by Luna

by Luna

Luna

Luna

Blog Intro

Hello, I'm Luna, and I'd like to welcome you to "Kisses from Kairo,"* my blog about living and working as an American belly dancer in Cairo.

Life in Cairo isn't easy for dancers, foreigners, women, or even Egyptians. It is, however, always exciting. That’s why after living here for seven years, I've decided to share my experiences with the world. From being contracted at the Semiramis Hotel to almost being deported, not a day has gone by without something odd or magical happening. I will therefore fill these pages with bits of my history in Cairo—my experiences, successes, mistakes, and observations. Admittedly, my time here has been rather unique, so I want to stress that while everything I write is true, my experiences do not necessarily reflect the lives of other dancers.

In addition to my life as a belly dancer, I will write about developments in costuming, performances, festivals, and, of course, the dance itself. I will also make frequent references to Egyptian culture. I should note that I have a love/hate relationship with Egypt. If I make any criticisms about the country, please keep in mind that I do so with the utmost love, respect, and most of all, honesty. Egypt has become my home, so I want to avoid romanticizing and apologizing for social maladies, as most foreigners tend to do. Nothing could be more misguided, patronizing, or insulting.

I hope you find this blog informative, insightful and entertaining, and that we can make this as interactive as possible. That means I'd love to hear from you. Send me your comments, questions, complaints, suggestions, pics, doctoral dissertations, money, etc., and I will get back to you. Promise. :)~



My Videos

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The $6.78¢ CondunDRUM


After 6 months of changing drummers like I change my underwear, I FINALLY found the perfect drummer to join my band. He’s skilled, powerful, properly translates my moves, and isn’t lazy or greedy. He’s everything I’ve been looking for in a drummer, and I couldn’t be happier. But, as always, there’s a problem. The other members of the band don’t like him. They say he’s arrogant and makes funny faces and gestures at them. And they want him out.


Dealing with musicians is one of the most challenging aspects of my job. I do have someone to handle them for me (mainly because it’s not “prestigious” for a dancer to talk to her musicians), but I still feel the effects of their inflated egos and childishness. And last night, it really got to me. We were on stage, about to close the show with a drum solo, when all of a sudden, the band stopped playing. They left me hanging in front of my audience with no music to dance to! I turned around to see what the problem was, only to find them arguing with the drummer!




I must have given them the most evil look possible, because they immediately snapped out of it and continued playing. And it was at this moment that I finally understood all those moments of stage-rage I had witnessed between belly dancers and their musicians. For the sake of the show, I composed myself. But when we got off stage, I had a little "talk" with my band.

Basically, my point was, “grow up.” I explained how there’s such a thing as stage etiquette—how even if the drummer is a jerk or messes up, it doesn’t warrant the whole band stopping the show to argue with him. We resolve our problems off stage. To this, the guys replied, referring to the drummer, “but he’s just trying to show you he’s a star.” At which I replied, “There are no stars! None of us are stars! Michael Jackson is a star. Amr Diab is a star. YOU are not stars! When I bow to the band at the end of my show, I don’t see individuals, much less stars! I see a big fuzzy blur of instruments—a band—a team. And I am part of that team, so cut it out!”

I went on to speak about reality. We are artists, I told them, and most artists have huge egos. Especially the ones who know they’re good at what they do. You also have egos. Otherwise it wouldn’t be bothering you that the drummer is trying to show me that “he’s a star.”  In life and in work, you need to be prepared to encounter all types of personalities. You will encounter the arrogant, the greedy, the liars, the braggers, the humble, the loyal, the honest, the dishonest, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You need to know how to deal with each type without disrupting your work or the work of others. This is called professionalism.


And, I wasn't going to tolerate that behavior towards the best drummer I could find for $6.78.

That's right, this drummer makes US $6.78¢, or 40 Egyptian pounds, for an hour show.  It is, however, slightly more than my other musicians make. And though they come a dime a dozen in Egypt, not all drummers are created equal. I’ll clarify this by providing a breakdown of the different types of drummers.

First, there are the drummers who only work in small orchestras usually consisting of about 5 musicians (takht). They are appropriately called takhatees, and do not collaborate with singers or dancers.

Next are the drummers who play exclusively for singers. This type of drumming requires its own special type of skills.

The third category of drummer is the dancer’s drummer, or tabbal ra’assa,as they say in Arabic. This is the drummer who is attuned to the intricacies of belly dance. He knows when to doom and when to tak according to what the dancer is doing on stage. Most importantly, he knows how to translate her moves into music.

The fourth and fifth categories of drummer are my own made-up categories. They are: good drummers and bad drummers, and they exist in all 3 previously mentioned categories.

Because of the ridiculous salary, I’ve only been able to work with really bad drummers thus far. $4.25¢ drummers. This is more unfortunate than frustrating, because the drummer, or tabbal, is arguably the most important member of the band. He sets the tempo of the music and gives cues to the rest of the musicians. Most importantly, he makes the belly dancer dance! (Indeed, in many ways, the drummer is the dancer). Absent a skilled drummer, the dancer is pretty much screwed. All of her accents will look like nothing, and her tabla solo will be laughable.

What’s funny about all this is that all of the $4.25¢ drummers I’ve worked with so far have complained about me. They say that they’ve never seen a dancer like me—that they can’t keep up with me. Too many dooms and too many taks. Oooh, how I just love seeing them sweat as much as I do during a show. :D

The real problem is that these drummers have grown lazy from never having to work hard for most Egyptian dancers. Drumming for a foreign dancer is a whole other ball game—one that requires a drummer experienced in working with foreigners. This, my friends, is why I’m bent on keeping my drummer at all costs. Wish me luck. :)



5 comments:

  1. I'm thinking a boom box and CD might solve your problem, especially if you can get some tracks without drums. That way you can give your great drummer a raise and he'll think you're the greatest thing since bottled water. Cousin John

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  2. Great suggestion :) Seriously I'm at the point where I just might do that!

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  3. i am not a professional in music but i thought of somthin, if u choosen a piece of music where there is a chance for all ur musicians to play, solo performance and each for just a minute or 2 minutes even, make them feel as stars by performing solo and eyes to be just on u and the ears just for them,i think they wont complain..it will be like a pain killer keep them happy for the rest of the show :)
    Tamer

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  4. Can you hire better for drummers with a higher salary?

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    Replies
    1. Absolutely. Skill is definitely commensurate with salary here.

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