Drum Solo Tips & More from Dazzling Lady Drummer Casey Bond – ALLAF 020
As a drummer in some of the best belly dance bands in New York, Casey teaches us about the soul of belly dance rhythms in the belly dance classic song Laylet Hob, what drummers like to see in dancers, and how to fully enjoy dancing and life.
Some great quotes from Casey from this interview:
“A live drum solo with a dancer is a conversation in the moment. It’s the not knowing that makes it so much fun.”
“The drummer offers an accent to the dancer, and the dancer responds with their anatomy.”
“There is vocabulary of the drum and the body.”
“That dancer could be my daughter…”
“Magical moments can happen when there’s a costume malfunction or a string breaks. Use that as part of the entertainment.”
“Nervous or self-absorbed dancers are not getting the full experience of the live music.”
“When belly dancers have that fabulous musicality, even old songs are made new.”
“Carmine’s oud taksims with a dancer are so personal…”
“My trademark is my smile.”
Here’s Casey drumming at Super Fun Dance Camp for dancer Johanna Xenobia
Alicia: I am here at Super Fun Dance Camp, the final edition of Super Fun Dance Camp, with percussionist, Casey Bond.
Alicia: Casey, I want to hear what you’ve made into danceable rituals in your life.
Casey: My life is full of dance and rhythm. I love to exit to music. If I’m going to be leaving, you best believe that I am going to go to the center of the dance for wave, and then dance out the door. Last night, I did that at the hafla after the show. Carmine (Guida) came out with his davul. He started playing. I knew it was time for me to go, so I just got up and I danced out and blew my kisses and my little hearts to everybody out there, and I walked down the stairs and I dance all the way back to my cabin. So, yes. I had an expression in college. It was on a T-shirt and it said, “To live is to dance. To dance is to live.”
Alicia: I’d like to mention that two nights ago at the hafla, Casey got up and threw her hair all over and just went absolutely wild on the dance floor before she left with a huge smile on her face. So I’ve gotten to see this dance ritual twice. I didn’t get to see the staircase decent or the entire walk home on a rocky path in the dark to her cabin under the stars. But Casey, thank you, for sharing that with us.
Casey: It’s my pleasure.
About Casey Bond…
Alicia: Casey Bond, tell us where you’re from, tell us how you started drumming, any dance background that you have.
Casey: I play with some of the very best belly dance bands in New York like Carmine and Friends and Scott Wilson and Efendi. And then, I have this wonderful group that I’m so honored to be a part of and that’s The Elias Ladino Ensemble. And we perform the music of the Sephardic Jews, not so much belly dancing with that group. Although sometimes, we have a dancer, but mostly it’s bringing the Sephardic experience to people.
Casey: I have a little bit of a dance background, first of all. When I was in my 20s, I went to the local YMCA and took belly dance classes. And as much as I enjoyed that, I was automatically drawn to the music. And in terms of my drumming world, I was introduced to the doumbek. And then, I had the honor of studying with Baba Olatunji, but I found that I kept being drawn back into the Middle Eastern rhythms. As much as I love the West African poly-rhythms and still do, what I found so interesting with Middle Eastern music were those odd time signatures. I didn’t know why I love the nines and the sevens and the fives, maybe because they’re odd, and maybe I’m a little odd too, but, oh, man, I felt like I was coming home to them. And then, when I started to hear some of the music that went with those rhythms, I was really hooked.
Casey: So I would say for the last 15 years or so, my focus has been on Middle Eastern percussion. I was able to get first a gig as a drummer for a belly dance studio, and then the belly dance studio asked me to be their percussion teacher. I spent eight wonderful years growing a community of drum students, many of whom are still with me today. Then, I made the transition to the Momentum School of Music in West Islip, where I’ve been for two years and I hope to be for a very, long time. Raq Steady is the name of my percussion student ensemble. I believe it’s the largest student Middle Eastern ensemble of drummers on the East Coast, and they’ve performed at wonderful, wonderful venues with me.
Casey: I’ll take a lesson that I’m teaching in class. Like for example, I was teaching the very intermediate skill of transitioning from very odd time signatures, and so that turned into the piece that we performed here at Super Fun Dance Camp, which was a countdown piece playing in 10/8, 9/8, 7/8, 6/4, going all the way down there.
Alicia: Casey, can you spell the name of your ensemble, Raq Steady.
