Belly Dance to the Music of Americanistan!
Jareeda Interview April/May 2005
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Americanistan on Jareeda Magazine cover

This interview originally appeared in Jareeda Magazine, April/May 2005. Used by permission.

Jareeda:   How long has Americanistan been together? When did you start?

Dunyah:   We have been together since 1990. We started with a performance on Earth Day.

J:   How many members have you had over the years, or how long have you been playing music?

D:   We have had three different flute players over the years, and three other members who moved on to form their own bands. We enjoy inviting guest musicians in for recording projects or particular shows. We worked with guest artists to creat the Peace Concerts we did two years ago. We frequently have guest musicians at our Café Paradiso shows in Eugene.

Janet Naylor, John Marzicola, Wayne and myself have been the core members for several years now. Frederick Wilson is currently busy with other projects but plays with us on occasion. We are currently working with a vocalist, Anna Armaiti, who began singing Eastern music as a teenager and can sing in Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Romanes (Gypsy), and even  Pashto (a language of Afghanistan).

I would love to have an Americanistan Reunion show someday and get everyone together for a gigantic jam session.  

J:   How many different instruments do you play and what are they?

D:   John plays the silver flute and drums; Janet plays the kanoon and tar; Wayne plays lead dumbek, ney flute, Mediterranean pipes, sipsi, sruti box, zurna, and vocals; I play harmonium, drums, and backup vocals. Fred  plays oud, saz, and clarinet, among others. Anna plays tar drum and sings.

J:   What about your transition from Dancer to Musician and how that affects you as a musician?

D:   I began as a drummer/dancer in a troupe called Rajjahan in Eugene during the 80s. We did all of our own music, each dancer played something while others danced. When the troupe dissolved, I continued on with Wayne and other musicians. I’ve always preferred live music for dancing. For me dancing is all about being in the moment and connecting with something greater. The dancing self is larger than life.

For many years I both danced and did music in our shows, gradually phasing out the dancing and focusing more on the music. My goal is to provide other dancers with the joyful experience I had dancing to live music.

Our musicians are trained to give the dancer a good show which suits her style and temperament. We pride ourselves on our reputation as a dancer-friendly band. We are happy when we can introduce a dancer to her first live music experience, which we have done on many occasions.  We love playing for professional dancers, too. We have been honored to play for some famous dancers and some extremely gifted but not so famous dancers.

J:   Do you write your own songs and if so, what inspires you? Do you write songs together or individually?

D:   I wrote a couple of originals for the Mosaic CD, e.g. “Rania’s Seven” and “Delilah.” Wayne loves to chant,  as in “Inanna’s Veils” and “Song of Saqra.” We all love to improvise and a sometimes the music evolves from an improv into a piece, such as “Zamara,” “Moroccan TranceFusion” and “Naia Saeeda.”

Songs which aren’t yet recorded are “Ginger Tea,” written by John and  named for our habit of drinking ginger tea at rehearsals, and “Desert Waltz,” written by me. We are planning to put these on our next album.

Inspiration comes from our own spirits, from a rhythm, a dream, who knows? The best improvs occur at a live show with a dancer that we are really connecting with.

J:   Where would you love to be invited to play? Cairo? IAMED show?

D:   Well, sure, either of those! As Wayne says, we’ll play anywhere that we don’t get arrested.

J:   What's your favorite type of music?

D:   I love almost any style of music that is well done and has heart. Lately I’ve been listening to a homemade recording of local Sufi music. It’s great, it gives me a feeling of peace. I like Ralph Stanley, the famous bluegrass musician, and some of the early blues musicians. I like simple music. The Incredible String Band is still a favorite.

J:   How have you seen belly dance music evolve over the years and where do you see it going?

D:   Well..... I’m not a big fan of the techno and back beats style of music which is so popular now. I like quieter, more subtle music. I love traditional percussion, i.e. dumbek, tars, arabic tambourine.

The trend in dancing seems a bit polarized now, which is reflected in the music. People are either Tribal or Egyptian. There are still a lot of American Cabaret style dancers in the Northwest, which is my favorite style. And I welcome the new fusion “Tribaret” style, which I think will get more and more popular.


J:   What is your favorite audience, hardest audience?

D:   I like an intimate setting better than a huge, impersonal setting. I like to have a certain “critical mass” of audience members, enough to create some excitement. Too small, and the energy just isn’t there. Too big and it can feel disconnected. A great atmosphere helps a lot, and a great sound system. For musicians, being able to hear ourselves onstage is a constant challenge.

The hardest audience is one that gives no feedback at all, in a noisy setting. We rarely encounter that though.

J:   What lies ahead for you as a band?

D:   We will continue to grow and explore. We have three regular, monthly gigs now. Our Café Paradiso showcase with dancers has been running once a month for over a year. In June we will be moving to Saturday evenings, which will be great. (See Upcoming Events at www.americanistan.com to find out where we are playing.)

We want to continue playing and expanding till we drop!


J:   Do you have any more CDs coming out?

D:   We had about
half a new CD recorded and a freak computer failure at the studio wiped it out, so we are starting over. We have at least three CDs in us right now. We want to do more tribal style music, more taxims and more traditional songs with vocals.

Thank you for asking about the music. I love to talk about the music.

There’s a certain obsessive quality to being an artist, which doesn’t always work well in other areas of one’s life. I think belly dancers can relate to that! We all love a chance to talk about our obsession.

 

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