Karim Nagi is a one-man multi-cultural revolution. If you're a belly dancer and don’t know about him, you should… and if you are already familiar with his work, you’re probably a big fan! Hugely talented as a traditional Arabic drummer and folk dancer, he’s also an extremely creative and forward thinking composer and DJ.
A native Egyptian, Karim has spent so much time in America and Europe that even the smallest cultural nuances don’t elude him, which is just one of the reasons why Western dancers adore him. With his super-charged knowledge, cultural duality and open artistic persona, he has a unique understanding of global pop culture and Arab traditions that is endlessly appealing to members of all camps. Highly educated in musical theory and master of many instruments, his academic study and applied knowledge of Arab folkloric dances is just as impressive as his musical chops.
To list all of his credentials would be impossible, but he’s performed, taught and lectured at places like Harvard and The Smithsonian; he’s released several CDs and DVDs on Arab music and dance and he’s been the director of the highly popular Arab Dance Seminar for nearly a decade.
Karim also heads up the Sharq Ensemble, a pan-Arabic musical performance group he founded in 1999, and his Arabiqa program has educated children and teens in over three hundred schools. Oh, and he constantly tours internationally... usually for over three-quarters of every year. Suffice it to say that this man knows his shit.
Karim has an endlessly quirky sense of humor, which onstage especially, is as endearing as it is comical. Combined with the obvious joy that emanates from him as he performs, and his enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge of traditional and contemporary Arab music and dance with students, he’s truly hard to resist.
He also has a brand new CD out, which is why I’m raving about him!
(DUM + TAK) x TARAB = DANCE
RhythmatiQ is a musical project that probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day if Karim was “only” a musician… because it’s tailor made for dancers. Consisting of fifteen tracks which are all under four minutes long, the premise of RhythmatiQ is that everything on it is meant to be mixed and matched, enabling dancers to use the pieces individually or to combine them to formulate personalized performance or practice sets of different lengths. Each track on this CD will not only compliment the others, but would be just as cool when paired with tracks by other artists as well. The fact that Karim uses traditional rhythms and concepts but then filters them through his own outré -and dare I say hip - sensibilities means that RhythmatiQ as a whole is a multi-genre work that could be used for any type of belly dance, from cabaret to tribal, and would be also be great for troupes or different types of fusion belly dance, too.
Additionally, the inside cover features a chart with many Arabic rhythms annotated both by counts as well as a written verbalization of the Dums and Taks (that’s Arab musician -speak for the lower or higher drum pitches) plus each track highlights a certain Arabic rhythm, such as Fellahi, Hagalla, Ayoub, Masmoudi and so on, meaning that RhythmatiQ would also make a terrific teaching tool for dance instructors.
The CD opens with the Darabist Drum Solo, highlighting Karim’s signature tabla playing, which is always a rowdy crowd-pleaser, dynamic but done with finesse. Live or recorded, he always wrenches incredible tones from the tabla, from powerful slaps to quick finger work.
Some of the songs I really like a lot are the haunting Khaliji Rhythmatiq from the Arabian Gulf, the Sonbati Rythmatiq (which many dancers would probably identify as a quick chiftetelli) the high-energy Dabke Rhythmatiq. The quick Masri Rhyhtmatic with its rattly riq literally travels through Egypt referencing all sorts of rhythms. I’m also particularly fond of the gorgeous Andalusi Rhythmatiq, with its contra tiempo palmas, or hand clapping that counters the rhythm. Originating in the Muslim-ruled Iberian Peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal) between the 9th and 15th centuries, the traditional Moorish music Tarab Andalusi is popular throughout North Africa.
Ok, so now that I’ve gushed about most of this album, I might as well add that Karim played most of the percussion instruments and the buzuk, did the vocals and the re-mixes and also conceptualized and executed the cover artwork, too... Yep, he’s a regular Renaissance man.
Even though he’s already got a big ole body of work, he’s so creative, prolific and driven, that I have a feeling that it’s all just the tip of the iceberg!
You can purchase RhythmatiQ on Amazon: Rhythmatiq
Karim will be appearing in Knoxville, Tennessee this coming weekend, September 14-16, 2012, before going on to Tai Pei and Singapore for two weeks (October 1-19) followed up by Acapulco, Mexico on the weekend of October 26-28th… and that’s just for starters.