Tag Archives: dabke

August 26th, 2014 (Miscellaneous Sounds of Palestine)

Before I left the United States to come to Palestine, I almost, almost bought a field recorder. I took a huge detour that makes me regret not buying one (there’s a lot for a musician to hear in Istanbul, Lesvos, Rome, and Berlin), but I’m lucky in that my two flatmates in Nablus happen to be very interested in ethnomusicology, and brought along one recorder each. Giulia has been especially diligent in making sure we capture pieces of what we hear everyday. Some of these are a few weeks old, and really belong to some of my earlier posts, so I’ll go back and edit in the links, but this post will provide a sort of sound collage of Palestine for anyone interested. 

Adhan Thohr Juma3a – This is definitely the most exemplary sound byte I could include here to represent Nablus. Here, the time of day is clearly marked by the five calls to prayer. In other words, the call serves as a musical sundial. This particular adhan plays in the afternoon on Fridays, to announce the most important prayer of the week (similar to Sunday church bells for Christians). And although many Muslims have insisted to us that the call is vocalizing the Qur’an, not merely singing it, I can’t help but love it based on it’s sheer musicality. Each call is sung in a maqam, or Arabic scale, and sometimes the vocalizers ornament each phrase and elongate the words (religious rubato, though they might not appreciate the expression). It’s one of the things I know I’ll miss once I’m back in the States.

Wedding Song and Dabke Dancing – Because to understand a Palestinian wedding, you really need to hear it. Actually, maybe it’d be better not to; the speakers were turned up louder than anything should ever be ever, and I think my left eardrum has some aural form of PTSD. But you can’t hate this music — it’s designed to get people moving, and there’s a strong sense of rhythm that makes it hard to resist the dance floor, even if you suck at dabke (like me).  Also, here’s a recording of us almost dying as our car raced twenty others to get to the wedding first. And here’s one of me, at the wedding lunch before all of this, killing time drumming on a bunch of soda cans.

Pool Jam Session #1, 2, and 3 – This is what happens when you stick a bunch of musicians in a pool house for a weekend. We had two oud players from Nablus, one singer from Canada, one flute player from Italy, and me, playing guitar and occasionally oud as well. #1 is probably my favorite. It’s called Ya Leyl Ya Leyl, and Professor Habib composed it. It’s so simple but we never get sick of playing it, and it’s the easiest to jam, because the accompaniment is just switching between Do and Fa, and then repeating the same thing in the minor key. I don’t know what into the second recording, but a lot of it is improvisation between Nidal and Habib. And the third is an Egyptian political song. We don’t know the name; we just call it Ham/Hum, for obvious reasons. 

Students at Sabastiya and the Medical Relief Center – We gave our students drums and taught them to beat out rhythms while singing. Our Sabastiya kids are mostly 10-12 years old and we had them drum along to Tik Tik Tik Ya Musleiman by Fairouz. Everyone here knows Fairouz, and especially this song; the Lebanese singer has a lot of classic children’s songs in her repertoire, and even the adults we meet love it. And apparently, my own mother used to sing it to me when I was a baby, though I had no idea until we had already taught it to the kids here. The Medical Relief Center students are a little older — 14 to 18 in age — and a lot of them know some pretty complex rhythms. In this recording, one of our students is leading a call and response song/chant/game with the rest of the class. Giulia, Tessa, and I have noticed that students respond really well to rhythm, but don’t have as much familiarity with pitches and harmony. That observation could be made of Arab music culture as a whole; the beat tends to be a lot more important to the essence of a song than the melody is. It’s worth mentioning that every student there knows how to dance dabke.

The only other recording I want to include here is of daytime fireworks, but only because we’re so relieved that our ears have finally learned to distinguish between a spray of bullets and a wedding celebration. 

August 15th, 2014

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m only a quarter Palestinian. So it came as a surprise to me when my mother called a week ago to tell me I have around 500 distant (but directly traceable) relatives in Ramallah. At least, these 500 were coming to the wedding my second cousin Eman invited me to. His son, Karim, is getting married, and the festivities have lasted three days. I missed the first day, but I arrived in Ramallah on the 14th for the “small” family get-together, including commercial loudspeakers and dabke dancing until 4 am. When I woke up, Tessa and Giulia had arrived (my cousins had kindly invited them as well). Between lunch, wedding preparations, and the salon, the day quickly disappeared, and before we knew it we were in a van, one among, twenty, rushing to pick up the bride.

There was already a crowd when we arrived, so we barely caught a glimpse of white before she vanished into the groom’s car. Then they took off, and all the other cars followed, ours included. The groom drove behind a camera truck, filming the entire drive; so of course, every other car wanted to be in the frame. I’ve seen crazy drivers before. I’ve been in our minivan when my dad was going 80 mph down a windy cliff road. But no driver has ever made me fear for my life the way this one did when he turned Ramallah Radio 103.4 way up and rocketed us straight for a four-way merge. He slammed the breaks at the last possible moment, and the groom’s black Audi had to drift to avoid being hit. Our entourage of vehicles kept this up the whole trip: fishtailing, beeping, and blasting music, with kids hanging out the windows and exhaust pipes popping. All I could think was that my parents are worried about me for the wrong reasons. If anything kills me in Palestine, it will be the drivers, not the rockets 80 km away in Gaza.

We arrive safe and sound, only to be immediately swept into the growing crowd around the groom. I don’t know where his bride went, but Karim was surrounded by a troupe of drummers and cheering friends. As the troupe beat out a quick baladi rhythm, his friends rushed him and began tossing him in the air. For the record, Karim is neither small nor thin. But that didn’t stop the crowd from throwing him five feet in the air and carrying him on their shoulders.

I made my way for the hall, and was a little shocked to find that the two floors were gender-segregated, before remembering that this was a Muslim wedding. Up on the women’s floor, 250 ladies unraveled their scarves and revealed elegant dresses and complex hair-dos. Then the bride appeared on the silver carpet, clad in sparkling white from head to toe. Even with her veil on it was obvious that she was gorgeous. But then she too removed her scarf, and the groom arrived to accompany her for the first dance. After that, the night was blur of flashy dabke dancers, Arabic electronic music, cake-cutting, fireworks, a bizarre giant plastic ball for the newlyweds (?), and presentation of the dowry for the bride. The formal matrimony ceremony actually occurs in private, so there was no altar; just a swanky white couch on a stage, overlooking the masses. Arabs party late, and by the end, the three of us were exhausted.


Palestinians are known for their hospitality, and my cousins really push the stereotype. At 3 am, they tried to offer us dinner, and only let us order a taxi back to Nablus when we insisted we had work in the morning. Even then, they slipped the payment to the taxi driver and told us not to worry about it. It was simultaneously frustrating and incredibly endearing. This taxi was a lot a gentler than the groom’s entourage, and on the way back I dreamed of dabke and wedding cake.