Late night get-togethers at an outdoor café, hookah pipes, chatter and the strong smell of coffee, are all part of the distinct flavour of Middle Eastern street life. As is the shimmying, hip-shaking music phenomenon best-known as `bellydance’. From Selim Sesler and the Salatin El Tarab Orchestra to Mokhtar Al Said and Sami Ali, The Rough Guide to Bellydance Café provides a comprehensive insight into the seductive sounds of the Orient.

Artists include- Jalal Joubi Ensemble, Nazareth Orchestra Feat. Lubna Salame, Ensemble Hüseyin Türkmenler, Mohammed Ali Ensemble, Sami Ali, Mokhtar Al Said, Selim Sesler, Glykeria, Salatin El Tarab Orchestra, Mayodi, Upper Egypt Ensemble, Sami Nossair Orchestra, Giasemi (Yasmin) & Nikos Saragoudas, Mohamed IskanderThis collection could be described as “bellydance with twist” as every track is energetic, catchy and lusty but also chilled-out and mysterious. While the rhythm sections certainly let it all hang out, there’s just a bit held back, whether in the vocals, strings or woodwinds, not unlike the way a female raks sharki (the traditional name for the genre) dancer will flaunt undulating hips and six-pack abs while veiling her face or upper body. Historically, while no family celebration or evening in a café was complete without them, women who plied this trade faced varying degrees of social ostracism. This was partly because their profession gave them a certain degree of independence, which threatened the status quo of the male-dominated cultures they hailed from. But in modern Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Greece, Lebanon and other countries, these ladies are for the most part recognized as the rigorously trained, exquisitely disciplined artists they have always been. Their relationship with the musicians they work with is one of equals, an uncommonly empathetic, shared act of creation not unlike that of flamenco dancers and their bands. Perhaps this is why, while listening to the tunes, sinuous, gyrating figures continuously appear at the corner of the mind’s eye, fashioning wave-like susurrations around complex syncopations, goading their collaborators to ever more feverish heights. —Christina Roden

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