(Originally Printed in Jareeda Magazine, April/May 2004)
Americanistan is not the name of a distant land but a group of musicians who make their home
in the Pacific Northwest town of Eugene, Oregon and whose creative vision has been warmed by the musical traditions of the
sunny Mediterranean, the Middle East, and West Asia. As their name seems to imply, this group respectfully honors the traditions
and cultures they borrow from while remaining honest about their position as "westerners" interpreting them from afar.
Americanistan has been playing together for thirteen years,
but members have had an interest in Middle Eastern music and dance for over two decades and their commitment to the music
is undeniable. As their website states, "belly dance music is [their] specialty" and they continue to be in high demand at
dance events and festivals for their ability to accompany dancers.
2003 saw the release of two recordings from the group, Mosaic and Journey
Mosaic is a unique and rather unusual collection of music in that it was inspired
by the long and eclectic list of dancers with whom Americanistan has collaborated over the years. Indeed, many of the tunes
are named after the performers whose images dance across the cover of the CD in a vibrant collage. Clearly, these musicians
adore playing for dancers! Mosaic contains both traditional pieces and originals in a variety of moods from the slow and stately
("Queen Mez") to the vivid urgency of "Delilah," composed and played for the legendary Seattle-based dancer herself. The listener
will find lively drum solos ("Razia Raks"), Turkish folk ("Uskudar"), and a Spanish malaguena ("Elena's Villa") complete with
taconeo (heelwork) and castanets. Mosaic contains seventeen tracks with over an hour's worth of music and performers and music
lovers alike will certainly find pleasure and inspiration in what this CD has to offer.
Journey East is another offering from Americanistan, albeit in
an earlier and much different incarnation. As the CD liner notes suggest, this is "music for yoga, dance, movement meditation,
or massage, inspired by nature and spirit" and I would add that some of the pieces are excellent for warm-up and centering
during dance class or before a performance. The sparse instrumentation and meditative quality of Journey East invokes
a feeling of spaciousness and relaxed focus. On tracks such as "Spirit of Mother Earth" or the title track "Journey East,"
silver flute and frame drum blend harmoniously, invoking moonlit desert scenes and solitary reveries. "Saidi Didi" and "Camel
Caravan" are practically custom-made for American Tribal Style belly dance. The steady sway of 4/4 and 6/8 rhythms are accompanied
by harmonium and reed trumpet, and complemented by finger cymbal accents. They evoke colorful visions of bejeweled and turbaned
dancers undulating in unison. Not only for dancers, this CD should become a staple in massage therapy offices and yoga centers.
With an ever-growing repertoire of music from countries as diverse as Iraq,
Palestine, Spain, Uzbekistan, and Israel, it would not be a surprise to see this dedicated group produce another CD in the
near future. Readers can be sure that some of the tunes will be recorded specifically with the dancer in mind. To learn more
about Americanistan, as well as to see photos of the band and of the many dancers they have collaborated with, visit their
website, www.americanistan.com. They may also be contacted via their website where copies of their CD are available for purchase.
Elena Villa is a West Coast dance instructor and performer of Middle Eastern
belly dance, flamenco, and Arab-flamenco fusion. She holds an MA in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz
and is a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at the University of Oregon where she teaches literature.