Few venues offer live Arabic or Greek music, or any form of belly dance music for that matter. Guest musicians may visit for short gigs and a few lucky dancers may be hired to accompany them. Dancing with real musicians is more the exception than the rule these days. Some dancers have discovered new music and bands to perform with. Nailah was contacted by a local Cleveland Heights band to perform with them. No, they are not Arabic but World Music. World Music encompasses the riffs, beats and essence of various cultures. It is an amalgam of sounds.
Nailah is honored to perform with UZIZI, a World Music/Celtic/Sacred Harp Singing band. The group features lead singer/songwriter/acoustic guitar playing Craig Matis along with five musicians and a seven-member backup choir. Jim Van Cleef is on lead guitar, Darren Frate on bass, Reed Simon on violin and Noel Howard on drums. Their original music is inspired from Bulgaria, Ireland and the Middle East with lyrics outlining the human condition. During performances, Nailah dances to some songs with Wings of Isis, veil, sword and other props. Fellow dancer, Appalachian clogger/Irish stepdancer Jo Folger also performs. Needless to say, this is a performance band.
“UZIZI is a great fit for my style and experience. The musicians are the best in the business, incredible talents. To perform with them is a gift,” Nailah says. “We’re also all “Baby Boomers” and the chemistry works,”
UZIZI was formed in 1981 after Craig moved to Cleveland after attending the University of Illinois. A visual artist and a teacher, Craig created the band’s name and the band. Through the years, band members have come and gone. An earlier incarnation produced a world tour that took them to the United Kingdom and beyond. They came ever-so-close to a major recording contract. Through the years, the band has recorded a handful of CD’s. It has also performed at many venues from music festivals, outdoor festivals, arts events, bars and clubs. Realizing that UZIZI is a unique show band, the group now focuses on private events and house parties.
Dancing with a live band forces a dancer to up her game. Since you cannot choreograph everything, you have to be ready to expect the unexpected. The songs may be the same but the rendition of the song may be different at each performance. The band may play faster or slower. They may add a little improvisation or may even delete a section of a song. A musician may be missing that changes the entire rendition of the song. When dancing to World Music, the rhythms are different. There are transitions from Middle Eastern to Celtic to Slavic musical notes. No two performances are alike. Plus, you may not be dancing to the same song but to different songs at different performances. A familiarity with the music and especially cues (often hard if it’s an outdoor venue) are important. You often only dance to a section of a song, so you must know when to enter and exit appropriately. Costuming and props come into play, depending on the music and what works. Since the venues are unique, you have to be able to adapt quickly to space considerations and to the ground on which you are performing (wood, carpet, pavement, pebbles, grass). Often you never see the venue until the evening of the performance. There is a great deal to consider and prepare for. For Nailah, the opportunity to dance to a live band fits her improvisational style. Though she listens to and knows her music thoroughly, she performs with only a rough outline and dances from the heart.
“I learned from an Iranian dancer at the Great Lakes Bellydance Convention, where I was instructing years ago, that a dancer should have the ability to walk out on stage and dance to any music provided. After all, with years of study, a dictionary of movement in one’s head and an open heart, a dancer just has to dance,” Nailah says.