About Shira's Reviews Of
Music For Belly Dancing

by Shira

The cost of buying dance music is not trivial. You want to make sure you'll get your money's worth. You want the content to be worthwhile, and the production quality to be acceptable. But how do you make a choice? You don't always have the opportunity to actually listen to a tape or CD before buying a copy of your own. With the reviews here on my web site, I'll attempt to help you make an informed choice.

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Table Of Contents

About Biases And Agendas In Reviews. Reviews are opinions, and can be influenced by many factors. This section talks about those factors and how they apply to the reviews on this web site.

My Rating System. This explains my system for reviewing: categories I consider, etc. I try to provide not just my opinion, but also quantifiable fact.

How To Make A Choice? My reviews contain both a lot of facts and a lot of opinions. Here are some suggestions for digesting all that and making your decision of which to buy.

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First, A Few Words....

First, please support the artists who have worked hard and invested their own personal money to produce music for you. Don't make your own bootleg copies of music that you borrow from other people, and don't accept copies that your friends offer to make for you. Making your own copies of tapes is a Bad Thing. It hurts people by denying them income they sorely need and deserve. Ethics would say that people who make their own copies are Bad People. The law would say they are Thieves. Please be a Good Person and purchase legitimate copies of the music you want.

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About Biases And Agendas In Reviews

Sometimes you feel you can't trust the reviews in the belly dance magazines--how can you, as a reader, be sure the reviews you read aren't written by friends of the musicians? The contents of belly dance magazines are often written primarily by people who voluntarily send in whatever they feel like writing, rather than using paid staff members to generate content. That makes them more vulnerable to bias than mainstream news media who do employ salaried reviewers, unless the editor somehow looks into the writer's possible agenda before running the review. And of course, the magazines accept paid advertisements from many music producers--how can you know that doesn't bias them into publishing reviews that say only kind things about their biggest advertisers?

Here on this site, I'll try to give you a fair opinion of what I think of the music in my collection. If I am personally acquainted with the musicians, I'll disclose that. I don't accept paid advertising on my web site, so I don't have to be concerned about the financial consequences of alienating a music producer. I'll feature only reviews I have written myself, so there won't be any question of whether I have checked out a contributor's hidden agenda. My agenda is simple--I've received a lot of e-mails from people who have visited my web site asking for advice on which music to purchase, so I'm attempting to provide the type of information on my site that people are looking for. Period.

Back when I was getting my college degree in journalism, one of my professors said something that has stuck with me all these years: There is no such thing as objectivity in reporters. Every journalist must make some judgments: which facts to include in a story and which to omit. Which to feature at the beginning of the story, and which to place at the end. Whom to interview, and whom not to interview. Which angle to take on a story -- the local angle versus the global impact angle, the dry facts angle versus the human interest angle, etc. As a reporter, I can strive for fairness, accuracy, and balance, but objectivity is an unattainable goal.

So, as a reviewer, I promise you I will strive for fairness, accuracy, and balance. Even if I really dislike a particular CD/tape, I'll try to acknowledge anything I in it that I think was done well. In the cases where I do know the musicians personally, I'll reveal that to you but still try to give an honest assessment of whether this is good music for belly dancers.

Sometimes I don't care for the music due to a personal bias. For example, I personally don't respond to the 20th century Egyptian sound that uses a full 40-piece orchestra that's typical of the music of Oum Kalthoum. When reviewing such recordings, I'll try to set that bias aside and ask myself, "Well, it's not my type of music, but was it performed well enough to be pleasing to someone who does like that style? Does it offer good value for the money for people who don't happen to share my particular bias?" So even though I probably wouldn't buy the orchestral-style Egyptian music for myself, I'll still give it a good rating if it presents it well. I'll respond to the fact that it is performed by a large orchestra by mentioning that in the description section.

I've created a rating system that evaluates each recording on multiple criteria, so you can make your buying decision based on which criteria are important to you.

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My Rating System

I decided to use a consistent format across all of my reviews, to make it easier for you to compare different recordings you are considering against each other when making your buying decision. If you've never met me, and you've never heard the music I'm reviewing, it may be hard for you to determine whether my opinions are consistent with how you would react to the same music. That's why I've also included hard facts like the titles of the songs and the types of instruments used. Whether or not you trust my opinion, you'll still have some factual information that may be useful in making your decision on what to buy.


