Background… Music.

I was watching some YouTube videos of dancers recently and a few thoughts came to mind about the importance of researching the background of the music you choose to use.  If you’re using a folksong, traditional song, a song in a language other than your own, or even a song with lyrics in your own language, it’s rather important that you know the background and meaning of that song.  Not researching the meaning of your music may lead to embarrassment on your part and offense on the part of your audiences.

Cabaret, oriental, and folkloric bellydance instructors make it clear to their students the importance of knowing the meaning and history of the music used in performance and class, mostly because the music that those dancers typically use is from the Middle East and these dancers often perform for people from the Middle East.  How embarrassing for a dancer to perform a happy, light-hearted dance to a song that’s really about heartache and lost love to an audience full of people who know the true meaning of the song… not to mention that those audience members might be terribly offended that the dancer clearly had no idea of what that song means!  Luckily, in cabaret circles, there are many experienced dancers who will gladly tell a less-experienced dancer the meaning of a song and the history behind it.

With tribal fusion dancers, however, the situation is a little bit different… Because tribal fusion is such a new genre, and also because it encompasses such a wide range of dance styles and music choices, we may not think we have many mentors or instructors to give us guidance on the meaning of a song.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of newer dancers in the tribal fusion genre get wrapped up in the fun and artistic freedom of the style without thinking about the responsibility that they have as performers and as performers of an ethnic dance form with a rich history.

I find this phenomenon happening most often as tribal fusion dancers use more and more Balkan and Romany (Gypsy) music and blend it with old-timey, Vaudeville, circus, and sideshow themes.  And of course, blending these images and ideas with bellydance is fun and entertaining, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to know the origins of our music.  The Romany people have been persecuted and discriminated against throughout history, and much of their traditional songs reflect this collective experience.  While a lot of Balkan Romany music sounds fun and entertaining, the lyrics of these songs can be much more sad than we Westerners might perceive.  I saw a dancer performing a light-hearted, Vaudeville-inspired choreography to “Djelem Djelem” (lyrics and translation here), which is considered to be the Romany anthem.  Jarko Jovanovic composed the words and set them to a traditional melody in response to Nazi persecution of the Gypsies during the Holocaust.  It’s not exactly a happy song.  (For further information and history of the Roma, visit this website.)

So, even though tribal fusion is such a new style, and it’s certainly going through its own growing pains, that doesn’t mean that those of us who perform this genre are excused from the responsibility of research, or from respecting our source material and music.  Of course, not every traditional song has some deep, historical meaning… but it might.  Please, if you choose to dance to a traditional song, particularly one with sung lyrics, take a few moments to poke around on the internet to find out the origins of that song.

 

Comments: 9

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Is there a good online site that will translate lyrics well? I know sometimes the artist’s site can help but sometimes they don’t have translations available.

 

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Thank you. It’s not so much a problem for ATS/ITS dancers, since so much of the music used (Helm, Mizna, Gypsy Caravan) was created specifically for the dancing; but as people branch out into trying to find “new” music some spectacular embarrassments will occur. I’ve been having some cringe moments seeing what folks have done with Rachid Taha’s “Barra Barra.” It’s quite clear that they never looked up the lyrics.

 

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Woo, tell me about it. I’ve puzzled over rather coy, lighthearted performances to “Opa Cupa”. To me it’s a rather aggressive song (though fun to dance to). I also saw someone do a rather sensual dance to Balkan Beat Boxes “La Bush Resistance” and I kept thinking just because the word belly dance is in the song doesn’t mean you should. Nora brought a new CD to practice which has some good stuff but sort of politically ambiguous lyrics, so we’re still pondering if, and how, to use it.

I try to research music we use, and sometimes we have to just cross our fingers and hope we’re not doing something stupid.

 

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Just wanted to tell you Merry Christmas Asharah! <3s

 

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I personally do not know much about Balkan, Slavic, or Romany music or the history, but I do understand what you are saying and have concerns in the same dept. I see so many dancers that start out in tribal fusion and they don’t care to learn about the history of belly dancing. I’m not saying that they need to know the ins and outs of styles, music, origins, landmark dancers, ect. But I do think it is important to have a basis of knowledge. I think a lot of tribal fusion instructors are not taking the time to either teach about these kinds of things, or are not emphasizing that a dancer should know these things before they go out and start performing, especially in a setting with other dancers.

 

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If you do not mind. I have heard the song “opa cupa” and seen different performances to it. Can you tell me a little about the lyrics… in trying to research it – I ran across this thread. Thanks in advance!

 

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Hello Guru, what entice you to post an article. This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

 

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Hi Asharah, I had this question when doing a solo to a wonderful song by Romano Drom. I actually wrote them twice trying to ask them about the meaning of the lyrics to prevent this embarrassment. They never responded, and perhaps it was a language barrier. With mixed feelings, I posted a link to the clip of me dancing on their Myspace, saying that I hope it was okay to use it—I just felt like they should know I was dancing to them, and I was hoping that they would respond with an indication of whether or not it was silly to do so 😉 So far, no response, but this was a great read and is something I’ll keep considering.

 

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This advice applies to musicans who are covering other people’s songs, as well. Your blog entry hit home this weekend when I was at a wedding where a band did a cover of the song “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. ” The cover was played so fast it was hard to tell what song it was. Once we figured it out it was the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” I felt more uncofortable as the song went on. The fast pace of the playing did not respect the lyrics or tone of the song. Quite honestly their version seemed to disrespect the men who died on that ship.

 

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