When the Musician Connects to the Dance

Posted by admin in World Dance

I had the fortunate opportunity to both interview and take a drumming workshop from Karim Nagi at Cairo Caravan in June.  Having primarily learned Doumbek (Arabic hand drum) through DVD and by following along with other drummers, I had learned many rhythms simply by the pattern and the general pace, without any connection to dances that are generally associated with them.

This is why taking Karim Nagi’s Arabic drum workshop “Saidi, Saudi, Sudasi” was so fun and valuable for me.  He explained the Arabic meaning and geographical origination, but what was most eye opening for me was his demonstration of the dance steps associated with each rhythm.

“I find that when the musician connects to the dance and the dancer connects to the music, the final context is much more holistic and people understand it and feel it more accurately.”

As a native Egyptian who has danced all his life, Karim is a unique gift to the dance community. Although he considers himself foremost a musician, he’s always dancing. Whether he’s drumming solo or accompanying other musicians, he’s always swaying, smiling, bobbing his head, emoting joy or rhythm emphasis.

“I’ve always felt how the two (creating music and dancing) operate with each other.  When you dance, the music has to be a certain way.  Certain music will not inspire movement.  I’ve never been the kind of person that can dance randomly to random music.  I’ve always danced a specific style of dance with a specific style of music”.

In America, we don’t have the cultural context of what Arabic folk dance is, or the knowledge of who dances the different styles and for what occasions.  Karim teaches the correlation between the rhythm and the execution of the dance so the drummer can properly emphasize the beat at an appropriate tempo.  It opens up a whole new world of understanding to learn that the rhythm you are playing is intended for a male only performance or that it needs to be slow enough for grandma to follow along at a wedding.

Although Karim has the experience and training, he doesn’t negatively critique others for their lack of cultural knowledge or their artistic choices. “I’m not the police, I’m not out to criticize people for what they were not able to learn or what path they’ve gone on based on their exposure.  I’m happy that people are motivated to learn, and whatever motivates them is fine with me.  But if I have the opportunity, I’d love to put things back in the cultural context.”

This openness translates into a very forgiving and inclusive teacher.  Even though I had only played twice in the previous two years, and my drumming was quite rusty, my learning experience was very rewarding.  Using an “ensemble approach”, Karim challenges a mixed skill level class with ease and success.  He teaches rhythms and dances through the American or “western” method of breaking them down into smaller units for intellectual understanding.  He gives the Arabic context to the meaning of the word that describes the rhythm or dance.  For example “Sudasi” means “sixish”, referring to 6/4 rhythms for Dabke line dance.  “Saidi” is a type of rhythm, but it can also refer to anything from the south of Egypt because it’s an adjective.  As Karim says, “the language illuminates things for us.  But in the United States, we don’t use Arabic language that much.  Even…Bellydance is an English term even though it’s not an English dance.  So a lot of people might not associate it with a culture as a result.”

Interview with Karim Nagi at Cairo Caravan 2012


Karim is well known as a musician and creator of Turbo Tabla, where he frequently unites Arabic and electronic music.  He lectures worldwide on Arab music, dance and culture, teaches Musicality for Dancers, Rhythm for Dancers, Drum solo for Dancers, Choreography classes, Finger Cymbals, Riqq (tambourine), Arabic folk dancing like Saidi, Debke, Haliji, and much more.  Visit his website to learn more:



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