Review: Dombek Technique and Rhythms for Arabic Percussion with Amir Naoum

DombekTechniqueI got a doumbek. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, and finally got one. I was excited to start practicing (ok, I am *always* excited about new things, so sue me). I managed to get my hands on a copy of this DVD, popped it in, grabbed my doumbek and prepared myself for practice.

I have got the drum for a week. I have got the DVD for a week too, but I’m already congratulating myself for not buying it new. The DVD has good reviews on Amazon, so what’s wrong? Something very, very simple, and very basic. The instructor is clear and quite likeable, and thankfully that’s not the issue. The “technique” part of the DVD covers Doums, Teks, Kas, there’s a passing mention and explanation about Seks(Slaps), and a slightly longer explanation on Pops with the provision that they are an advanced technique. There are some basic exercises to build up the left hand for Kas and the right technique and sound for Doums and Teks; at least one or two of them are shown on the video below. Now, if you look a bit forwards, when talking about the Baladi Arabic style, or the Saiidi, you’ll notice some pesky “S” on the description… Yes, he is using Slaps for the Arabic rhythm descriptions. He’s hardly ever given you much of a chance to play with them. So if you’ve moved from the basic exercises into the malfouf and ayoub rhythms, which are the first ones described, you’ll be thrown from basic stuff (which will be easy to follow) into variations that use slaps (which you haven’t had a chance to practice at all and therefore will confuse the heck out of you and will sound bad) and straight into syncopated version without even an explanation other than a super-quick flash on screen of what you are expected to do. And of course, you’re most definitely not supposed to throw your hands in the air and give up. There’s no time to catch up, no slow down version to get to grips: you either hit the ground running and go for it, or you fall flat on your drum and weep.

What I liked about this is that there is a LOT of information, and once I am more familiar with the drum and comfortable producing Doums, Teks, Kas and Seks with a reasonable quality and speed, I should be able to use this as a good reference for rhythms and variations. But I don’t think it is really usable as instruction, let alone for “Beginner Level” as is listed on Amazon. It would be the equivalent, in dancing terms, of providing a DVD instructing and drilling on figure 8s, Mayas and Hip Drops, and then including a choreography that uses Hagallas extensively. Good for reference, yes, but not really usable by a beginner until they can find instruction which isn’t covered.

Possible uses, if somehow you can find this used, or gifted or whatever: if you’re still coming to grips with the different sounds, write the exercises at the beginning and do them regularly; find yourself some instruction on Seks, and try to get the right sound for them too. Write down the rhythms and variations, and practice yourself at a lower speed until you are comfortable. But don’t look at this expecting it to be your sole instruction, or for something that you can drill to, because it’s not the case. I do understand that having a mini-encyclopedia of Middle Eastern rhythms is nothing to scoff at, but what’s the point in presenting material for beginners when they are not presenting the tools for those beginners to be able to follow that material? A few more exercises using Seks, and a bit longer explanation on how to get the right sound for it would have gone a LONG way into making this far, FAR more usable.

Review: Bellydfance with Fan Veils

Belly Dance with Fan Veils DVD coverI was excited when I got this, but my excitement soon turned into disappointment.

Let’s start with the technical aspects.
– there’s two dvds, one for single fan, one for double fan
– there is a trailer for the dvd you’ve just purchased at the start of each DVD. Not real information, just the trailer you can see on YouTube and that probably prompted you to buy. I can’t really see the point of this, not doubled.
– the DVD was filmed and then voiced over. There is no instruction from Jehan while doing it, so sometimes the voice over talks about doing something and the image has moved way past that and into something else
– the single fan dvd has a warm up; very pretty arms and hands movements on this, among other things
– the costumes that Jehan wears throughout are black; this wouldn’t be that much of an issue except that she’s standing in front of a black theatrical curtain, and particularly the begining is lit in a rather “creative” way. The image is clear (on the demonstrations, I’ll tackle the performances separately) but while I understand the black costumes to attract the eye to the fans, with the black background and the lighting it can get a bit lost sometimes. Also, the skirts are obscuring the leg movements.
– the “chapters” in the first dvd are Trailer, Warm-up, Instructional Single Fan, Close-up tips and tricks, Performances, and Promos
– the chapters in the second dvd are Trailer, Instructional Double Fan, Performances, and Credits. This means that if you want to go to a particular section of the instructional where she does something, you will have to fast forward from the beginning or fast rewind from the performances, because the instructional itself isn’t broken down; this is a particularly annoying problem, because throughout the video we are encouraged to stop and practice on our own, but if we have to leave the DVD on pause or have to ffw every time, it can get tiring.

