by Luna

by 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

Monday, May 13, 2019

DROP THE PROP: Dancing to Mawwal

Hello! And thank you for your interest in Drop the Prop, my groundbreaking series of online Egyptian dance workshops! The topic of my first workshop is ' Dancing to Mawwal.' If you’ve already purchased this series, great! Read on to learn more about the history and development of mawwal (plural is mawaweel). If you haven’t, now’s your chance. Just click on this link, create an account with Teachable, and login to the workshop.

I imagine ‘mawwal’ might be a new term for some of you, so let me briefly define it. Mawwal is the improvisational singing that usually occurs in the beginning of an Arabic song with little to no musical accompaniment. Think of songs like Bint Il-Sultan; Mawood; and Inta Omri. Each contains a mawwal towards its beginning that you can probably recognize.

So what?, you might be thinking. Why dedicate an entire dance workshop to such a topic?

      1.   …it’s obscure. No one teaches this in a live or virtual setting, because…
      2.   …it’s challenging. Most dancers don’t know how to dance to mawaweel. Either they don’t understand Arabic, or they find dancing to music-less lyrics counterintuitive. A lot of times it’s both. Most will edit them out if they’re dancing to canned music, or else leave them (or tolerate them when dancing to live music) but meaninglessly flail around until the music kicks in.

      3.   …mawwal is one of the most quintessential features of Arabic music. It is deeply rooted in a rich tradition of Arabic poetry culture that spans millennia. If we’re going to claim to take this art seriously by doing justice to its cultural components, we should pay attention to the verbal language that is the raison d’etre for this music.
     4.  …dancing to mawaweel brings this dance back to where it should be—to expression, subtly, and nuance. It is thus a welcome reprieve from, and an antidote to the acrobatic and/or hyper-sexualized styles that have come to define modern belly dance.

     5. …properly expressing a mawwal is the best way to captivate an Arab audience. It shows them you know your stuff, that they can trust your performance, and that you’re interested in the art, not just the hip drops. And, if you pull it off exceptionally well, they might even think you are from the region. Never a bad thing. J

     6.  …dancing to mawwal will improve rs, puns, and wit. Oftentimes they are anecdotal, such as in the famous mawwal called Al-Talmeez wa Ustazo (The Student and His Teacher), which highlights some of the meanings of love, respect, appreciation, and gratitude. These types of mawaweel are a great way of gaining insight into local mentalities.

Traditionally, mawaweel are referred to as hurr in Arabic musician speak. Hurr in Arabic means free. Liberated. The reason they referred to mawaweel as free is because as previously mentioned, they are free of melody and rhythm, and because the content itself used to be improvised. In Arabic this improvisation is called irtigaal. In this way it is very similar to freestyle rap, in which the rapper performs with no previously composed lyrics, and is expected to produce them off the top of his head. Here’s an example of two men improvising mawaweel in Egypt.

Egyptian musicians still use the words mawwal and hurr interchangeably, but the reality is that most mawaweel are no longer hurr. At this point in history, they are almost all memorized and recorded. The great composer, song-writer and singer Mohamed Abdel Wahab put an end to the truly improvised and free mawwal. Abdel Wahab composed songs for the greats like Um Kulthoum, Abdel Halim, and even himself, and he composed their mawaweel to have fixed melodies and maqamaat. He even 'choreographed' the freest part of any mawwal, the 'ya ayni ya layls.' In certain songs, he set them to specific melodies, such as in Daret El-Ayem, in which Um Kulthoum sings Ya ayni ya layl to the melody of the song. She doesn't improvise its melody as would normally be the case in a truly free mawwal.

What this means is that any star singer, or even just any wedding singer or dancer's singer, has to sing the mawaweel exactly as they are in the original recordings. They are not free to rework the melody or words of the mawwal in Inta Omri, for example. I mean, they can, and sometimes they do. It's not illegal or anything, but then it wouldn't exactly be Inta Omri.

I find this extremely fascinating. As I was delving into this topic, listening to different types of mawaweel, I started asking when and how this all started. Why this obsession with poetry, so much so that almost every Egyptian song has a mawwal? In digging deeper for its origins, I found that they reach as far back as pre-Islamic Arabia. That is over 1500 years ago. This next section discusses the history of mawaweel, as well as the function they served in Arabic-speaking societies over many centuries. Then I'll explain how mawaweel are classified according to structure and thematic content, and provide examples of famous mawaweel.

