Flawless…I don’t know what more to say. It was a mic drop flawless night, a break the plate occasion that I can only hope can be recreated at future events. I’ve always heard people say they want to bring their A-game for Amani’s events…because Amani represents and demonstrates so much of “the region” in her work. And we all want to make sure we align ourselves with that vision when collaborating with her. Tonight everyone elevated their Raqs game to levels I’ve never seen in this town outside last year’s Bellydance Evolution which I dare say is still one of the greatest raqs shows I’ve ever seen minus regional weddings. Amani Jabril & Friends Live at Steve’s Live Music was a show that will go down in history as the one that raised the bar yet again… we can’t go back, the standard is set in stone. It is done! Accompanied by Atlanta Phonecian, a very good Middle Eastern Band featuring Samer and Amine, this show felt like a henna hafla…and you know that’s just divine!
The night began with Barbara (a member of Awalim who runs the Yalla Y’all calendar for the city’s Bellydance events). She was very relaxed and just did her thing out there. The love was flowing and everyone was supportive, clapping and cheering along. It’s always nice to see people in their element doing what brings them so much joy.
Hasna stormed onto the stage in all her raqs glory wearing what looked to be one of my favourite costumes from MissBellydance.com. It’s one of the really well-made bedluhs with the pink and gold embellishments on black. She wore it well and combined with her flawless stage presence, the presentation was one of the many exciting sets of the evening. Her energy, spins and crowd interaction were fantastic. She was strong and powerful out there and comanded your attention in a graceful, elegant way. Now that’s a dancer!
Jaki’s piece belonged in a theatre…her long lace beladi dress, coiffed hair cut and cool embellishments including a hipscarf from MissBellydance.com made her one of the queens of the night. She just blew us away with level changes, ridiculously fantastic spinning and ta’arab for days…for days you all…for daaaayyys omg…whaat?! I had to look away a few times because I felt tears coming to my eyes. I was wearing teal green mascara and feared it may roll down my face in an uncontrolable cry. Even while taking my notes on the piece I started tearing up reliving Jaki’s set in my head. As energetic and fantastic as her work has been over the years, elevated each year to something more spectacular than the last, it is hard to believe that it could get any better. She worked that set into something truly historic and I will not ever forget it. It was outrageously flawless and refined…I can’t even speak further on it. I just can’t…I need a minute to regroup.
Jendayi was another treasure in her gorgeous blue beladi dress and fashionable hair reminding me of the great dancers who wore the cutest short cuts and danced with skill and passion in Egypt. Jendayi’s energy is what brought us to our zenith of joy. She really made good use of the floor, interacted with the crowd and did justice to the music. That is so important…to feel that song and bring it to life. She did all of that and more. Mabrook on a good set!
Maiea embodied so many of the greats of the industry with hints of local Raqs Stars like Samora, Amani Jabril and Aziza Nawal. I saw hints of Egypt, a little Lebanese and whole lot of her electric energy. You can see she really loves this dance and has worked hard to represent it not only respectfully but beautifully. I was highly impressed with her costume and even more with her ability to bring “the middle east” to the East Coast. Mabrook Maiea!
A lady named Funda, who is new to me (I’m assuming she is Turkish by her name) did what her bio describes as “Veil Play.” This was perhaps the only dance of the night that didn’t throw my soul into the floor but instead was a beautiful set to watch if you enjoy veil solos. I’m from that school of “the veil is merely an intro prop to be tossed quickly” so any long set featuring just a veil as a main piece leaves me wanting more. I would have loved to have seen her dance vs. the veil. I had seen this lovely woman earlier and was eager to see her work and I felt we didn’t get to experience “her,” we instead saw just her veil.
Majda was sweet to come out and shimmy with the teams this evening and the entire time she danced I was taken away to a living room watching someone’s daughter delight her family. You know there’s always that one child in the community that everyone loves. She’s daddy’s girl, mother’s pride and the sister everyone wishes they had on top of being that bada$$ cool cousin everyone tries to claim. This was Majda this evening, glowing and giving us a piece of her heritage like a royalist. She makes every first generationer VERY proud. Her zills were so “on point” it was frightening. As a person who used to only play the zills for a few bands/dancers I can ttruly appreciate her skill and talent. The song she used is not an easy song to dance to….and I feel it would have taken an audience full of Arabs, Africans and those familiar with pop culture and history in the region to truly “understand” what she did out there. I got it…I knew it. It was so good I just wanted to Periscope it and I should have but I was so overwhelmed I became frozen by her performance. Majda is another great treasure and we’re more than privileged to have her in Atlanta…she is “a blessing” personified.
Amani’s piece was traditionally spot on and raqs righteous. I tell you, that costume…was everything. Is that another Mum Connie creation? Very nice! It complimented Amani very well, especially the bodice. Her performance featured what I feel she perfected long ago …and might I add has been copied by others who wish to look as authentic as possible. I don’t want to get into a long story here but her way is not the “hishebishek” I saw from her when I first met her years ago at Taverna Plaka’s opening week (yes, it’s been that long). And while she hasn’t aged a day, her dance style has moved forward into a very mature one that embodies strength and regional nuances that she has made her own. Her signature style is more than graceful, it’s simply “Flawless Amani.” She knows how to bring it and it works not only for her but also her students. You can tell when a person has studied with her…they too bring the grand pauses that glide into these incredible raqs moves and tummy flutters with a twist. Her ability to make LIVE music come ALIVE is a gift. She graced us with that this evening and we all felt it. Beautifully done…absolutely beautiful!
