Lamma Bada & Drum Feature: The Riq Raqs – ALLAF 009
Meet the ancient grandmother of the tambourine, really get the meaning of the gorgeous old song Lamma Bada, and think twice before wearing that coin belt.
The riq, along with other frame drums, is an ancient Arabic grandmother of the modern tambourine. It is also one of the main instruments I play in my band Taksim. And you are going to LOVE what you learn about the riq in this show. We’ve seen hand held frame drums played by women in ancient Egyptian and Greek art, as well as other percussion instruments with small metal cymbals excavated from ancient Turkey. As my first belly dance teacher June told me, drums are the universal heartbeat. The riq will be the first drum we feature.
With that, let’s begin our 9th Danceable Ritual: Walk with a drum in your heart
Walking outside to anywhere can be a healing experience. It does not have to be a rushed series of footsteps between missions. Even when it’s time to walk fast, walking doesn’t need to be stressful. Like most things in life, walking can be a dance. And walking from place to place with a drum in your heart is our next Danceable Ritual.
Your heart is beating now. Can you feel it inside? If you are having trouble feeling your heart beat in your chest, place the pointer finger and middle finger from both hands on either side of your neck just below your jaw bone. Feel it. That is literally the beat of your heart.
Say “Doum” out loud each time your heart beats. Keep breathing while you do it. My heart beat now is Doum doum doum doum…
Keep the rhythm going. Relax your forehead, eyes, cheeks and mouth. Roll your shoulders back slightly, open your chest, and relax your hands. Stand up if you can. Pelvis slightly tucked, knees soft. Return to your healthy belly dance stance and posture for a powerful life. If you lose track of your heart beat, place your fingers back on your neck gently. Say it out loud. “Doum” each time it beats.
Now step with your heart beat. Walk with this rhythm coming from our hearts. Keep saying the rhythm out loud as you walk. Add awareness of your breath. Breathe in 2 or 3 doums, and out 2 or 3 doums. Whatever feels more natural right now. Just work on noticing your breath and breathing consistently with the Doum of your heart. When your breathing matches your heart beat, your movements will be more powerful.
When that feels good, add a hip movement that makes your walk more like a dance. Maybe it’s a small shimmy, or figure 8 or hip circle, keeping it simple and enjoyable. Keep returning to your heart beat, and then matching your breath cycle to it.
By just adding two little beats between our heart beats, we create a more compelling rhythm. Ayub. D kD k. It’s also used for trance dances. Let this Ayub bring you into an aware and meditative state as you walk. It’s simple. You can do it easily. My ayub heartbeat sounds like this: D kD k
Stay with it. If your thoughts wander, focus your attention back on your heart beat. Face relaxed. Seeing through your eyes. This could be another Danceable Ritual that helps you feel A Little Lighter. Each time you walk to the door of your home after a busy day you can Walk with a Drum in your Heart. When you walk to your favorite coffee shop, you can Walk with a Drum in Your Heart.
Consider what it would be like to remember to walk like this often. Clearing your mind until there is only your heart beat and breath. This is meditation in motion.
If you find lists motivating, you can even add “Walk with a drum in my heart” to your to-do list along with “Go to the post office” or grocery store. Walking in rhythm enriches the experience of being outside. If you walk with your internal rhythm and no headphones, you can hear the birds. The leaves in the trees or the trees creaking in the wind. In concrete jungles, you can choose to enjoy the sound of humankind. Of machines.
Frame drums like the riq can allow us to have a drum in our hand match the drum in our hearts while we walk. Frame drums are portable. Easy to walk with and carry. There’s an amazing 20 minute documentary called The Cure Women I’ll link to in the show notes. It begins with Kurdish women living on the border between Iraq and Iran walking over bridges and paths in the country side while playing their frame drums. They are walking to retrieve water as a cure for a young man who is sick in their community. It’s so beautiful and it harkens to the women on the ancient temple walls of Egypt frozen in time mid-stride with their frame drums in hand.