The Role of the Arabic Language 
The first thing we need to know in order to understand why mawaweel are so common in Arabic music is that Arabic speakers are in love with their language. I'm talking, illicit love affair type of love. Professor Hitti, a Lebanese American scholar who virtually created the discipline of Middle Eastern Studies in the United States, famously wrote:

“No people in the world manifest such enthusiastic admiration for literary expression and are moved by the word, spoken or written, as the Arabs. Hardly any language seems capable of exercising over the minds of its users such an irresistible influence as Arabic.”

That's understandable given how fascinating the Arabic language is. It is expressive, rhythmic, melodic, and methodical, and it lends itself nicely to poetry. In pre-Islamic Arabia, Arabic was mainly a spoken language with an oral literature of elaborate poetry and, to a lesser extent, prose. Writing had not yet fully developed, so memorization was the most common method of preserving literature. Rhyming makes it easier to memorize things. So people made poetry about everything. Politics, social issues, matters of the heart, war, women, wine. Basically, back then, poetry functioned in a way similar to today’s ‘free’ press. Poets were the writers, the journalists, the historians, and the critics. They would discuss current affairs and express their opinions on them, and would even praise and defame public personalities in the process, much like we do today. Those who found themselves being ridiculed would respond by creating equally powerful poetry. The Arabs thus enjoyed a high level of freedom of expression, more than we'd think possible of a pre-modern civilization.

Point of clarification: The reason I used the term ‘Arabic speakers’ is because not all native Arabic speakers identify as Arabs. As early as the 7th century, the Arabs had become a military power, creating an empire that ruled over various non-Arab populations in the neighboring region. Some mixing occurred between these local populations and the Arabs, but there were some communities that avoided the incursions by fleeing to less accessible areas of their homelands. The Maronite Christians of Lebanon are an example. When many areas of modern-day Lebanon fell to Muslim Arab invaders between the years 635 and 637, many Maronites sought refuge in Mount Lebanon. Until this day, they do not identify as Arabs despite speaking Arabic. The same is true of Copts, Kurds, and Berbers, even if they speak Arabic and/or practice Islam. This is why I hesitate to refer to all Arabic speakers as Arabs. Not only is this inaccurate, it is a misrepresentation of these communities' historical experiences.

Back to Arabia before the onset of the Islamic conquests. In the year 622, Mohamed founded the religion of Islam when he claimed that God had spoken to him through the angel Gabriel. To make a long story short, Mohamed received (or created) over 6,000 verses of instructions and stories from God, which were posthumously organized into what became the Qur’an. Interestingly, all of the verses take the form of poetry. They even rhyme. Muslim theologians explain this by saying that in a culture that had attained such literary eloquence, it would take a literary work of unparalleled excellence—basically a miracle—to convince the Arabs that Mohamed was a prophet. This is what they believe the Qur’an to be—a work of unparalleled excellence. Of course, not all of Mohamed's contemporaries were impressed or convinced. Some of them doubted Mohamed's prophethood and questioned the divine authorship of the Quran. Interestingly, the Quran seeks to convince doubters of its divine authorship with a verse that challenges them to produce a work of similar caliber-- the idea being that even the best among them would fail at such a pursuit.

After Mohamed's death ten years later, his followers immediately began expanding their empire. Amazingly, despite their military exploits, their interest in poetry never waned. In fact it reached its peak during the Abbasid Era, which lasted from 750 to 1258. At this time, the caliphate (ruling authority of the empire) was based in Baghdad. Before that, it had been in Damascus, after having been transferred from Mecca. The interesting thing about the Abbasid phase of Islamic history is that it was more ‘secular’ than other periods. It was friendlier to poets and writers from all ethnic and religious backgrounds. During this time, many great writers and poets started to appear in what is today Syria and Iraq. Some of the more famous ones (for those who study Arabic), are:

Abu Nawas (750-810) served in the court of the famous Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, and is well known by his poetry that celebrated wine and male homosexuality. (There is a restaurant named after him in the famous Mena House Hotel in Giza.)

Al Mutanabbi (915-965) is largely considered to be the most famous Arab poet of all time. He actually took the Qur’an challenge and authored his own Qur’an while claiming to be a prophet (hence his name, which is a variation of the Arabic word for prophet). He later apologized to save his life.