The “instructional”
I am writing instructional between quotes because I don’t believe this is anything of the sort, except maybe a small section at the beginning and the Close-up tips and tricks. We are told how to handle the fan in the opening section. Told about flutters and figure eights and circles (with lots of affirming thoughts about your beauty and the sacred shapes and whatnot). And… that’s about it. The rest of the 40+ minutes on each DVD demonstrates combos but doesn’t really break them down or go over exactly what is happening, let alone why. Barrel turns? rapid turns? dervish turns? You can see them, there’s some token “you should let yourself go in a trance-like movement” but on the technical implementation of it? You’re on your own (as an aside, I recommend Petite Jamilla’s double veil instructional or Ashe’s Wings of Ashe videos for this). Turns with a gypsy kick? mentioned with a word about “getting to them later”. They do get to them… just to show them again. I didn’t see any explanation of what was meant by that. On the double fan dvd there’s an explanation on how to do a “sun barrely turn” and the explanation amounts to “do a barrel turn with the fan held this way”. Yes, this isn’t a Bellydancing 101, I wasn’t expecting that, but since the props do affect the way you might want to carry out certain movements, even a glossing over the technical differences would have been welcome.

A lot of the combos shown are basically using wrist circles, figure eights and flutters, and we’re shown a few with a comment on what is happening. But as I said, while the audio is fine, the voice is quite often not on time with what is going on.
There’s also a lot of repetition of the same thing with different colour fans or with different in and outs. There are also quite a few cuts that fade to black before we get to see the final pose or result.

It all has much of a feel of a session where Jehan decided to show people what can be done, as opposed to instruct people on how to do it. However, the cherry on top for me was when approaching a poi-like move. We are told about the sacred dance uses of the poi in New Zealand, but when it comes to explain the not-so-easy 3-way weave, which could REALLY have done with a breakdown or slow explanation? We are told to look it up on YouTube. I’ve just purchased an instructional video that is telling me to look up how to do something on YouTube, there’s irony for you.

The Tips and tricks on close-up are a good idea, particularly the opening of the fans. I wasn’t too keen on the headband hold, for reasons that are amply demonstrated with the impromptu beehive gained by the dancer using it on the Gypsy Fire performance. But for the most part? It felt a lot like common sense and nothing you couldn’t figure out with a bit of a play by yourself.

Also, technically… I am no expert with the fans, but I found the tendency to leave a fan “dead” while doing something with the other fan a bit disturbing, as it didn’t look aesthetically pleasing, at least to my eye; a small gentle flutter would have sorted that out, but that wasn’t explored. And some of the movements and combos shown required very vigorous movements that, again, aesthetically were questionable. I am not sure how comfortable I would be trying to include them in a routine of my own.

Finally, the camera seemed to focus a bit too much on Jehan’s ample bosom, or on close-up of the fans but without a real grip on WHAT to show that is of interest to us (like the swirling of the hands). This was distracting, and while it happened often, it wasn’t a constant occurrence.

The performances
– some performances were obviously filmed with low quality video; the editors tried to compensate for this by adding blurry filters that are frankly distracting
– one performance has sections that were filmed and then edited to show backwards; obviously whatever is happening on the screen can never ever happen on a stage.
– another performance is very obviously shown in slow motion, but the music is at the right speed; this is another example of something that can’t be achieved on a stage.
– yet another performance suffers from a case of creative editing, where for some reason there are cuts with a “hypnotic” swirl, and then we see the performance has gone, in the space of 1 seconds, from being flat on the floor swirling closed fans to standing up with open fans and in the middle of a swipe movement. There is no obvious progression from one to the other, and lead me to think that it wasn’t as much a full performance as several bits that were “knitted” together with the editing.

overall? It’s worth buying used, and worth watching a few times, but I have strong doubts on how suitable it is as an instructional. I would definitely not recommend it, and gave it the 3 stars because obviously the production values are good. You can check the trailer for it below.

(the above is a copy of the review I left at Amazon.com when I first purchased this DVD, back in 09/2011; I would like to add reviews of the fan veils DVDs I’ve got so for completion’s sake I’ve added this one)

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