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Building a Music Collection

For your very first CD, I'd recommend a compilation of simple, lively dance music like Best of Bellydance from Egypt, Lebanon, Arabia & Turkey, which I think is simple enough for beginners to choreograph on their own or improvise...It's cheap and it's fun!
Or, if you prefer slower music, try Hossam Ramzy's Secrets of the Eye, which offers a variety of rhythms and beautiful, soulful melodies, plus a few livelier numbers.
Then, I'd suggest a collection with a broader range of more complex music. Rough Guide to Bellydance is by far my favorite "musical styles primer." It has an awesome variety, from old-style classics to modern pop. It also has FOUR drum solos! The liner notes are very detailed. This CD will expose you to lots of different types of music and give you an idea of which kinds you like best.
Bellydance Superstars: features exciting, complex music chosen for performance by major stars on tour (oddly, the liner notes tell you lots about the dancers who chose the music and nothing about the music!) This collection leans toward pop music, but also has some classics and tribal-styled pieces. It's less comprehensive than "Rough Guide," but is more danceable overall.

Pop music

Most students are attracted to Middle-Eastern pop music first. The sounds are more like what we're used to in Western music. CDs that combine lots of artists and styles are a great way to learn, and to build a library quickly.
Camel Spotting: Opens with Nour El Ein (aka "the habibi song") by Amr Diab, and includes lots of danceable pop. An added bonus: translations of the song lyrics on the liner so you know what you're dancing about!

Desert Roses & Arabian Rhythms: A great mix of music, including an electronic remix of Desert Rose, the Sting/Cheb Mami duet, and music by Hakim (always danceable!), Natacha Atlas (that voice!) and other popular belly dancer favorites.

Arabic Groove: Another good pop collection. The liner includes bios of the stars and descriptions of the songs. Most of these are to a good, solid 4/4 beat, which makes it easy for a beginner to practice or choreograph.

Learning Rhythms

At some point, you'll need to get familiar with standard Middle-Eastern rhythms. It will vastly improve your dancing, and your zill playing.

Hossam Ramzy's Rhythms of the Nile is a 2-CD set designed to teach the basic rhythms to both dancers and musicians. It covers all the major rhythms very well, in their many variations.

Rhythm of the Dance by Solace, is the one I use in class. It includes a written zill pattern to go with each rhythm (not available at Amazon; try Maqam Music or any belly dance vendor).

I highly recommend drumming along on an empty coffe can until you are familiar with the rhythm. Then work on finger cymbals, combinations and traveling steps to each rhythm.

Speaking of drums, put Hossam Ramzy's Sabla Tolo CD at the top of your wish list if you love drum solos! This CD is HOT, HOT, HOT & juicy!

Classics

Eventually, you'll be ready to tackle the classics. It's difficult for most beginners to "hear" the levels of emotion and musicality in Middle-Eastern music at first . But if you develop your taste for it, you'll find that the emotions run deep, the accents and humor are subtle, and the music speaks to the soul. I think the best way to learn how to "hear" this music is to watch one of the Egyptian dancers interpret it! Visit Dahlal's "Songs Every Dancer Should Know" page, and also ask her to recommend an Egyptian performance video for you. She carries a lot of them! (be prepared...they're not cheap, but they're worth it!
This is a lively, well-recorded CD that features classic and complex music in the Egyptian orchestra style. Lissa Fakir is a 5-minute piece that will inspire your dance to new levels of emotion. The whole CD is a winner!
Judy "jihan" Reda's Egyptian Cabaret Music features softly-styled classics. It includes versions of Hani and Leylet Hob, as well as a good assortment of Taxims (improvised solos) that help you learn what individual instruments sound like and make excellent "transitions" between different moods in a routine.
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