The Best of George Abdo and his Flames of Araby Orchestra

During a boat cruise of the Nile in the summer of ought ought, I was privileged to experience authentic belly dancing and Sufi performances while enjoying a buffet dinner surrounded by Muslims who hated my government.

Ever since then I’ve been looking for an album that would capture the mysterious, primal emotion of that night—and with George Abdo, I may have found it (or at least come darned close).

The so-called “King of Belly Dance music” began performing his own music in supper clubs, forging what has been called a precursor to the world beat sound. Combining Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Armenian, Greek and Turkish traditions, he helped create a unique multi-ethnic dance style that also melded American pop and jazz with the Middle East instrumentation (violin, oboe, oud, qanun, darbuka, bouzouki—as well as guitar, bass, piano and drums), and the result is a mesmerizing listening experience. Deep soundscapes emerge full of Abdo’s rich lead vocals, accompanying choir chants, and ancient instruments all with a “live” reverb feel. This is organic music that truly feels alive, and if you don’t believe me, try listening without wanting to move.

Originally recorded on LP (on Monitor Records, which was acquired by Smithsonian Folkways in 1999), this is a “best of” compilation from Abdo’s five albums that includes beautiful, percussion built songs like “Ya Gameel (Arabic love song)” and “Allah, ya Lubnan (God, My Beautiful Lebanon)” and 13 others—all of them equally amazing. And when he combines ‘60s pop elements with the older traditions, the result is truly unique. Overall, an excellent addition for anyone who loves heartfelt music or simply likes to dance. A must have for belly dancers! A plus! Gold star! Yippee, hooray! Aye-yai-yai!