Casey: Sure, it’s R-A-Q S-T-E-A-D-Y. And that’s sort of a little joke because the word Raq, R-A-Q, is the Arabic word for dancing, and so I thought I wanted to have a group that would play R-O-C-K Steady, so to the ear, it’s Raq Steady but still have that connection to the Middle Eastern rhythms that we’re playing.
DRUM SOLO tips from a drummer…
Alicia: As a dancer, I’m always curious what percussion is like to see when performing with live dancers and live music. Are there any things that you really like to see from dancers when you’re drumming for them?
Casey: Oh, what a great question that is. Let’s talk first about a drum solo. What I found over the years is that the drum solo was more about the drummer showing off a variety of mad skills, and that’s terrific. But as a woman who has taken dance classes, who loves to dance, my focus was always on this is the dancer’s solo. Even though it’s called drum solo, it’s the dancers drum solo with a drummer. So, my way of having the most fun with a dancer and a drum solo, it’s a conversation in the moment completely improvised.
Casey: And so, when I have a dancer, let’s say for example Johanna Xenobia who I’m so fortunate to have worked with many times, I know that when I give her an accent, I know that she’ll respond to it. I don’t know how and that’s the joy of it. It’s not a rehearsed deal. It’s not where… We’ve gone over this and I know exactly what’s going to happen next. Last night, for example, I did a short drum solo for Zobeida Ghattas, one of my favorite dancers, and she just rocked the house. I don’t know where she’s going to be, what she’s going to do. And when it happens, I’ll give her a little something. So if I play a pop, pop, pop, pop on the drum, I know that some part of her anatomy is going to go here, here, here, or here. And it’s the not knowing that makes it so much fun.
Casey: And so whether it’s a brand new baby belly dancer or someone spectacular like Dalia Carella, whoever it is, there’s that wonderful free song of I wonder what’s going to happen this time. And so, that’s one of the things that I really enjoy with a belly dancer. And then playing with the band, when the belly dancer is there, what I love to see is when the belly dancer has that fabulous musicality where I may have played the song Aziza a thousand times in my drumming life so far and I pray to play it a thousand more, but what makes it so wonderful for me is what is this particular dancer going to do with Aziza? And every dancer is different.
Casey: For example, someone like Brenna Crowley, she is so interactive with the audience and she has that fun and sly way of that little wink and a nod to them. So she will take Aziza and sort of make fun of the fact that we’ve done this a whole bunch of times, and in that way, it makes it sort of camp, and brings a whole new level to it. And then, I’ve had other dancers come out there as if it’s the very first time they ever heard that song, and it was written just for them. It’s a whole wonderful connection. I guess, overall, the most wonderful thing that happens is when the dancer connects to the live music in a special way, a unique way that’s all her own. It gives me chills. It’s wonderful.
Alicia: Casey, it’s so exciting to hear how much you love drumming for dancers. Many of us probably remember that one time that a musician didn’t want us to dance and really thought about that way too much. There are a lot of musicians out there that love drumming for dancers, that love playing for dancers, and like you said, it makes the pieces that they’ve played so many times fresh again to see what the dancer will do. You talked about a conversation between a dancer and a drummer during a drum solo. Can you tell me more about what language that’s in?
Casey: That’s a fabulous question. Thank you so much for asking. This is the way I see it. And when I teach a drum solo workshop, I talk about the vocabulary of the drum and the vocabulary of the body. The whole point in a drum solo is that the drummer is going to offer an accent to the dancer. So for example, if the accent is pop, pop, pop, pop, teka, teka, teka, teka, dumka, pop. What we’re doing is we’re giving very staccato accents to the dancer in a very set 4/4 rhythm pattern. And the bass drummer will be playing a maqsum underneath. Du, pa, pa, du, pa, du, pa, pa, du, du, pa.
Casey: On the dancer side, what we’re hoping they will do is to take some part of their body and have it respond in a staccato way matching up to those beats, in particular, to those accent beats. So when I go pop, pop, pop, pop, sometimes it’ll be left shoulder, right shoulder, left shoulder, right shoulder. Or it might even be hip, hip, hip, hip, and so, whatever it is, anyone that’s watching, if they couldn’t hear what the drum was doing, they should be able to know approximately what the drum is doing by looking at the body movements of the dancer.