Ibn Sina (980-1037), a Muslim philosopher and doctor of Persian descent, better known to the West as Avicenna. He is famous for relaying his medical and scientific teachings through the medium of poetry, which helped people transmit and memorize his medical knowledge. He wrote Al-Urjuzah Fi Al-Tibb, which basically translates as "The Medical Poem." It consists of 1326 meticulously classified verses, and is a poetic summary of his encyclopaedic textbook, "The Canon of Medicine". The Medical poem became very popular in the East, and later in Europe, where it was widely used in universities up until the 17th century.

The 'Highly Unusual' Origins of Mawwal
Now that I've provided a snapshot of the historical context in which mawaweel  developed, we can discuss their origins. Scholars differ as to exactly when and how they first appeared, but most accounts agree that it was in the Abbasid Era, during the reign of Harun Al-Rashid, to be precise. Even if you're unfamiliar with Islamic history, there's a good chance you've heard the name Harun Al-Rashid. Especially if you've read The Arabian Nights, or if you've gone to the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo to watch belly dancing; the nightclub there is named after him. His name translates into Aaron the Just, and he was the 5th caliph of the Abbasid era. During his reign, music and art flourished significantly, and Harun's life and his court have been the subject of many tales, some factual, but mostly fictitious. The most famous (and fictitious) is The Arabian Nights, or Alf Layla wa Layla, as it's called in Arabic. It contains many stories that are fantasized by Harun's magnificent court and even Harun himself.

When it comes to mawwal, legend has it that it all started when Harun beheaded a man named Ja'afar ibn Yahya (Jaffar in Disney's Aladdin). In the movie, Jafaar was portrayed as an evil minister and sorcerer. He was in fact Harun’s minister, and what happened was that Harun had a half-sister whom he was madly in love with. Her name was Abbasa. He couldn’t marry Abbasa for obvious reasons, and he feared that when she married, he would never see her again. He thus arranged to have Jaafar marry Abbasa without consummating the marriage. In this way, Harun would still have access to her. Jafaar agreed to grant him this favor. But when Jafaar actually met Abbasa, he had a change of heart. Some historians say he immediately fell in love with her, regretting the arrangement and his promise not to touch her. And so they inevitably bore twins (or triplets, depending on the source). Other historians say he regretted the arrangement because he found her repulsive. According to these sources, however, Abbasa didn't feel the same way. She fell in love with Jafaar and tried everything in her power to be with him. She finally succeeded after paying his mother to escort her into his bed chamber disguised as a slave girl, when he came home drunk one night. Not realizing that this slave girl was actually Abbasa, Jafaar unwittingly consummated the marriage and bore twins. There’s no way to know which version of the story is correct, but the fact is that they bore children, and they hid them from Harun by sending them to be raised in Mecca. But Abbasa's jealous sister, Zobeida, told Harun of the affair. Harun subsequently had Jafaar beheaded.

Apparently, Jaafar was quite the ladies’ man. One of his slave girls who was probably a concubine mourned his death with this poem, which is considered the birth of the mawwal.

يا دار أين ملوك الأرض أين الفرس .....   وامواليا
أين الذين حموها بالقنا والترس .........   وامواليا
قالت تراهم رمم تحت الأراضى الدرس ...وامواليا
سكوت بعد الفصاحة ألسنتهم خرس ...   وامواليا

Ya dar ayna molook alard ayna il-fors wa amwalleeya
                   Ayna alazeena hamooha bil qina wil tirs, wa amwalleeya
Qallit torahom rimam taht ilaradi ildirs, wa amwalleeya
Sokoot ba3d ilfasaha alsinat-hum khars wa amwalleeya

O house where are the kings of the earth, where are the Persians?  Wa mawwaliyya.
Where are those who have protected it with our sackcloth? Wa mawwaliyya.
She saw them rebuilt under the ground. Wa mawwaliyya.
There is silence after the eloquent tongues have been pierced. Wa mawwaliyya.

Notice how she finishes each sentence with the word ‘wa mawwaliyya.’ Scholars think this term means ‘my lord,’ and so it was clear that the girl was mourning her master, Jafaar. Shortly after, the mawwal became a popular mode of expression amongst Jaafar's large extended family, the Baramka family. Every time they composed one of these poems, they would end each line with ‘ya mawwaliyya.’ Ever since, the word mawwal has been used to refer to this genre of Arabic poetry, which mostly deals with sad topics.

