Bellydancing and the Blues should be an ideal escape from the inevitable Christmas fare. First broadcast on Boxing Day on BBC Radio 4, it examines the roots of bellydance and baladi music – the down-home sound of urban Cairo. The programme is presented by Guy Schalom, the charismatic percussionist who leads the London-based group Baladi Blues. With sax player Ahmed el Saidi and quarter-tone accordion player Sheik Taha, the group animate bellydance evenings and conjour up the romantic sound of old Cairo.
‘Baladi is Egyptian dance music at its most dynamic,’ says Schalom. ‘Soulful accordion, saxophone and trumpet solos energised by powerful Egyptian percussion rhythms give baladi its distinctive sound. The music reflects the fast-paced, urban lifestyle of Cairo yet has its roots in the countryside.’ In the programme Schalom explores the contradictions inherent in bellydance and examines its role in post-revolutionary Egypt today.
But the deepest contradictions rest with the very people who perform baladi. What seems to us a provocative, alluring, even licentious dance for women in fact has roots in a ceremonial dance for men. As we discover in Cairo, deep divisions remain between those who think it is a vital expression of the Oriental spirit and those committed to regenerating sexual stereotypes. So what is the reality of bellydance and baladi in the new Egypt? Can it find any place amongst the street rappers and pop artists or is this an art form about to be consigned to realms of the tourist-pleasing cafes? As with so much in this rapidly changing culture, the answers prove difficult to find.
If you like the music then we’re also delighted to break the news of the appearance of Guy Schalom and the Baladi Blues Ensemble at the Songlines Encounters Festival at Kings Place on June 6.
Bellydancing and the Blues
BBC Radio 4, Wednesday December 26 at 11am and Saturday December 29 at 3:30pm