Henna’s Top 5 Big Songs for Belly Dance

What do I mean by “big songs” you ask?  These are songs that were either composed for raqs sharki (Egyptian style bellydance) or that bellydancers have chosen to dance to for various reasons.  Typically, they are at least 8 minutes long, often used as the entrance piece to a classic bellydance routine, or “mejance”.  These days, it is less common to see a full 30 minute set performed by a bellydancer, but these songs remain popular due to their ornate melodies, interesting rhythmic shifts, dramatic moments, and all around gorgeousness.

There are, of course, more than five of these songs, but I have chosen my top five favorites.  I’ve given a little information about each and a link to where you can download this bellydance music.

You will notice that the song titles are spelled in multiple ways.  While there is an official, academic way to transliterate words from Arabic to English, it seems no one follows it or just makes it up as they go.  I offer a few spellings if you feel like searching for the song.  Sometimes you find a good one by spelling it differently.

Without further ado: The List.

Set al Hosen / Seit al Hoseni / Sit al Hosen
“Prettiest of the Pretty”
composer: Mohamed Sultan
No lyrics
10-ish minutes
There are a few short versions of the song out there, but the above link will take you to Suhaila Salimpour’s site.  Arabian Musicals vol. 3 is the only full version that I know of.
This is known as the first composed piece of music specifically for raqs sharki.  Mohamed Sultan composed it for Nagua Fouad.  It has no lyrics but according to Shira’s site the title of the song means, “Prettiest of the Pretty. Video of Nagua Fouad dancing to Set al Hosen

Alf Leyla wa Leyla
“1001 and 1 Nights”
composer: Baligh Hamdi
singer: Oum Kalthoum
6 to 8 minutes depending on taksim
This is the intro, instrumental section to the 50 or 60 minute piece of music sung by legendary Oum Kalthoum.  It is the 10 minute intro that dancers often use.  In this case, we are not dancing to the section that would normally be sung.  I think this is an important distinction to make when dancing as you do not necessarily need to embody the actual meaning of the lyrics like you would in, say, Enta Omri (see below).

Mishaal / Mashaal (sometimes referred to as “Hani”)
composer: Hani Mehanna
early 1980’s
No lyrics, composed as a dance entrance piece, “Mejance”.
9:20 mins from Jalilah’s Raks Sharki vol. 1
Video of Hani Mehanna directing his orchestra while they play this piece.  The sound quality is not good, but it’s rare to have footage of the composer directing like this.  So, bellynerds – enjoy!

Enta Omri
“You are my Life”
composer: Mohamed Abdel Wahab
singer: Oum Kalthoum
Lyrics: Ahmed Shafik
Lyric translation from Shira’s site here.
Arguably the most famous Oum Kalthoum song in history, the music was written by Mohamed Abdel Wahab and lyrics were later added by Ahmed Shafik, a poet who wrote many of the song lyrics for Oum Kalthoum.  A song about the most devotional kinds of love, this may be the epitome of “tarab” music.  Souheir Zaki was given permission by Oum Kalthoum herself to dance to the song.  Before then, dancers were considered too low class to dance to the music of Oum Kalthoum, so this is a major moment in raqs sharki history.  Unlike many other Oum Kalthoum songs, we dance to the sections of the song with lyrics (part 1) and without (part 2 and 3) from the Hossam Ramzy versions linked above.

Leylet Hob / Lailet Hob
“Night of Love”
composer: Mohamed Abdel Wahab
singer: Oum Kalthoum
Composed and performed in the 1960’s, Wahab composed this song with the electric guitar included in the orchestra.  He was known for combining western instruments and ideas into his compositions.
Souhair Zaki dancing to Leylet Hob in a movie  She danced to this song in multiple movies!

Michael Nageub of House of Tarab