A second theory about the origin of mawwal holds that it originated amongst the working classes in Baghdad, particularly amongst those who did hard labor. Men would sing and improvise poems while working, in order to distract themselves from their grueling tasks. Specifically woodworkers would vocally improvise while creating a beat as they hammered away. Here's an example:

منازل كنت فيها من بعدك درس ..... يا مواليا
خراب لا للعزا تصلح ولا للعرس ..... يامواليا
فأين عينيك تنظر كيف فيها الفرس ... يا مواليا
تحكم وألسنة المداح فيها خرس ......  يامواليا

Manazil kuntu feeha min badak dars, ya mawaliyya
Kharab le li 3aza tasloh wa lil 3ors, ya mawaliyya
fa ayna 3ynaka tanzor kayfa feeha il fors, ya mawaliyya
tahko wa ilsinat almadah feeha khars, ya mawaliyya

 Which translates into:              
Homes I hide in after you go……. Ya Mawwali
It is ruin, not suitable for consolation or wedding….Ya Mawwali
So where you eyes look, there are the horses…..Ya Mawwali
Judge it, and the eulogists’ tongues are mute…..Ya Mawwali

Here too, each line ends with ‘ya mawwali.’ Hence the term mawwal.
These are two very different theories about the origins of mawwal. As much as I'd love to believe the almost fairy tale-like Harun Al-Rashid version, the second theory about workers seems a little more realistic. Not that Harun didn't behead Jafaar, or that Jafaar's concubine didn't mourn him. I don't think the history books are lying about that. But it is also possible that the mawwal was becoming a more popular mode of communication at the time, with everyone from the royal court to the lowest of workers using it.
There are several types of mawaweel, and music scholars classify them according to their rhyme scheme, as well as their thematic content. In the next section, we'll take a look at this classification system, and then I will provide you with examples.

Types of Mawwal 
The first type of mawwal is called the Baghdadi mawwal because it originated in Baghdad. It consists of four concentric lines with the same rhyme scheme, which is why it is also known as the quardrant mawwal. The first two mawaweel we just covered  are Baghdadi mawaweel because they each have four lines with the same rhyme scheme. And sometimes each line ends in the same word, such as in this example:

يا عم  تاجر بلا مال  يبقى الجد  رس  ماله
ماشي في أمان الله وحب الخلق  رس   ماله
يسعى في الخير والطيب والمعروف رس ماله
اذا كان مالـوش حد يبقى طيـبه رس ماله
_ (و يقصد برس ماله  .. رأس ماله )

Ya a’m tagir bila maal yibqa algid ras maalo
mashee fee amaan illah, wa hob ilkhal rasmaalo
yasa’a fil kheir wal teeb wal ma’roof rasmaalo
iza kan maloosh had yiba tibto rasmaalo

Which translates as:   
The trader without money, his hard work is his capital
Walking in god's safety and people's love is his capital
Seeking charity and good are his capital
And he has no people, but kindness is his capital

Another (Egyptian) example:
Even though this mawwal is Egyptian, it is considered Baghdadi because it has four concentric lines.

ليه أمشي حافي ونا منبت مراكيبكم؟
ليه فرشي عريان ونا منجد مراتبكم؟
ليه بيتي خربـان ونا نجار دواليبكم؟
هو كـده قســمتي ... الله يحاســبكم؟

Lee amshee hafee wana monabit morakibkum
lee farsha 3riyan wana managid maratibkum
lee bayti kharbaan wana nagaar dawalibkum
howa kidda qismiti alla yehasibkom

Which translates as:

Why do I walk barefoot, meanwhile I’m the one who made your shoes?
Why is my bed without a cover, meanwhile I’m the one who made your covers?
Why my house is broken, while I was your carpenter?
It is my destiny, may god forgive you all?

For additional modern examples of Baghdadi mawaweel, click here.

A second type of mawwal is the lime mawwal, or the quintet, which consists of five lines in which all but the fourth line rhyme with each other.

