Serena was a native New Yorker and prominent belly dancer in the NYC scene. She got her start in belly dance when her husband Rip, a musician, booked a gig that required a bellydancer. She volunteered although she hadn’t learned yet and that began her interest in the dance form. Serena learned through immersion in the 8th avenue scene where there were many middle eastern restaurants and clubs (sadly no longer in existence) that featured bellydancers. In the 1960’s she opened her own studio where many dancers have gotten their start. Her contribution to the bellydance community lives on to this day. Read more on the Podcast page or the link below.
Najwa Karam is a Lebanese singer and songwriter who rose to stardom in the early 1990s. Her style bends traditional and contemporary Arabic music which makes it impossible not to dance to. She is known for her Mawals - the emotional vocals at the beginning of a song, for an example of this listen to Mawal Zahle or just Mawal (Mijana). She’s one of my absolute favorites - enjoy!
Melhem Zein is a Lebanese singer who began his career as a contestant on the show, “Super Star,” the equivalent of “American Idol” in the states. He has a large and passionate fan base that consider him to be The Boss of Lebanese folklore songs.
He has mentioned that his musical inspirations are Wadi El Safi, Mohammed Abd El Wahhab and Nazem Al Ghazali.
Cheba Maria is a Moroccan Raï singer who now lives in France. She follows in the footsteps of Cheb Hasni, Cheb Khaled and Cheb Mami.
Cheb/Cheba means “young” in Arabic and is used to distinguish contemporary Raï singers from the older generation. I really love Nari Nari !
Ozel Turkbas was a Turkish born actress, model and singer. She passed away shortly after I began dancing and I never got to meet her, but I did go to a tribute show for her where videos were shown of her dancing and singing. I was blown away by her array of talents and the amount that she accomplished in her life. She helped popularize bellydancing in the US and was a prominent figure on the 8th avenue scene. In 1969 she released an album entitled “How to Make Your Husband a Sultan” which featured many well known musicians. The record featured a 17 minute dance routine in addition to traditional songs.
Assi el Helani
Assi El Helani is a Lebanese singer who studied at the Higher Institute of Music in Lebanon where he concentrated on signing and out performance. He has done many fundraising concerts and raises awareness for global hunger and poverty. He is also a judge o the Middle Eastern version of The Voice.
George Abdo performed in the Boston area in the 1970s playing with his orchestra, Flames of Araby. He played a combination of Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Armenian, Greek and Turkish music. It also incorporates some American pop and jazz. His albums reached mainstream US audiences making Middle Eastern music more mainstream.
John Bilezikjian was an Armenian-American musician based in LA. He was an old master and also played the violin, mandolin and dumbek. He sang in Armenian, Turkish, Assyrian and English. He has collaborated with many other musicians including The Brothers Baladi featured below. He has played with Armenian singers and with orchestras including The Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Pops as an oud soloist.
Enjoy this drum solo playlist!
The Brothers of the Baladi is a world music band that is based in Portland. Their music combines traditional Middle Eastern music with western sounds. The group was formed by Michael Beach in 1975 in Yum, Arizona as an accompanying band to bellydancer Zamara. Beach sings in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, French, Spanish, Kurdish, Armenian and English.