Belly Dance to the Music of Americanistan!
The Making of Tribalation! Article by Dunyah
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How a Nice Little Belly Dance Band
Tapped Into Their Dark Side
and Made a Tribal CD
The Making of Tribalation!
by Dunyah
Originally published in Jareeda Magazine, Sept. 2006
Used by permission. Edited Nov. 2006 by the author

Click to enlarge

Earlier this year I decided that it was high time for Americanistan to release a new CD. It had been several years since we finished "Mosaic" and the group had grown and changed, as groups tend to do. We had begun to work more often with American Tribal Style troupes and we were enjoying that very much. We had been recording most of our shows for the past year and so we began sifting through all the recordings to decide what to include in our new CD project.

Being the eclectic musicians that we are, it soon became apparent that we had enough material for three CDs with three distinct styles! We decided to tackle the tribal material first.

Even though we had some live recordings of tribal style music, we needed to supplement these with some studio recordings.

Wayne Omar’s two-year stint as a musician with Gypsy Caravan gave us a great foundation.

We also did some research about what Tribal dancers like. We listened to CDs of folk music from India and Africa as well as American Tribal Style music groups like Gypsy Caravan, Domba, Helm and Solace. We watched DVDs of tribal performances.

Most importantly, we talked with our local Tribal dancers and asked for their ideas. Sabine, director of troupe Tribalation! became our consultant for this project. We developed a great rapport with the troupe and also became close with Luminessah Tribal Bellydancers, another wonderful tribal troupe from Eugene.

Some of the qualities of tribal belly dance music were becoming apparent: big powerful drumming, simple but hypnotic melodies and dramatic changes within a piece were some of the things we noticed about good tribal music. We learned that some of the elements that work for tribal dancing are:

    • structuring the piece with an effective build-up in the beginning
    • a change in the rhythm part-way through
    • a dramatic ending
    • phrases of four in the drumming and melody

This last point is especially important when troupes are improvising to the music.

Being an acoustic music group, we stuck with folk instruments and hand drumming - no electric guitars or trap drums and synthesizers for us. (Although we are planning a techno CD in the near future.)

Zurna, mijwiz, arghul and sipsi are some of the folk horns of North Africa that are especially good for tribal. These horns are an acquired taste, not always appreciated by some, but I have always loved those loud, droney, open-the-top-of-my-head sounds.

I do believe that all of these folk horns are powerful trance inducers and that they can cause states of ecstasy when combined with drumming and dancing. In fact, I experienced something like that myself recently at a show where there were two zurnas playing along with a big tupan drum, and a group of dancers were moving to the music. I was playing a muzzhar, the very large arabic tambourine.

The power of all that sound, the pulsing of the rhythm, and the swirling dancers created in me one of those transcendent moments where time seems to stop. I felt very connected to everyone onstage. My awareness of the audience faded away and the music and dancing filled my senses. I felt joyful and knew that I was doing what I am meant to do. The moment passed and we got on with the show, but it was such an intense feeling that the memory has stayed with me.

Nice twangy strings are good for tribal, too, and John Marzicola, one of our band members, just happened to have the coolest instrument. He invented it himself. He calls it the yuemba because it is made out of a piece of yew wood. It’s about 2 1/2 feet long and is played somewhat like a birimbau, a stringed instrument found all over the world. John’s yuemba also has shakers and a wah-wah effect. It sounds funky and string-y, slithery and unique, all qualities which seemed to fit well for tribal music.

One of the great things about doing tribal style is the freedom to be really creative and invent new music which is unique yet honors its roots in North Africa and elsewhere. That is really great fun and highly satisfying.

We created a piece featuring John’s yuemba alternating with Wayne Omar’s mijwiz going back and forth from a fast 2/4 rhythm to a slow chifti telli. Sabine liked it so well that we named it after her troupe, Tribalation! which also became the title of the CD.

To create music for Sabine’s signature double sword dance, we got REALLY creative and tapped into our dark sides to come up with music as haunting, powerful and intense as her dance. She described to us the music that she imagined to go with the dance – it was moody, sparse, and had a brooding quality as well as musical references to the sharpness of the blades.

This was music entirely different from anything we had done before and was quite challenging. But the results were outstanding, I think, even if I do say so myself. This is the piece titled “Dangerous” on the CD. It has become one of my favorites.

Learning, creating and working with tribal dancers has been a wonderful experience. We are looking forward to five shows with Luminessah Tribal Bellydancers next month at the Eugene Celebration.

 I am hoping for another one of those timeless moments when the music takes over my senses and the dancers become portals to another realm. At the very least I know it will be exhilarating and that’s what keeps me making music for belly dancers!

About the author: Dunyah, aka Denise Gilbertson, has been dancing since 1976 and making music for dancers since shortly after that. She and her husband, Wayne “Omar” Gilbertson have produced five CDs of Americanistan’s music. The latest, a compilation of traditional folk and belly dance music,  is to be released in September 2006. They are also working on a CD of taxims titled “Beautiful Nights” and are planning an Americanistan remixed techno CD.

Listen to clips from Tribalation on our Music Page.

Tribalation! Onstage at Tribal Fest
Photo by Michael Baxter. Click to enlarge.

Sabine Onstage with Americanistan at OCF
Click to enlarge

Sabine's Double Sword Dance at Tribal Fest
Photo by Michael Baxter. Click to enlarge

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