يا بنـت    ردي     البـاب    باقفـاله
قالـت حبيبي خطر  في الدرب  واقفـاله
دا حبيبي زي عيد رمضان كل الناس واقفاله
وحق النبي اللي الغزالة  استـجارت بيـه
لا زمزم الكاسات وأبات طول الليل واقفاله

Ya binti rudi ilbab bi ifaalo
aalit habibi khatar fil dard wa'afaalo
da habibi zay 3id ramadan kul in nas wa'afaalo
wa ha ilnabi ili istagaarit istagaarat bi
le zamzam ilsakit wa abaat tool il layl wa'afaalo

Which translates as:

Young girl, close the door with its locks
She said my love is at risk and I'm waiting for him
My love is like Ramadan's feast; everyone is waiting for it
For the sake of our Prophet who saved the deer
I'll not put water in the glasses and I'll wait for him all night

Another example: 

من رقة أهل البها بالوصل راح مني
لكن عقلي أنا باللطف وقت راح مني
يا عيون حبيبي بنظرة وقت راح مني
على فؤادي وقوللي ودوا تهنا
دا أمر للحسن صاد وقت راح مني

Min ri'it ahl ilbaha bil wasl rah minee
laakin a3'li ana bil lotf wa't rah minee
ya 3yoon habibi bilnazra wa't rah minee
la foadee o'oloolee wido atahana
Da amr lil hosn saad, wa't rah minee

Which translates into: 

Because she was so fluffy I lost it
By mind has gone, I lost it
My eyes, my love, when I look to you, I lost it
For my heart, and tell me how to heal it
It was an issue of beauty, but I lost it

A third type of mawwal is the inlaid mawwal. It consists of six lines, all of which rhyme except the fifth line.

أن من عشقي في الزرع جبت عود مرير ونشيته
وجبتله ميه في كف إيدي وسقيته
وجبت غربال وفضلت أغربل فيه ونقيته
وصبرت عليه حول لما انطرح جيته
وجبت أدوقه لقيته مُر لم ينداق
تعتب عليه ليه ماهو أصل المر من بيته

Ana min 3ashee fil zar3 gibt 3ood mareer wa nasheeto
wa gibtilo maya fi kafh eedee wa sa'ayto
wa gibto ghorbal wa fadilt agharbil fee wa na'ayto
wa sibirt 3lay hawal lama antarah geeto
wa gibt ado'oo la'ayto mur lam yenda'a
ta3bt 3lay lee ma howa asl ilmor min bayto


Because I love plants, I got one and strength it
I bring it water and irrigate it
I bring a sieve, and I kept separate it
I wait for him for a year, when it flowers I got it
I tried to taste it but it was bitter
Why you blame me, while you are the one who bring bitter

A fourth type of mawwal is called the saba’awi, from the Arabic word saba’a, which means seven. As its name suggests, this type of mawwal contains seven­­ lines. In the mawwal sabaawi, we find that lines 1,2,3, and 7 have the same rhyme, while lines 4,5, and 6 have other rhymes. 

الأهيف اللي بسيف اللحظ جارحنا
بيده سقا الطلا ليلا وجا ريحنا
رمش رما سهم قطع بين جوارحنا
آهين على لوعتي في الحب ياوعدي
هجره كواني وصبرني على وعدي
ياخل واصل ووافى بالمنى وعدي
من حر هجرك ومن نار الجوى رحنا

ِIl-aheeyaf ilee biseef al-haz garahna
Bi yado sa'a il-talla laylan wa ga rihaana
Rimsh rama sahm ata’a bayn gawarihna
Aaheen a’la ‘o’aatee fil hob ya ‘a’dee
higrat kawaanee wa sabarni a’la wa’dee
ye khaal waasil wa waafee bil mona wa’dee
min harr hagrak wa min naar ilgawaa rohna


The slender that hurts me with love
He irrigates the night by his hand, and smells our odor
Eyelashes were as arrows, hurts us
I'm suffering of love
His desertion hurts me, and cause some pains
Please dear contact me
You desertion cause pain that hurts me

These are just a few examples of the most commonly-occurring mawaweel. Some of them contain more than ten verses. There are also story mawaweel, which are similar to epic poems. These can have as many as 400 verses, and singers use them to tell stories about love, politics, and social conditions. One of the most famous story mawaweel is Hassan & Na'ima. It is Egypt's equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, except that it is accompanied by the nay (reed flute). It was made into a film in 1959 starring Soad Hosny and Moharram Fouad.

