In the June 2014 issue, we introduced you to some of the most common rhythms used in traditional belly dance music. In this lesson we’ll take a look at seven odd-meter belly dance rhythms and adapt them to the drumset.
“Belly dance” is a Western umbrella term for certain dance styles originating from several countries around the Middle East, North Africa, eastern Europe (the Balkans), and Mediterranean Sea areas. The music that’s used contains a rich variety of interesting rhythms. Traditionally, the rhythms are played on percussion instruments such as the bendir, which is a frame drum, and the darbuka, an hourglass-shaped goblet drum that’s considered the most prominent accompaniment percussive instrument for belly dancers.
Many popular belly dance songs are based on rather uncomplicated structures. However, some awkward odd meters are incorporated as well. For example, folk music from the Balkans features fast, uneven beats that have inspired American tribal fusion music. Classical Turkish art music has also left its mark on the genre, resulting in a variety of interesting rhythms. Consisting of groups of two and three notes, the uneven rhythm families are referred to as “aksak,” meaning “limping” in Turkish. Their uneven subdivisions make them interesting and fun to play, creating a source of inspiration for the contemporary drummer.
This relatively easy five-beat rhythm is said to be of Persian origin and is mainly used in improvisational tribal belly dance styles that have a trancelike character.
Moroccan/Algerian chaabi music is known for some groovy and unique 6/8 rhythms. Notice that the phrase starts with the snare instead of the bass drum. This pattern can also be written in 12/8.
This fast Bulgarian folk rhythm in 7/8—and sometimes 7/16—is regarded as one of the country’s national folk dances.
As stated previously, “aksak” means “limping,” while in this case “Roman” refers to the gypsy people living in Turkey. The Roman aksak is a Turkish rhythm that’s felt in a sequence of two, two, three, and two 8th notes.
Also referred to as “aksak semai” or “samaai,” this classical rhythm of Ottoman-Turkish origin is very popular among belly dancers for slow sections of a routine. A similar rhythm played twice as fast is referred to as “curcuna.”
This Bulgarian rhythm in 11/8 is felt in a sequence of two, two, three, two, and two 8th-note groupings. It’s usually played at fast tempos.
Here’s an interesting classical Egyptian rhythm in 13/8 that’s used in Arabic muwashahat music.
Let these rhythms inspire you to explore their rich musical and cultural backgrounds, and enjoy!
Ruben van Rompaey is a solo artist and workshop leader who has performed at a variety of national and international jazz and belly dance festivals. He has released two instructional DVDs and is the author of method books for drums and darbuka. For more, visit magnatune.com/artists/rompaey.