Casey: And my friend, Lenny Cohen, sometimes will be the demonstrator for a workshop of mine, and she has a shtick that she does of Lenny, The Bad Belly Dancer. So I will be playing this pop, pop, pop, pop, and she will just be doing arabesques across the room, or go down and start doing floorwork. And the wonderful thing that happens is I’ll see young belly dancers out there and I can almost envision the light bulb going on over their head, and they’ll come to me afterwards and say, “When you go pop, my shoulder goes lock?” And I said, “Mm-hmm.” And that’s the first step, and then it gets a little more complicated. And with the level of the dancer, you can be more and more creative, but there’s a baseline.
Casey: There was a weekly show at Jebon that Kaeshi Chai ran for many, many years, and Layla Mary is a New York belly dancer and she has lots of students. So, at that event, she would bring her students to do their very first drum solo. It would be short. So part of the conversation and part of the vocabulary is you’re the brand new belly dancer. This is your first time. Your drum solo is going to be about a minute long, which doesn’t give you a lot of time to do many things, but enough time to put your toe in the water and see how you like it and do a couple of fabulous things, and then have a wonderful rock star ending. Yay.
Casey: So many times, even if I didn’t happen to be the lead drummer for that particular show, she would ask the lead drummer, “Can Casey do the drum solo for my baby beginner dancers, and we work so well together, all of us. So whether it was Rami El Asser or Carmine, they would say, “Sure. Casey, you take that one,” because they knew that I would keep it very, very simple for them. And so, our conversation would be short and sweet and simple. And so, I even wrote a little drum solo that’s on Live at Jebon with Scott Wilson, and it’s called Casey’s K.I.S.S., Keep It Simple Sally. And the reason why Layla Mary came to me and said, “I’d like you to do those,” is that she knew she could count on me for bringing the best out of someone who’s very nervous about their first performance.
Casey: And I will say this, my trademark is my smile. And after all of these years, it’s so genuine. When that dancer is there, I think of them like, oh, that could be my daughter, and so I really want them to be happy. And I’ve had dancers say to me, “When I’m doing my turns, I’m on stage and I’m doing my turns, and when I come to face the band, I see you smiling at me or winking at me or sometimes mouthing the word, beautiful.” That’s the thing, I don’t want the dancer just to say, “I enjoy dancing for this band.” I want them to love dancing with this band and being a part of our ensemble for her segment of the show.
Alicia: When the dancer really enjoys being part of the band and the band enjoys playing for the dancer, the audience is the complete winner in that situation.
Casey: Yes, the audience. When you’re on stage doing a live performance, you can have some magical moments. And sometimes those moments happen when there’s a costume malfunction or when one of the band members breaks a string. You use that as part of the entertainment. And so, let’s talk about the dancer and the drummer during their drum solo. It’s not just the two of us on stage, but rather, it’s the three of us. It’s the two of us that are performing, and it’s a wonderful audience and they are who we’re there for. That’s what we’re there to do. We’re there to entertain. And so, even with my student ensemble, even the ensemble that played last night, we had 32 people performing and some of them were world-class percussionists like [Joaquin Cologne 00:14:34], but many had just picked up a drum.
Casey: But part of the workshop was talking about how the audience will be reacting to us if we smile. If we look like we’re having a good time, they will have a good time. I’ve seen dancers come out who are so nervous or others may be a little self-absorbed, they’re not getting the full, rich experience of the live music. But when they let themselves go, these wonderful things happen. It’s magical.
Casey: And if you’ve got a band leader like Carmen Guida, for example. When he’s playing the oud, he’ll do a taqsim with a dancer, and it’s so personal and fun and sexy, and the audience eats that up. The energy flows through the band. It flows to the dancer like we’re all in on this. And then, after we’ve had this fun moment, the band can turn on a dime and play something sultry and spiritual. And all of a sudden, the lights are down in the venue, the candle tray is on her head and we’re in a different place. We’ve been transported. And then at the end of the show, we can bring it back to the rowdy, cheering kind of an experience. But that’s what you can do in a live show better than with any other type of musical accompaniment.
Alicia: If you hear a little background noise, trucks driving around, backing up, we’re recording outside of a cabin at a big campground outside of New York City, so enjoy the sounds of real life and birds around the recording. Now, it’s time for some music.
Alicia: Casey, what is a great song for dancers?