Classification of Mawaweel
In addition to the number of lines and their rhyme scheme, mawaweel are also classified according to their thematic content. Mawaweel that speak of unrequited love, and passion, war, tribal feuds, and that lament the decline of social traditions are called red mawaweel, red being the color of blood and wounds. The mawwal about Hassan & Naima is therefore a red mawwal.

Green mawaweel deal with simple love stories, and white mawaweel deal with nature. Generally speaking, most mawaweel are red, as they deal with serious and sometimes depressing subject matter. These are the ones I like the best, because there is always a moral to the story that the singer wants to get across.

Let's take a look at an example. The following is one of my favorite mawaweel sung by one of my favorite contemporary shaabi singers, Mahmoud Il-Leithy. It's called ‘Tool Il-O’mar,’ which means ‘My Whole Life.’ I don't really care for the title,as it doesn't reflect the content of the mawwal. It starts with a father telling his daughter he has three suitors for her. The first is very rich, the second is very handsome, and the third is poor. He says that if she marries either of the first two, she will live happily ever after, but if she marries the poor man, she will live miserably. The girl responds by saying that the first two, by virtue of their money and good looks, would eventually find her dispensable, whereas a poor man appreciates what he has.

I've relentlessly searched for more information about this mawwal, but the author and the year it was written is a mystery. Suffice it to say that it has been part of Egyptian mawwal culture for generations.

Ahmed Adawiyya

Ahmed Adawiyya is considered the king of shaabi music (though definitely not the father). Here is an interesting Adawiyya mawwal called ‘Agabi Ya Zaman.’ It translates into ‘Time is So Strange.’ I purposely picked this one because it's a little more obscure than his famous Rahoo Il-Habayib mawwal. ‘Agabi Ya Zaman.’ is interesting because it is a form of social commentary. Adawiyya was notorious for that, and many of his songs were banned when they first came out. Interestingly, this one made it into a film, starring famous actors Adel Imam and Zizi Mostafa. The gist of the mawwal is how unfair life is because some people are poor while others are rich.

Classical Mawaweel
Let's step away from the shaabi and check out some classic mawaweel. I've noticed that unlike shaabi, classic mawaweel do not deal with contemporary issues or concern themselves with teaching a lesson. There are some exceptions, such as the mawwal in Mohamed Abdel Wahhab's ‘Min Gheir Lee,’ which philosophizes about the meaning of life. But aside from this example, the content of classical mawaweel is usually more light-hearted. Let's take Farid El-Atrash as an example. In my opinion Farid had one of the most beautiful voices of all the singers of his time. He also played the oud, which made him extremely popular in the film industry.  Here's a classic Farid mawwal from a song called Awil Hamsa, which means the First Whisper, which he sings to Tahiyya Karioka.
Let's analyze this mawwal before going on to other examples.  When watching it, we notice two things. The first is that Farid is playing his oud. This is important because it is a typical way for mawaweel to start. Though we already said that mawaweel are unaccompanied by rhythms and melodies, there is usually a single instrument accompanying the singer. This instrument introduces the maqam, creates ambiance, frames, highlights, accents, punctuates, and most importantly, translates the singer's words. This is called targama, which literally means translation, and it happens when the soloist musician mimics the melody of the singer's voice with his instrument, these instruments do not carry on the essential melody of the song in which the mawwal is contained. Nor do they create a separate melody for the mawwal. In the past, the oud and qanoon were the instruments most frequently used for this task. However as time went on, we see other instruments accompanying singers, such as the nay and violin. Here's another Farid mawwal, this one accompanied by the nay. It's called ‘AklIl-Balah, or Eating Dates. 

Notice how the nay player introduces the mawwal with a little improvisational taqsim. In Arabic this is called the tahmeela, from the root hml, which means to carry or to transport. The tahmeela acts as a bridge, connecting the mawwal to the full on orchestration that usually precedes it. Even if the mawwal occurs relatively early in the song, the song will still most likely start with complete orchestration, and then simmer down into a soloist improvising on the oud or qanoon or nay to introduce the mawwal.

