Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Bellydance (Rough Guide/Southbound)

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Hamouda Ali: El Samer
Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Bellydance (Rough Guide/Southbound)

As has been noted previously at Elsewhere, anyone interested in world music learns quickly to never judge an album by its cover. In many countries the cover is just the thing you wrap around the sound and not much thought is given to it. Often an “exotic” landscape photo or unflattering image of the artist (snapped at the recording session or in the street outside the studio) is enough.

If you turned away from bellydance albums just because the covers all look much the same –- a bellydancer, obviously -– you'd never hear great musicians like percussionist-composer Hossam Ramzy who worked with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, jazz musicians like Andy Sheppard and Chick Corea, Peter Gabriel, Joan Armatrading and many others.

His albums contain exciting music, and bellydance should make great albums: it's sensual and dramatic, has a dance beat and interesting rhythms, and a long tradition yet is still contemporary.

Today those edgy Arabic grooves often get a make-over from artists who pull together traditional instruments (the lovely sound of the oud which is like a lute), small orchestras and vocals alongside Western instruments and sharp studio technology.

Many travelers rely on a Lonely Planet or a Rough Guide, and for many years the Rough Guide has been releasing compilations of world music which are not just region-specific (Malaysia, Vietnam etc) but can often bring newer artists to the spotlight. Which might explain why the well-established Hossam Ramzy is absent from The Rough Gide to Bellydance.

No matter, because here is exciting (and yes, exotic) music from Lebanese, Egyptian and American artists who bring together tribal beats, those swooping strings so distinctive in Middle Eastern music, sinuous violin, exciting accordion and romantic oud into a mix which is heady and sweet.

And it just makes you want to get up dance.

The well-annotated collection is helpful in that, it includes a DVD of dance moves by Florida-based Virginia (don't know her) which come with a warning that if you have a heart condition etc etc.

Virginia makes the seemingly impossible look easy and fun.

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