Thursday, July 07, 2005

Loving George Abdo

by Charlotte Desorgher

It's time to come out publicly; I'm a great George Abdo fan. There, I've said it.

But why on earth should I be worried about admitting to my enthusiasm? Well, George Abdo and his Flames of Araby orchestra are a bit of a byword for naff in serious raqs sharqicircles. Really, the name says it all - The Flames of Araby - it makes them sound like extras in films such as
The Road to Cairo or Carry On Cleopatra. And it's true, the music of George Abdo isn't for purists. The rhythms are pretty suspect at times and there is a definite mixing of influences from different countries without too much concern for ethnic accuracy. But for accessibility, for mood and for sheer danceability - for me George Abdo has no equal.

Lebanese-born George Abdo was a star performer in the Middle Eastern supper clubs and night clubs that thrived in the 1970s and '80s in the US. People of all nationalities would flock to clubs like the Averof to eat, drink, smoke, listen to live musicians and watch belly dancers, who would circulate through the audience dancing and collecting tips. Many stars and celebrities would come along in the days before Americans started to fear their Arab populations, Liza Minnelli was a particular fan.

The musicians were typically a diverse bunch of Armenians, Lebanese, Syrians, Turks, Greeks, Jewish Arabs and Egyptians and the music was similarly eclectic. Many of the musicians had arrived in the US when they were young or were second generation immigrants and had little or no experience of Middle Eastern music in the countries of its origin. More


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