When I was seven years old, whenever my parents or relatives held a party, inevitably someone would put on the LP album Port Said on the record player. At the time, the Lebanese Muslim musician Mohammed El-Bakkar’s record was a big hit with both Arab-Jewish and Arab-Christian communities in Brooklyn. The insistent pounding of the dumbek and El-Bakkar’s oud and soaring wail got everyone dancing.
On non-party days, my young cousins and I would go down to my cousins’ finished basement and play Port Said. We would twirl and twirl and twirl to the music to see how dizzy we could make ourselves, as we stumbled involuntarily and crazily to the ground. It was my first experiment in altered consciousness.
But equally popular for us young fellows was the record cover (see above) which featured a mostly unclad belly dancer (in complete contrast to the actual Arabic belly dancing tradition). It turns out that the woman on the album cover whose—uh—face—stayed in my memory all these years, was a well-known Romanian-born dancer named Nejla Ates who had her own interesting career, featured with El-Bakkar in the Broadway show Fanny!
So, Monday morning get yourself up from the floor, and try if you can, to sway here.
Click on the grey triangle above to hear one of the songs from the album, “Haun Meelee.”
Thanks to YouTuber NIGHT BEAT RECORDS