Thank you to the listeners who have let me know how much you love learning about music in this podcast! Listeners have asked me to feature more instruments and rhythms, and I am happy to oblige.
Lamma Bada – When she begins to sway
Lamma Bada, The Danceable Song for this episode is definitely a favorite among dancers, and it’s one of my favorite songs as well. And in 2 of the versions I have for you on the Belly Dance Body and Soul Spotify playlist you can easily hear the riq being played in the song.
Lamma Bada is a “muwashsha”, meaning a secular poem which grew out of al-Andalus. This often refers to Southern Spain before Christian invaders came in the late 1400s and kicked out a hell of a lot of great musicians and architects. Muslims and Jews were forced to either convert to Christianity or leave Spain. Some stayed, many left. Thankfully the song Lamma Bada survived. Maqamworld.com also writes that muwashsha can come from places like Syria and muwashsha often have less-common rhythms, like this song in 10/8.
You’ve been hearing a clip of Lamma Bada in every episode before each Lighten My Body Food. That’s our band Taksim playing Lamma Bada.
A couple of my Arabic speaking friends helped with the translation of Lamma Bada available on aliciafree.com. It is not an easy song to translate to English. The lyrics are poetry written in classical Arabic. There are many versions and different Arabic pronunciations possible, and my friend and fellow musician Fatma suggested sticking to the classical Arabic pronunciation when singing the song.
A Turkish member of my band noticed that the singing of “Aman Aman” is often sung with joy in other songs, but in this song it sounds more like struggle. There is an undercurrent of meaning to the song that we may never fully understand. Maybe the singer is committed to someone else but loves this person they are singing about.
The song starts with “When she begins to sway”. I am fascinated by her beauty. Captivated. There is a line about a branch bending where she leans. Maybe bowing to her.
And there is a promise and confusion. A complaint. Obsession. And finally a request for mercy from the angel or god of beauty.
It seems to be a song of longing for something beautiful that we can’t or should not have. And we suffer from this unfulfilled desire. Beauty is elusive. It crumbles and fades. It is a concept we create in our own minds and collectively, and being attached to beauty can be painful. Maybe the angel of beauty who is beckoned in the song can help us enjoy the beauty we find in life without obsessing over it.
This 10/8 rhythm is called Samai Thaqil or just Samai for short. If you want research rhythms, you will love maqamworld.com . Such a great resource.
You can count it as two sets of 5
Many versions start with the string instruments plucking the base of this rhythm, which is nice because it’s easy to identify the rhythm when it’s played simply without embellishments.
I’ve always felt a hip slide in the double doum.
D..t.slide slide t..
And the riq is very easy to appreciate in the first recording of Lamma Bada on the Belly Dance Body and Soul Spotify playlist. It is by the Cairo Arabic Music Ensemble. I could find absolutely no information on this band, but I love the recording! Especially the riq featured in the beginning.
The song in the mode or maqam Nahawand. It’s the same mode as the epic song Alf Layla Wa Layla.
A funny side note, Lamma Bada is our 2 year old’s favorite song. He sings it all the time and prompts me to sing it to him often. When my mother got him the popular children’s book Lamma Lamma Red Pajama, it made him so happy.
And it made me happy to find out that Ludicris recorded some improv of the words in the book.
In addition to including 3 versions of song Lamma Bada on my Spotify playlist, I wanted to spotlight Layne Redmond in this Riq-themed show. Layne Redmond is the most famous woman riq player I know of, and she traveled the world researching frame drums and performing with many other musicians. And her smile was amazing. I discovered Layne when speaking with the woman who owns our local drum store. Layne died of breast cancer at age 61 back in 2013, otherwise I would travel to learn from her in person. I’m just about to read her book “When the Drummers Were Women.” One of her songs “Moroccan Moon” follows Lamma Bada on the Belly Dance Body and Soul playlist. Listen for the riq.
Remo actually named one of their riqs after Layne. There’s a lotus in the center. Lightweight, predictable synthetic head with smooth edges, and easier to hold. My first riq was so heavy and uncomfortable I never wanted to play it. Just building the strength to hold and play a riq takes consistent practice, and then there’s skill.
