Announcing the Bal Anat Remix CD

We are so excited to announce the new Bal Anat Remix CD, an electronic world fusion remix by Manko Eponymous. This music is great for performance, class and as a soundtrack for life.

We asked Manko to explain his inspirations and process for developing the remix, and we share his writings below. This is a great opportunity to read about an artist’s process, and we hope it resonates or connects to something in your artistic pursuits.

Manko Eponymous; photo by Devon Rowland Photography

Manko Eponymous is a poet, musician & bard based in DC (Dance City!). He’s sung, written, and played a variety of instruments for over a dozen bands ranging from bluegrass to kwaito to world fusion. He dedicates this, his seventh solo cd, to Cera, Stacy, all the DC Tribalistas and of course Kaihea, always.

The Bal Anat Remix project was born in the hotel bar at Rakkasah East in 2007 – Suhaila had seen my partner Kaihea dancing to some of the music I’d made for her (now available on the “Kaihealoha” CD), and liked what she’d heard, although I suspect Kaihea could’ve made Tiny Tim’s music look soulful and sultry. Fate clearly had a very different agenda than Suhaila and I did – 2007 and 2008 saw both our lives thrown into the blender. When the dust settled and we were both ready to get back to the project, we had all lost Kaihea to cancer, Suhaila had completely dismantled and rebuilt her business, and suddenly it was 2010.

Even in that original meeting in the bar, I remember Suhaila’s specific points of reference for the project included Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Umm Kulthum – she insisted I dive deep into Kulthum before doing anything else about the project, and of course I did, much to my enlightenment and inspiration. While I can’t expect anyone’s going to listen to these tracks and think “Oh, sure, Manko must be really into Umm Kulthum,” Kulthum’s life and work epitomize important principles and essences often absent in electronic world fusion. Computer music can easily achieve what Brian Eno calls “premature sheen,” an easy, palatable, presentable kind of synthetic appeal, but only when the human element provides the soul-baring, directly expressive, often transcendent ingredients can music truly soar.

And nobody ever soared like Umm Kulthum.

The rich flavor and texture of the original Bal Anat tracks was irresistible and intoxicating to me, and lent exactly the human component I felt was lacking in a lot of what I’d been hearing. But while it would’ve been tempting to simply take pieces of Bal Anat, loop them, and add synth elements (and MUCH easier technically – I needed to use autotuning software to get the zournas in tune, and I spent weeks finding ways to teach my computer to follow the many subtle tempo changes in the original Bal Anat tracks), my real objective was to find the commonalities connecting Bal Anat with every other music that touched me, and so I had to cast my net far and wide to find complementary human sounds for the grand collage, hoping to produce a final product reflecting the broad musical tastes of the modern belly dance community.

Thus, the CD begins with a nod to the trancelike instrumental work of The Cure, always a favorite among tribalistas. From there I wanted to make sure Suhaila got her beloved raging hard rock guitars, so for the second track the wail and whine of the zournas blends with screaming Marshall stacks (and a groove perhaps reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levy Breaks”). Then a former student of mine came into the studio to record some classical Indian alap vocal improvisations for a karsilima (flavored with acid house synth squawks) and the dreamy “Zanya,” for which I wrote and sang my own pining lyrics after Suhaila introduced me to the original cinematic ballad.

What has kept me addicted to the legendary DC belly dance community over the years is the way my dancer friends are always searching out fresh musical inspirations from all corners of the world – “if you can feel it, you can dance to it,” seems to be the rule, so the same dancers I’ve seen doing ATS to the original Bal Anat tracks don’t bat an eye at developing a choreography to music from Otis Redding, Aphex Twin or Chopin. “Cane” was inspired by the energetic Balkan ska-punk sounds a dancer friend of mine had been exposing me to, and “Tray” took a chamber ensemble direction as a nod to a local dancer who’s also an accomplished classical cellist (and who has done some beautiful belly dance choreographies to chamber music). Electric sitar and beatboxing snuck in as homage to New York’s marvelous “Beatbox Guitar” duo, while other tracks draw on Japanese taiko drums, sea shanties, Philip Glass, Cambodian and Estonian vocal traditions, and of course the reggaeton I hear from every car window in my own neighborhood.

In short, this is my own reflection of the sounds of the global village my friends and I live and dance in, anchored in the unifying roots of Bal Anat’s primal medina growl, purr and wail. Just as the original Bal Anat musicians were working to create a soulful sound dancers in sixties Berkeley could instinctively relate to, balancing authenticity and originality as only folk traditions can, these remixes are my vision of that energy seen through the kaleidoscope of the postmodern twenty-first century. The dance community that drew its first inspiration from Bal Anat a generation ago is now cramming the whole world into their ipods in search of fresh and inspiring grooves…and me, I draw my inspiration from their endless search.

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