Phoenix Belly Dance

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Set el Hosn
by Kathy Gavin

The first thing that becomes apparent when researching this piece of music is the number of versions and performers who have interpreted and performed it. Literally, everyone and anyone who is involved in the belly dance world has sought to perform and interpret this piece of iconic music, introducing their own special flavour to it.

It was composed by Mohamed Sultan for Nagwa Fouad, the exact year of this composition I was unable to exactly define. The phrase “Set el hosn” is a common phrase in Egypt meaning “prettiest of the pretty”. A YouTube performance of Nagwa Fouad performing to this piece is approximately 6.37 minutes.

There are no actual lyrics to this music but, you can hear some background singers. They are not singing as such, but just repeating the words, “Allah, Allah, Allah, Set el hosn, halaa” this is an exclamation of “beautiful one has arrived”.

The beat of the music is fast paced. One performer describes the drum beat is yes, no, yes, yes, no, no. There appears to be an exchange of rhythms between the performer and the 5-6 drummers. The length of the music varies from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. I did locate one version performed by Nawaem at the Sheraton in Dubai that ran for 8.46 minutes. I have to confess that this that I found too long and it did lose my interest, and that seemed to occur for the audience the video cuts to. This explains why the majority of the versions located on the internet are between 3-5 minutes in length. One such version is Aida performing at the 2009 international festival of Oriental Dance- that was just over 5 minutes.

The striking aspect of this music to me is the upbeat, quick tempo that does not seem to really have too many pauses or quiet sections within it. It was, to my mind, almost a party piece of music that would encourage everyone to get up on their feet and join in, similar to how much of today’s modern music gets you dancing around the house when it comes on the radio.

This was an interesting exercise, to research and learn more about a piece of music that has become an integral foundation of belly dance music. It is of course only one piece of music, forming part of an enormous catalogue of music that is now part of every belly dancer’s repertoire.