Just like having dance costumes you feel good wearing helps you dance more, having a drum that feels good to play helps you play more. I performed with a Syrian riq player once who could not afford to buy a lightweight, more comfortable riq. The one he wanted was $500. I wished I could just hand him $500 when he told me that at rehearsal. His riq was heavy and thick with tightening screws on the head that limited where his fingers could be. He did a damn good job playing that riq though! There’s something to that as well. He cared about performing enough that he didn’t use limited resources as an excuse not to perform. He used what he had and did it well. And maybe he’ll get a more accommodating riq someday and perform on another level.
DAMN SEXY DANCE MOVE
Frame Drum Freeze
Think back to the women on the ancient temple walls of Egypt frozen in time with their frame drums in hand. We’re about to try the Frame Drum Freeze.
You do not need a frame drum to do this move, but if you have a tambourine or other frame drum you can practice with it. If you have never held a frame drum, get a feel for what it’s like by using something big and round that you can hold in one hand. It can be a serving platter, big plate, pot lid, embroidery hoop. Something that will give you the feel of holding a frame drum in your hand. You can also do this with nothing in your hands and imagine you are holding the moon.
Raise your real or imaginary frame drum centered above your head. Hold it with both hands. Chest raised, arms extended upward with softly bent elbows, and arms flat as if you are sandwiched between two pieces of glass. Keep your elbows from creeping forward. Face and gaze raised.
Feel free to notice your heart beat and breathe with it as you stand in this beautiful pose. Now slide the drum slightly to the side and allow your hip to continue the arc. Look up at your drum, now hovering over one of your shoulders. A tool of healers, used for celebrations, mourning, trances, entertaining, easing the pain of hard work.
Try some other ways to hold your real or imaginary frame drum. Keep your hands soft and beautiful. Let your body create beautiful lines around it. When Mahin of Pheonix Arizona performed with our band in Ithaca, she taught me about creating lines. Think about the lines your body and costume would become if an artist did a quick sketch of your pose. Is it pleasing? If not, make some subtle modifications and make it beautiful. Mahin has a great youtube series called “Belly Dance Quickies” you can check out anytime.
FEATURED LIGHTEN MY BODY FOOD: Millet
What is flat and round like a frame drum? Millet!
Millet is another whole grain similar to quinoa. It can be served hot and fluffy. Millet leftovers can be pressed into croquettes and pan fried or served in a chilled salad like tabbouleh. Millet can be reheated for breakfast and drizzled with almond yogurt or tahini or squash sauce or miso sauce.
In Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks he wrote that he used millet in his paintings to look like embroidery on dresses. A artful grain.
Millet cooks a little faster than brown rice. It takes about 15 minutes to cook and 10 minutes for it to fluff. And it has a wonderful flavor and lightness that other grains don’t. I think I was in my late 20s the first time I ever had millet. In my mind it was food for caged birds and I had no idea it was eaten in Africa and India. It might have even pre-dated rice in China and Korea according to Wikipedia. So maybe it can fall into that lovely category of “ancient grains” that we all love to see as ingredients in cereals, etc.
Any sauce you already use with pasta can be used with millet instead, especially as croquettes. The Great Life Cookbook I helped my in-laws create has fantastic millet croquette recipes with orange sauce. Yum. Even simple croquettes can feel fancy to serve. Try the Cheatin’ Millet Croquettes Italian Style recipe on aliciafree.com next time you make a big batch of millet and have leftovers.
I did try freezing cooked millet, but the texture is not good after thawing. Cooked brown rice still has a good texture after freezing and thawing. Millet is too fluffy.
Batch cooking is the way to go for people who want to eat homecooked whole food and do less dishes. Make a big batch and keep changing how you eat it a little every time. Creativity is infinite, and in the kitchen you can taste it.