The second thing to take note of in this video example is that the tahmeela is immediately followed by Farid singing ‘ya ayni ya layl.’ This literally translates as ‘oh my eyes, oh night.’ It sounds a little weird in English, but it rhymes in Arabic and it creates an ambiance of harmony and coexistence with the audience. It also lets the audience know they are about to hear a mawwal. Farid opened his previous mawwal like this too. So just like the improvisational solo instrument, starting the mawwal with ‘ya layli ya ayni’ is part of the standard mawwal template. Of course there are exceptions, but this is the norm. What usually happens is that the singer sings ‘ya ayni ya layl’ in different tones and moods, according to the vibe of the audience. Then he starts singing the actual mawwal.  Let's look at yet another Farid video that contains a mawwal, so that we can pinpoint the tahmeelamawwal, and ya layli ya ayni. This video will be a real treat, as it features him serenading the beautiful Samia Gamal.

Dancing to Mawaweel
We talked about the love affair that Arabic speakers have with their language. I'm mentioning it again because it explains something I've observed as a belly dancer in Egypt—that Egyptian audiences are way more interested in songs with lyrics than they are in instrumental pieces. They like the tried and the tested—Um Kulthoum, Abdel Wahab, Abdel Halim, Warda, Adawiyya, and so on. Once they hear songs with lyrics they know and love, they start singing, clapping, and swaying. They experience saltana. This is why a lot of times, an Egyptian audience can forgive a mediocre dance performance if they are moved by the music.

Mawaweel are often improvisational and acapella, so there is a lot of room for the singer to show off here. And that's what it's really all about. Keep in mind that mawaweel were made to be sung, not danced to. Yet that is exactly what we're going to do. In order to do this, the dancer has to become the singer. Once we know the meaning of the lyrics, we have to figure out how to 'sing' them with our bodies. It is always helpful to watch music videos and analyze singers’ movements, gestures, and posture.  This is more beneficial than watching other dancers. Don't forget, the mawwal is the singer's time to show off, not the dancer's. We don't want to overdo it with exaggerated or violent movements. We want to *compliment* the singer, not overpower him. As a side note, I like to think of the mawwal/dancer relationship as analagous to the relationship between a broadcaster and the person translating the broadcast into sign language. The signist is often displayed in a little box on the bottom corner of the screen. They do not take the whole screen, or even half of it, from the broadcaster.  In the same way, the dancer is at the bottom of the screen, or stage, giving the singer room to show off.

The dancer’s ‘words’ are figure 8s, undulations, and shimmies. These movements are how we speak. We then have to break many of the dance rules we're so used to, like keeping upright posture. A lot of times the lyrics are sad but abstract, and a good way to express that is by slouching, keeping the head and eyes down, collapsing, briefly closing the eyes. Things you'd normally avoid while dancing to regular music.

We also need to get comfortable with the idea of moving stillness. The idea here is not to move around a lot, but to express a lot with posture, head position, eyes, and gestures. And we have to stop moving when the singer stops singing, unless the violin or accordion has something *important* to say and we want to translate it. The idea is to keep the energy flowing when you stop moving. Don't actually stop moving. Don't ever finish your last movement so thoroughly that you’re just standing there waiting for the next phrase to kick in. Use the silence to finish it ever… so… slowly…

We can enhance what we're doing by using the last syllable(s) of the singer's sentence as an accent, and we can use his inflections to undulate or shimmy. It’s impossible to teach dance on paper, so at this point, if you’ve gone through the trouble of reading all of this, I’d encourage you to take the Drop the Prop: Dancing to Mawwal online workshop.

Big thank you to everyone who has purchased this instructional. I really hope you enjoyed it, and I look forward to hearing from you with questions, comments, suggestions for improvement and for future online workshops, and any insights you may have. I do apologize if there were any technical issues. I hope to iron them out for future recordings.

The following is a list of songs that contain mawaweel and that are dancer friendly.

     1.     Ana Mosh A’rifni by Abdel Basset Hamouda

     2.     Esmaooni by Warda

     3.     Sahirt Il-Layl by George Wassouf

     4.     Ay Dam’at Hozn Le by Abdel Halim Hafiz

     5.     Ah Laow La’bt Ya Zahr by Ahmed Shiba

     6.     O’yoon Il-Alb by Nagaat

     7.     Moghram Sababa by Mohamed Rushdie

     8.     Ya Sabr Tayyib by Abdel Min’am Il-Madbooli

     9.     Waffar Dawaak by Ashraf Il-Masree

    10.  Mawwal 30 Gamal by Magdi Tal’at

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