The center portion of the evening featured taped music and semi-improv plus a few choroegraphies. First up were Faaridah and Na’ilah whose costumes and fan veils were quite eye catching. They were quite in sync and looked just as good as the bellydance superstars during their prime (i.e. tours 2 & 3). If you can find the photos for this set you’ll see what I mean. Too darn cute, too darn cool. Very nice set!
Ziah and Awalim did a quick set, almost a tease of ATS for the crowd. They always bring their best to the stage. That I certainly can say. I can’t think of a performance of theirs that didn’t keep my eyes glued to the stage. This set was so nice that when it was over the crowd yelled, “too short!!! too short!!” They wanted more!!
Vany…sheesh…I can’t even write this. I’ll start crying again. She was a glimpse of history, a journey and a voyage…a representative of everything our culture has gone through. I say our culture because Vany is from Spain originally, if I’m not mistaken. She looks and dances just like some of the very honoured people that taught the great Flamenco new comers of our day. Vany is not only beautiful but a walking tribute to the most cherished parts of global dance. Watching her is a spiritual experience. Again, I can’t even discuss it, there are no words to that can truly describe her amazing work justly. I just wish she was closer so I could dance with her regularly. Everytime I see her I just cry…again. I have to stop…my soul is just enraptured by her gift and talent. That is not Vany dancing, that is her soul. Masha’Allah!
AFBD – The Salimpour Collective was so impressive I was envious and wanted to be a part of it. I love Suhaila’s style and have been a fan of hers since I was 19. I know I tell my Suhaila fan girl story enough so knowing that and seeing this…just made me feel good. I don’t know what is going on between Suhaila and Atlanta but she’s here every year and I feel like her empire has stamped its approval on AFBD and their friends. I totally loved this set featuring several of the Raqs Stars of Atlanta. After having studied their signature footwork (that of Jamila and Suhaila’s personal style) I could appreciate the intricate moves and works shown here. It’s quite impressive. I loved what they have done and I look forward to seeing them do even more with her work under her blessing.
Tarabiya Music and Dance closed out the recorded music set with a crowd favourite that was full of energy and their amazing ATS skills. They balanced the basket and featured a number of really beautiful transitions throughout the piece. These ladies are so darn cute and beautiful. The combination of their amazing costumes and ability to raise the bar in raqs fusion is over the top. Love it!
The show’s Live music portion returned with the legendary Tere of Imperial Fez fame livening up the night. By this time Nicola of Nicola’s Lebanese Restaurant, “King Nic” was in the audience. He and Mr. Abdullah made it official…the combination of the authentic sounds of the modern day Middle East and our mixed global audience turned the third half of the night into a true hafla. This is what you would find on the side streets of International Communities back in the day and in hidden pockets now. Drinks were flowing and dancers were cheering each other on. It was beautifully, organised chaos, just what a real show should be. So enter Tere, a rendition of her story and the history of some of our great raqs leaders in Atlanta… yes, you should have been there… that was alright! Aiewaaa, raqs yalla…
Heleshia “turnt” it up a notch. She “Turnt and Burnt” the place the place down with a raqs set so demanding of one’s attention people couldn’t stay seated. She glided out in a black beladi dress with rhinestones elegantly placed on it and a front key hole with a sheer covering gently revealing a little too much in all the right places…the girl was working it…I mean she worked. it. The classic song played by that stellar band and this raissa’s suave talent just set souls a stirring. The zaghareets were loud, people just lost it…and rightly so. She deserved that standing ovation. Again, you had to be there to see it for yourself. Words will never suffice.
Sabia’s set was so “her” and showed her progress in this art. She’s a good dancer and she enjoys it. Technique is one thing, but when you can see someone’s joy in their work it brings a whole new spirit. It enhances the dance. That’s what Sabia does, she enhances her sets with her personality making her a “must see” at shows. Very cute, sooo sweet and raqs sharp! Love her love for the culture! Again, Mabrook on the ability to elevate one’s joy into a work of art.
Raqs Razi travelled from Florida just to perform at this show. She did an outstanding job, even better than the first time I saw her at the then Pera Dance and Event studio. Her set was long but she knew what to do to hold your attention. She chose a very tough song that would have killed most dancer’s careers if they didn’t know what to do but she just upped her reputation with this set and I’m glad I was there to see it. Invite her back!
Aziza Nawal… need I say anything at all. Her name alone makes my own relatives get off the couch, get dressed and hang out at the local hot spots just to see her when she’s in their town. Raqs Sharqi in America is Aziza Nawal…period. She’s just that good. I see dancers all day long and few excite me at the same level as Aziza. I can be tired and worn out but if I know she’s dancing I will get up and go watch. She gives this dance life. Flawless in costume and truly one of the greatest dancers on the planet. Argue with me and I’ll fight ya on it.
Awalim closed out the night with ATS to a classical raqs song wearing classical bedluhs. It was very creative and the crowd “understood” it. Jenny helped in the end by discussing more about what we were seeing. I thought it was excellent the way they combined the two genres. Very nice and very respectful.
This was a night to remember. The band was amazing as always and I totally felt at home during this show. I think this has been one of my favourite nights at Steve’s since I began attending event there. I wish this had been televised. It deserved it. Atlanta you are the “it girl.” You are the new black. You are giving this dance life…you are becoming “Everything” and the world needs to see it. What can we do to make sure these shows are circulated not just within our own “raqs family.” Let’s discuss. You’ve got my email. Let’s take this show on the road, even it’s just on YouTube! Mabrook wa shukran for keeping this dance alive and making the Middle East and Africa look good.
P.S. Why didn’t someone tell me that I was singing happy birthday to a man instead of a woman? I used the female happy birthday grammar… #ForShame Bonne Anniversaire to the man who celebrated with us this night!
Thanks for reading!