MAKE YOU SHINE COSTUME TIP
I don’t play the riq in every song my band plays. I choose which songs the zills will compliment the melodic and other percussion instruments and not distract from the whole sound. We want to enrich, not create an uncomfortable situation where the audience is torn between what is pleasing and what is distracting.
Know your volume potential. The riq is a loud instrument. It’s the double rows of zills that make it that way. Dancers using zills and coin belts and hip scarves with coins can make a raucous too. Even a bra with coins. I believe that when we’re not dancing with our costumes as instruments, they can sound like noise rather than music. Just like having a debate in a quiet restaurant or having a graphic conversation in a quiet bus, noisy costumes and zills can ruin the vibe.
There are three scenarios where loud costumes can be fun:
- If you are dancing to loud drums with no melody instruments or singers
- If you are performing to well-amplified recorded music in a larger venue
- If you are practicing all by yourself
Here are the 6 situations where noisy costumes can be distracting for others:
- When a live band is being recorded
- When a live band is featuring melodic instruments and singers
- When a dance teacher’s instructions cannot be heard over the jingles in class
- When the dancer is not confidently connected to the music and the jingles accentuate that
- When a song doesn’t call for jingly sounds (ex: the song has no metallic sounds in the live version or recorded versions you have heard)
- When there are no intentional pauses in the metallic sound
At Golden Fest in NYC, my friend Casey Bond’s band featured belly dancer Dorit of NYC. She’s a wonderful dancer. Casey said that Dorit sings and drums as well. I love that. Dorit had a great presence, and technique. She instantly welcomed the audience with her intense eyes. Her zill playing was so connected to the music, she took lovely pauses in playing, and the band with amplified melodic instruments and percussion seemed happy to have her zilling with a couple songs.
Watching Dorit reminded me that there are no rules in belly dance. She played her zills over a string instrument solo. And during another string instrument taksim she danced to the rhythm rather than the featured instrument. And she wore a noisy coin belt. This is just one of many professional dancers who would probably not agree with what I’m outlining here, so I wanted to mention that.
Drummer Casey Bond said the riq can “play around the rhythm” rather than playing the root of the rhythm. It has a free pass to play “color”. Dancers with zills and coin belts add color as well. The next day I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art instrument collection and noticed a Turkish crescent staff with bells which added to “the brilliance of marching bands”. These musical staffs were used by Ottoman empire military bands in the 1800s. The bells made me think again about jingly hip scarves.
This costume tip in a nutshell: If you are going to make audible sound with your costume or finger cymbals while dancing, make it musical and intentional.
Strengthen those arms and wrists! Pushups, pullups, and eating well all helps our arms stay strong. I do pushups after my almost-daily pilates routine, and I know that’s why my arms look good. Every once in a while I decide to treat myself and take the morning off of pushups. That’s the negotiable piece of my morning routine. Doing pilates at least 4 times a week is not negotiable, but I can get away with doing pushups at least 3 times a week. Working in a planned indulgence opportunity is key to keeping promises to yourself long term.
And here’s another secret: when you have your arms extended, rotate your arms so the center of the soft insides of your elbows point directly at the eyes of the audience. If the soft insides are pointing up at all, the skin on your upper arms may look like it’s sagging. That subtle difference in your arm position can show the audience that you are strong and getting stronger. It’s definitely a stylistic choice. For example, Rachel Brice’s elbows are often dropped and her arms look great. But it’s easier to make your arms look good if the create a parallel line with the floor.
SAINT OF TRUTH
Doing something for years doesn’t mean you are getting better at doing it. I got stagnant with my riq playing. Even when I saw and heard people playing different variations of the moves and rhythms I had mastered, I did not modify my technique to try theirs and expand and grow.
Now when I start a drumming class or dance class, I commit to being uncomfortable. We take classes from others so that we move and think in a way that is different from our own habits, right? Maybe there are other reasons I can’t think of right now. Regardless, when we have new experiences, we are better equipped to shape the evolution of our own practice and performance. But sometimes I slip into my familiar, habitual ways even when I have the chance to grow. Hopefully saying all this out loud to you will help me think twice about slipping into status quo mode.