Casey: Well, one of my favorite is a song called Laylet Hob. It’s an Arabic song and I do a lot of Turkish music, but also some Arabic. But this song is just a party. It has a lovely melody, but it also has many rhythm changes. And for a new dancer, a lot of times, they’ll be drawn to the melody and that’s wonderful. But as you grow as a dancer, you’ll sort of take this song and dissect it. And when you dissect Laylet Hob, you’re going to see that it starts off with a melody and then there’s a drum beledi part that comes in. So it’s just the drums, so it’s almost like the experience of a little drum solo sound. And then, the beledi plays on, the music is playing. And then, the rhythm changes over to a malfouf rhythm, a 3/4 rhythm. Then, there’s a tempo change. There’s a 6/8 part of it.
Casey: So the reason why I love this song for dancers so much is they have the opportunity to dance in many different tempos, many different rhythms, and adding their own style and flair. The song is long enough to be impressive, but not so long that it goes on and on and it also has a killer ending. So if you haven’t danced to Laylet Hob, I would say go out there, find it, and start working on it. It’s a wonderful song for dancers of all styles.
Alicia: For dancers who aren’t familiar with the rhythm’s beledi and malfouf yet, could you just verbalize those for us?
Casey: Well, sure, I’d be happy to, and it also gives me the opportunity to put in a plug for knowing the rhythms in their pure state, in the skeleton state, okay, because that’s really important. So if I were to say, “Would you play beledi for me?” What I would like to hear is dum, dum, tek, dum, tek. That is the core of that rhythm, what I call the no-frills percussion core of that rhythm. And then, you add accents to it. But underneath it, you can still hear dum, dum, tek, dum, tek. So for example, dum, dum, teka, tek, dum, teka, tek, teka, but it’s still got that core. Now as a dancer, if you want to say to yourself, “Well, that sounds an awful lot like saidi.” And the saidi rhythm has the same accents, but the dums are in a different place. So as you’re listening to the music, follow the dums.
Casey: You know how they say, “Follow the money when you want to know what’s really going on.” Well, follow the dums. So for the saidi rhythm, it’s dum, tek, dum, dum, tek, dum, tek, dum, dum, tek. So you can see in beledi, the dums are at the top of the rhythm. And in saidi, the dums are in the middle of the rhythm and it makes a big difference.
Alicia: I like to say the double dum is in the beginning in beledi, and the double dum is in the center in saidi.
Casey: That’s so great. That’s beautiful. I’m going to steal that. So with a malfouf, which is a 2/4 rhythm with a little bit of syncopation on that, would be dum, tek, tek, dum, tek, tek, dum, tek, tek. And that’s how that would go. So the different rhythms have a basic core and so we’re going to get fancy on the malfouf, dum, ka, ka, tek, ka, ka, tek, ka, dum, ka, ka, tek, ka, ka, tek, ka. The important thing is that you can always hear the dum, tek, tek part of it, and it’s like a rhythm has a soul. A rhythm has something about it that gives it its flavor. So what makes a malfouf all malfoufy is that dum, tek, tek, dum, tek, tek. It sort of folds around. The word, malfouf, in Arabic means wrapped around. There’s even a sandwich, like we’ll have a chicken wrap. There’s a wrapped sandwich called a malfouf, and so it’s that circular feel that you have for that.
Casey: Whereas, if you have another 2/4 rhythm like ayub, dum, ka, dum, tek, dum, ka, dum, tek. That, to me, sounds more up and down, like you’re sort of riding on a camel or a horse. So that’s what gives it its flavor and its soul. Therefore, when you’re expressing that particular rhythm, there’s a meaning behind it. There’s a purpose behind it, and that is the musicality of percussion. And then, as you play it, there’s a way also. You don’t play melody, for example. You don’t play that rhythm the same way in every song because sometimes the song will call for something that’s light and airy. Sometimes the song is going to call for something kind workmanlike.
Casey: Here is your basic moderate tempo rhythm and the band is playing of moderate dynamics all the way down the line, so you do it that way. If you have that as your base, then you can come down in your volume. And when your stops come, they become dramatic. You can come up in your volume, and usually at the end of a song, many times a song will end maybe a little bit louder and with a rolling ending. So if you play everything in the same way, it becomes boring, just as if you had a dancer who stood there for five minutes and did nothing but a hip drop. You want a shimmy, you want variety. But more important than anything is the band gets together and says this is the mood for this song. This is what we want to project for this song, whether we’re playing by ourselves or for a dancer. But when you add the dancer to the family, then you have the opportunity to do even more because of your interaction with her or him.