This is a brief comment that sums up my overall impressions of the music.

What I Liked, What I Didn't

This section describes how I personally responded to the music. Again, I try to focus my comments on the presentation of the music, not on whether I happen to like the choice of songs. (An exception to this: Some recordings feature music composed by musicians who live in the U.S., Europe, Australia, etc. These songs are not native to the Middle East, and most likely are not familiar to people who live there. When reviewing CD/tape collections that feature such music, I will comment on whether I liked the songs themselves.)

The Chart

Some of these issues will be important to you. Some won't. Ask yourself which of these issues are the most important to you, then look for ones that score well on the criteria you care about.

Overall Rating Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Production Quality Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Musicians' Skill Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Suitability For Practice Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Suitability For Performing Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Educational Value Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Packaging Scale Of Star To StarStarStarStarStar
Style Description of whether music is traditional or pop, played on traditional instruments or electronic, etc.
Amount Of Music Expressed In Number Of Minutes
List Price Producer's Suggested Retail Price In The U.S.A.
Cost Per Minute Of Music Price divided by total number of minutes of music

Overall Rating

Factoring in all the issues of production quality, content value, and presentation, what is the overall rating for this recording?

Star              Don't Waste Your Money!
StarStar           Disappointing
StarStarStar        Adequate
StarStarStarStar     Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar  Excellent

Production Quality

There are several issues that I consider when assigning a production quality rating. Was the sound clean or muddy? Did songs begin and end cleanly, or were they chopped off at the wrong point in the music?

Star              Horrible
StarStar           Disappointing
StarStarStar        Adequate
StarStarStarStar     Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar  Excellent

Musicians' Skill

Were the musicians skilled enough to sound good, or should they have waited a few years before attempting a recording? Did vocalists have acceptable singing voices and credible accents in the Middle Eastern languages? Did they stay in key and keep a solid beat? Did lead instruments come through clearly, or were they buried by too-loud accompaniment?

Star              Shouldn't Be Allowed Near Any Kind Of Noisemaker
StarStar           Disappointing
StarStarStar        Adequate
StarStarStarStar           Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar  Excellent

Suitability For Beginner Practice

Was the beat clear and easy to hear? Was it slow enough for a beginner to keep up with it? Do the songs have melody lines that are easy to pick out?

Star              Useless
StarStar           Disappointing
StarStarStar        Adequate
StarStarStarStar        Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar  Excellent

Suitability For Performing

Was it exciting or boring? Will it engage an audience? Will it inspire a dancer to do her best work?

Star              Useless
StarStar           Disappointing
StarStarStar        Adequate
StarStarStarStar     Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar  Excellent

Educational Value

How much will a newcomer to Middle Eastern music learn from working with this particular music? Does it use songs, instruments, and musical stylings that are well-known and popular in the Middle East, or does it instead feature compositions by a Western artist in the Middle Eastern style? Does the packaging teach something about the songs that are included?

Star              Useless
StarStar           Disappointing
StarStarStar        Adequate
StarStarStarStar     Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar  Excellent


Did the labeling provide useful information, such as song titles, length of each song, the name of the country the song is from, and information about the song? Did it include translations of the lyrics so you can know what the song is about? Was it professionally done or did it come across as cheap? Was it appealing to look at?

Star              Poor
StarStar           Disappointing
StarStarStar        Adequate
StarStarStarStar     Rather Good
StarStarStarStarStar  Excellent

Amount Of Music

Quite simply, this is the total length of all the songs together. Sometimes a dancer is disappointed because the new CD/tape she just bought is shorter than she had expected. I'll tell you how long it is and let you decide whether that's enough time to make it a good choice for you.


Some music is sold two ways: you can buy it directly from the producers, or you can buy it from vendors who purchase large quantities from producers at wholesale price and then resell them. Sometimes the producer offers the lowest available price, and sometimes one of the resellers offers the lowest available price. If cost is important to you, you'll need to shop around.

In my reviews, I have indicated what the price would be if you were to purchase directly from the producer. I then apply some metrics to that price to help you evaluate whether this video is a good value for the money. However, please don't assume that "cheapest is always best". Sometimes great quality is worth paying extra.

