Sabriye 100 Percent
Interview with Sabriye Tekbilek
Sabriye Tekbilek is an international performer and instructor who has been dancing in the Middle East since 2005. Being the daughter of musician “Haci” Ahmet Tekbilek and bellydancer Lisa Djeylan, music and dancing have played an essential part throughout her life. This year Sabriye released her first CD called “Sabriye Miye Miye“, so she tells us what music means to her, and reveals the secrets of producing a CD.
Every oriental dancer has their own relationship with Middle Eastern music, but you already developed that relationship in your childhood. Tell us more about that.
Even though I’ve never known life without Middle Eastern music, I have a true interest in it beyond that. My sister has also been exposed to it, but she doesn’t have the same interest in music, nor in dance. So I think it’s something that you have to develop regardless of whether it’s ‘new’ for you or inherited.
I remember finding my mom’s cassette tapes and listening to them over and over again obsessively. I think that that type of obsession is actually a good thing for a dancer, listening becomes instinctual and so does your dancing.
During your career you have performed with many different Middle Eastern musicians. What are the most significant things you’ve learned when working with them?
Oh, I’ve learned so much! On a practical level, I’ve learned tons of stuff, for example terminology, and how bands communicate with each other with hand cues and Arabic words. Before I came to the Middle East I wasn’t particularly versed in Gulf music, and now I certainly know more about that and how it’s played live. A lot of what I have learned is stuff that I’ve sort of just absorbed, it is very hard to translate onto paper!
I’ve also learned that grown men’s egos are fragile and that you have to be careful with how you deal with people. I remember early on being frank and straight with a musician, and realizing that he took it as offensive. Instead I had to sugarcoat everything in a way that I would have considered manipulative, but that was the most effective way to get what I wanted out of him. But there is also a limit to being sweet, sometimes you have just put your foot down and demand respect, and this is much easier when you know your music and your music theory. It shows people that you merit the respect you are demanding.
What do you consider the basic knowledge of music every dancer should have?
Well, in this area I have very high standards. But only because I truly believe the more music a dancer knows the better they will be. Suhaila Salimpour has a list of over a 100 songs on her website (which I helped to compile), and that is a good place to START.
I think it’s a great idea to explore genres of Middle Eastern music as well as time periods. I teach lecture workshops on both of these topics with video footage that I’ve assembled. It’s so easy to find information now that it’s almost overwhelming, so the goal of these workshops is to help dancers figure out where to begin their searches. While working with musicians I’ve learned what is important, valid and practical,and giving workshops on the topic is a way for me to share that experience with other dancers.
I also think it’s important for dancers to know the lyrics they are dancing to, even if they are dancing to a version without the song. I don’t think a dancer has to act out the words, but you have to glean some sentiment from the text.
You released your first CD. How did you come up with that idea?
Music has always been the primary reason to dance, so producing my own CD has always been a dream. When I came to the Middle East I heard all this music that was new to me, and different versions of it, and I really felt there was a need for it on a CD. So, in many ways it was purely for selfish reasons. I wanted to have these songs recorded so I could dance to them when I was not with a band. But I hope that others will get use out them as well!
I don’t think a lot of dancers are aware of the work it takes to release a CD. Tell us about the process.
I’ve wanted to produce a CD for a long time, but when I was ‘on the road’ it was really hard to get it done. I tried to do it in Egypt when I was there for an extended time but I had some ‘issues’ with the people I dealt with. So, needless to say, when I was in Tunis this time I was weary but really wanted to give it a try again. Through one of the band members I worked with I met a studio team who I clicked with. The arranger in particular totally understood what I wanted and needed, so having faith in him made it easy to go ahead.
I think the most important trait in a producer is to be able to tolerate smoke! These guys smoke all day long in soundproof rooms! There is a lot of sitting around and waiting and doing things over and over again for hours.
The production process began when I chose the songs and talked to the arranger about which parts of the songs I wanted and how long I wanted them to be. As many of you know, the original compositions of Arabic songs are really long so you have to abbreviate them. In clubs live bands obviously do this but each band does it differently. So here I got to choose which sections I wanted.
When we recorded, we started by laying down the percussion tracks and then they add more and more musicians (keyboard, violins, chello, kanoun, trap drums, singer, chorus). It’s not very exciting, but once in a while you get a sense of what it is going to sound like in the end, and then it’s suddenly thrilling. But it’s one moment of thrill after 8 hours of breathing smoke.
Your CD is called “Sabriye Miye Miye”. What does it mean and how did you pick that name?
Sabriye Miye Miye means, ‘Sabriye 100 percent’ and the name comes from joking around backstage with the band. It just happens to rhyme so it caught on. Depending on the context it can mean that I am a hundred percent, but as a CD title it can also mean that the CD is a hundred percent me, and that’s how I like to think of it. It was certainly a group effort but it feels like it’s a 100 percent my style and my choice in songs. It might be worth mentioning for those who are language nerds like myself that it is a Lebanese/Syrian pronunciation, many others would say, “Sabriya Miya Miya”.
How did you make the selection of songs for the CD? Was it a hard decision to make?
It wasn’t hard to choose songs but it was hard to exclude them (I’m hoping this CD sells well so I can quickly turn around and make another one). There are a lot of songs that I’ve loved dancing to over the years, but I can’t find good versions of them on CD. So as I said, this is the beginning of my wish list of songs.
I polled friends on Facebook and got the feedback that some wanted the songs without lyrics. So I’ve included two versions of the tracks: one with the lyrics and the other with just some chorals and an instrument taking the role of the voice, so it’s essentially instrumental.
What is your favorite song on the CD and why?
Oh that is SO hard to say!!I really like the entrance piece which is the title track ‘Sabriye Miye Miye’, it’s a composition that I bought in Egypt. I feel like it’s hard to find good new entrance pieces so I’m proud of it for that reason. The Saidi Cocktail is also great because it’s just plain hot! Then there are Zay al Asal, Bahiya, and E’della ala Kefak, which have been near impossible to find on CD and certainly not at a decent quality (sorry if there is one out there and I’m offending someone but really haven’t found them) so I’m very thrilled and excited about those because they are amongst my favorite songs of all time.
Does your CD offer anything extra in addition to the music?
As I mentioned earlier I think it’s really important that the dancer knows the meaning of the lyrics that she’s dancing to. With the help of Arabic speaking friends and artists I’ve translated the lyrics on the album, and will have them available on my website. It was VERY challenging because so many metaphors don’t translate well, they were in a range of dialects and had slang from many different decades. The word order is different and Arabic is so rich in metaphors, so I really tried to translate it in a way that got the point across and captured the spirit of the song. It was painful, but at times hilarious too!