up did interfere with our trivia hour. Lol!

Everyone brought their A-game and I’m seriously eager to see this series continue! Shukran Jenny and Steve!

Thanks for reading!

Elated About Lunar New Year – Year of the Horse

Lunar New Year Dragon

Lunar New Year Dragon

Lunar New Year has been fun thus far. I spent the first weekend of it at the Taipei Cultural Arts Centre in Dunwoody. Saturday was packed with what could have well been over 500 people in an auditorium, many standing near the stage watching group after group do cultural dances.

imageThere were so many gorgeous dance routines on the stage, I don’t even know where to begin. Some of my favourite dancers included those with water sleeves, long sleeve dances and those from the western most sections of China. I thought I saw Turkistan represented as well but I’m not sure…the dance movements, the very pronounced wrist twirling and intricate outfits reminded me of that area. I love the culture in that part of China because it’s so close to what we do in our own African, Middle Eastern, African/Asian communities. To see these traditions come to life every year by our local Asian community is heart warming. The goreous clothing, beautiful hair styles and soul grabbing music, it’s hard not to swoon and praise the dancers and performers. This was really touching.

One of my favourite dances was that of a soloist wearing an outfit that seemed to represent every ethnic group that has ever roamed the eastern hemisphere. There were the traditional dropped ruffles found in Spain and West Africa, she had the wrists and hip movements of someone in Egypt and Lebanon, the music could have been a myriad of any place in the east and she herself was just stunning and performing with fantastic rhythm! I don’t even know how to describe it, you just had to be there.

imageThere was an additional group that was described as a women in their 70s and 80s who dance together often. They were very youthful in colourful dresses and jingling hipscarves. They danced to the PCDolls, “Loosen Up My Buttons?” Is that the name of the song? They were darling with their intricate hip movements and big smiles on their faces; bright, bold and stellar!

This year there were many non-ethnic chinese families. Lots of African-Asian Exchange members and their families, some swirled and multi-national, I felt right at home. I loved that! This is a really good sign. I was happy to see all of the different cultures, cheering on the children and young adults. I met one lady doing research on our community and detailed too her my experience as an African living in a majority Asian community for many years. There were also several officials up for re-election and they spoke, giving words of encouragement and helping us better understand how important it is to get out and vote as we need to have a place/representation at the table. I think I cheered and clapped the loudest on this because I firmly believe in being active on the political front.

As with any cultural event you get those that have no idea what any of this means. There was one group of youngsters who were very loud and made stereotypical newbie comments thinking this was going to be full of anime characters and aficionados… ummm, no. This isn’t AWA, this is Lunar New Year, and though some of us were dressed in Asian streetstyle clothing, which is elaborate and mistakenly “character” in itself, we were not there to see our favourite video game icons. We were there for ancient traditions and to gather and see those of mulitple generations’ dedication to carry the torch for their ethnic group, there’s nothing comical about that.

Sunday in Orient Square is always my favourite, love this lion and dragon group.

Sunday in Orient Square is always my favourite, love this lion and dragon group.

Lunar New Year remains one of my favourite holidays and I go to great lengths to spend two days dancing and celebrating with the dragon these holiday weekends. I really take it seriously and do hope that in the coming years we have a well-defined dinner, dance weekends, hotel hobbit parties and anything else we can squeeze into the 15 days. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Thanks for reading!

Serenaded by Sensational Suhalia Salimpour & her Band

Suhaila and her band...

Suhaila and her band…

It was a star-studded night at the 14st Playhouse yesterday evening. Dance troupes, show sponsors, long time supporters of the Raqs Arts and local business came out to enjoy what was absolutely one of the most soul-stirring Live Music shows we’ve had in at least a year.

Suhaila Salimpour and her band laid down the law last night with raw, passionate energy. This was the old school classic of a live band plus sole dancer. You don’t get that just anywhere. For the past decade we’ve seen this type of show turn into a festival of dancers with gala extravaganzas featuring 20+ artists (professional and amateur) performing to recorded music, some using the same music twice…but not last night. That BIG show we all long for was reigned in by the one and only Suhaila herself and that extraordinary band.

Fantastic Faaridah

Fantastic Faaridah

The evening began with a very generous note of praise and thank yous to the “elite of Atlanta” filled audience by Faaridah, one of the principal leaders of AFBD and member of raqs troupe Amoraat. A group from Wells Fargo was in the house as were major sponsors like The theatre had few empty seats and you could have heard a pin drop at times as we sat mezmerized and curious as to what this improv solo show would entail next.

From start to finish the band held strong, playing classics we all know and love, mainly Egyptian and included two pieces of what has been termed “Electro-Chaabi” by some in the region. THAT was a treat…talk about bringing back the roots of raqs…wala, yani, that was it right there. Suhaila’s gait was one of ta’arab and powerful emotion that we all felt from our hearts to the soles of our feet. We swooned with her every move, just soaking up this opportunity to enjoy her and that fantastic band for 90 minutes non stop. There were no glitches, no music breakdowns, just full on raqs madness and middle eastern music at its finest. It was extremely hard to sit still, to not get up and go nuts, throwing roses or one’s jacket as has been seen in the past.

For me personally, I found myself closing my eyes and drifting off to days gone by, weddings, henna haflas, basement parties in our international community and even car rides where these classic hits played loud and clear on LBC or classic remastered cds that just came in from Egypt and Lebanon to our local neighbourhood store. Those were the days we danced and attempted to not think about looming wars, financial hardships of the youth and middle class or the ongoing fighting and conflicts in our home countries. Those were the times when we as various ethnic groups were attending University, getting along, dancing together after tea or coffee and mimicking the legends on TV in the parking lot or warehouse of baba and uncles store. They were some of the most joyous moments of our lives despite the hell that lingered in the air from political strife…so to have that scene repainted LIVE in a theatre just made me and many other international community members (most in the VIP section, cause you know we cherish this) extremely emotional…there were MANY tears that fell that evening.

lots of cool merch!

lots of cool merch!

About Suhaila…
She brought with her a beautiful scent of majestic revelry…it perfumed the air and enraptured us as she completed her intro veil work. Her costumes were a black, star-studded bedluh for the first half and then she returned later with an ivory bedluh complete with beaded arm cuff drapes and assuit design down the center, jewel studs across her hips. It was pretty hot…and she looked spectacular.

She included a lot of the moves we’ve seen on her over the years but in this case, her raw passion and raqs realness was just flowing like a river, nothing felt “staged” or “choreoraphed.” Suhaila was nonstop with lots of playful gestures to the band and a fun intimate drum solo where her body remained in contact with her tabla player.

Suhaila is overwhelmingly captivating, it was hard to not remain fixed on her while being serenaded by her band.

imageI was so happy to attend this show, it was a privilege and an honour. I was even more thrilled to hear her say she appreciated my interaction from the front row and that there was mutual admiration there. I told her about being 19 and watching videos…and now a decade + later I’m still enraptured…again, this was another full circle moment and thanks to Faaridah and friends for getting us great group shots on the red carpet. I cherish my first picture with Suhaila (thanks to Tezra) and now have another to add to the archive.

Bringing big artist like these is hard…there’s nothing easy about it. Finding the funds, paying the venue, risking bad weather that could keep people at home…I mean…you name it, IT’S HARD! But, the love of the art keeps us going…we push on, we sacrifice to unspeakable means to create historic moments like last night. Mabrook wa Shukran Faaridah and team! Big thanks to Suhaila and her band for coming, I pray we can do this again!