All prices reflect the cost of purchasing the item within the United States. Prices in other countries may vary, depending on exchange rates, cost of importing/exporting music from one country to another, local demand, etc. All prices are expressed in U.S. dollars, and include only the cost of the tape or CD itself. If you purchase it, you may incur additional charges in shipping costs and sales tax, depending on your vendor and the tax rates of your local area.

Cost Per Minute

You might be willing to pay extra for a given CD or tape if you had reason to believe it had more music on it than others you are considering. This breaks down the price into a cost per minute metric. It was determined by taking the price and dividing by the number of minutes of music.

Let's say a cassette tape costs $15. And suppose it has 55 minutes of music. That's $15 / 55, or 27 cents per minute.

Please see the "Price" section above for comments on what factors influence the price that I used as the starting point for this Cost Per Minute calculation.


This is narrative to support the ratings that appear in the chart. For example, if I gave a recording a low score on production quality, in the Description I'll explain why.

Songs Included

This is a list of song titles that appear on the recording. For each song, it includes the song title, length, national origin, whether a RealAudio clip is available on my web site for you to listen to, whether a translation of the lyrics is available on my web site, and comments. I haven't tried to comment on every song.

If a RealAudio clip or translation is available, I've included a link to it. Please realize that the nature of how RealAudio works is that it makes sacrifices in sound quality. It does that because it tries to make the file sizes as small as possible, thereby allowing you to download them faster. As you listen to these clips, please remember that the sound quality on the original recordings is always going to be superior to what these clips sound like on the computer. Please reference the "Production Quality" rating in the section of my review titled "The Chart" for an indication of how good the sound quality is on the actual tape or CD.

The clips can give you the flavor of what a given song sounds like, or what tones are generated by the instruments the musicians used. If I verbally tell you that a given CD contains recordings of someone playing a kanun, that wouldn't tell you much if you don't know what a kanun sounds like. But a RealAudio file can give you an indication of what a kanun sounds like, so it helps you better understand whether the choice of instruments is something you would like.


In my reviews I do try to give you an honest evaluation of the music, even if it features performances by someone I consider to be a friend. In this section, I will disclose any relationship I may have with the musicians.

Contacting The Producer & Ordering The Video

You may want to contact the producer to ask further questions about the video, or to ask whether they have created any additional videos that you might like. Or, you may want to order it. In cases where I have information on how to contact the producer or order the video, I include that at the end of the review.

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How To Make A Choice?

The cheapest music isn't always the best. Nor is the CD with the largest number of songs. So how do you consider all this information and distill it into a buying decision?

First, understand how you will be using the music. Are you a brand-new beginner, looking for something suitable for practice at home? Or are you a seasoned professional who wants something new and exciting to enliven your performances?

Decide which type of music you most enjoy using. Eliminate the ones that don't fit your preferences from consideration. For example, if you don't care for the sound that blends Spanish and Arabic sounds into a single song, then check my description of the style and content. Look for collections that are more to your liking.

If sound clips are available, listen to them and determine whether you like what you hear. Usually, one song clip is representative of the style of music you'll hear throughout the CD/tape, but if multiple clips are available you should listen to them all before making a buying decision.

As you become more familiar with Middle Eastern music, you'll start to learn the titles of songs that you like best. Once you reach that stage, you'll be able to make sense of a list of song titles included on a certain CD/tape. If it has at least one song whose title you recognize and like, then there's a chance it will contain additional music that you also enjoy. Listen to the RealAudio clip, if there is one, to see if you like the way this particular group of musicians rendered the song(s) you're familiar with.

Ask around to your friends to find out whether anyone has a copy you can borrow of the music you're interested in. Check whether your local library has copies you can check out. Listen to them to see whether you like it. (But if you decide you want to own one of the CD's/tapes you've borrowed, please be ethical and don't make a copy for yourself. Please support the artists by buying an honest copy. How else can they afford to make additional music for your enjoyment?)

If you don't know anyone you can borrow the music from, then one good way to evaluate your options is to go to a belly dancing event where vendors will be present. Vendors often bring a portable tape player or CD player to demonstrate what the music they're selling sounds like. You can use my reviews to decide on a short list of possible recordings you may want to buy, then ask the vendors to let you listen to them.

If you are sensitive to price, evaluate the pricing metrics in my reviews. Those will help you quantify which music offers the best value for your money.

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