Alicia: I love how you’re talking about volume. In our dance, we have volume. We can think of our moves as being loud or quiet depending on the dynamics of the move, depending on the range of the move, depending on the drama in the move, much like drummers being able to vary our volume in different ways.
DAMN SEXY DANCE MOVE
Alicia: Since you do have a background as a dancer and you’ve played for so many dancers, I bet you have a damn sexy dance move that you would like to share.
Casey: I have to tell you when I see a dancer who really, really knows how to undulate her body, I love those moves. And when there’s an undulation and then it turns into a shimmy undulation, that, to me, is just perfect because there’s something so sneaky and lovely about that move. It shows such complete control, and yet, it sort of offers a bit of abandon as well. Because the average person might like to be able to do that, but when you have the skill and the talent to be able to take your body and turn it into a snake, that snakelike move that happens, that is, to me, a killer move.
FEATURED LIGHTEN MY BODY FOOD
Alicia: A little disclaimer, the plant-based food that Casey is about to share is not a whole food, but it’s a great option for people that are transitioning away from dairy. And also, I enjoy it as an occasional treat, not an everyday thing.
Casey: Recently, my heart told me that it wasn’t feeling so well. So my cardiologist said to me, “Why don’t you try to get rid of some of that dairy?” So begrudgingly, I said, “Okay. I’ll give that a shot.” And now, my cream cheese has neither cream nor cheese, and I love it. I have fallen in love with plant-based, non-dairy dairy-type products. So now, you’ll find me with almond milk, and soy cheese, and all of those things. And it’s made a huge difference for my health, so I’m delighted with all of those products. I just don’t do cow milk anymore. One of my real favorites is a company called Go Veggie, and they have cheese shreds in different flavors that I can use in my fajitas, and I can use the Italian ones in my baked ziti now. So Go Veggie cheeses are a staple in my house now.
Alicia: Have you ever had Miyoko’s cheese?
Casey: Yes, good stuff.
MAKE YOU SHINE COSTUME TIP
Casey: As a drummer girl, I think it’s really important to give a little bling, a little dazzle, and nothing to me says dazzle like a headband with flowers on it. That always adds a little touch of magic to what you’re doing.
Casey: The one habit that came into my life about 20 years ago that I believe is the cornerstone of so many wonderful things that have happened to me is when I wake up in the morning, the very first thought I have is gratitude. I believe that waking up and choosing gratitude every single day as your first thought brings the smile to your lips, brings the shine to your eyes, and brings love to your heart. And with those three things, you’re always going to be beautiful. When I wake up in the morning and I think what am I grateful for, usually the very, very first thing that I think of, I’m grateful that I have the most wonderful adult children in the world, and thinking of them always brings a smile to my face. And so, I think of that.
Casey: And then, I’ll think today, I’m leaving for Super Fun Dance Camp. And I say to myself, “This is one of the happiest experiences of my year and I’m so grateful for that,” or, “Oh, it’s Wednesday, that’s drum class night and I’m grateful for that.” I find so many things in life that bring me so much joy. I never want to start taking that for granted. So this practice of gratitude has been very, very helpful to me.
Alicia: Gratitude practice is contagious because I see it in Casey. She effuses happiness, being where you are and being thrilled about it. You can feel that when you’re with Casey. She can infect an entire room with her smile. It shows us what responsibility we have. If responsibility isn’t a sexy word for you, it shows us what power we can have for changing the energy in a space and bringing beauty to other people by having beauty come out of ourselves. Casey, how can we get in touch with you or see more of what you’ve done online?
Casey: Go to the Momentum School of Music website, which is www.momentumschoolofmusic.com, and that’s in West Islip, Long Island. And don’t forget Facebook, friend me on Facebook. Oh, if you go to YouTube and just put in Casey Bond doumbek, you will see me playing with different bands over the span of 15 years. So you’ll get to see baby beginner Casey as well as what I’m doing right now.
Alicia: Casey, it has been such a pleasure to have you on A Little Lighter. Now, you can tell your kids you’ve been on a podcast. I love that. Thank you so much for all that you’ve done for dancers and for drummers. Thank you for all the people that you’ve brought into the Middle Eastern music community with your enthusiasm for this music as it has been and as it lives and as it will be in the future.
Casey: Thank you very much for having me. Yes, this is my first podcast. I feel very hip, so thank you so much.
Dalia Carella: Hearing you play the drum solos with the dancers, you could tell that you dance. That’s right, baby.