Phoenix Belly Dance

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Tamra Henna
by Emma Proudley

This belly dance song comes from a 1957 Egyptian film of the same title. The movie is about a young Ghawazee dancer called Tamra Henna, played by the legendary Egyptian belly dancer Naima Akef (who starred in many classic Egyptian films). Tamra Henna is a poor girl who, while dancing for a wealthy audience, charms a rich man into thinking she is a wealthy young woman. The rich man seeks Tamra Henna’s hand in marriage and she is initially captivated by the lives of the upper-society but soon realizes she is far better-off in her Ghawazee tribe who do not have much money but are rich in love and happiness.

The first version of the song Tamr Henna heard in the film is upbeat and cheeky, fitting the mood of Naima Akef’s beautiful choreography when she is dancing for the upper class audience. She uses zills while she dances that provide an integral part of the music and there is only a very short verse of singing by a crowd, most of the song is instrumental. Her dancing is lovely with complex Egyptian footwork and elegant arm movements. I really loved the way she travels around the circle of watchers with camels and shimmies. I found myself dancing to this all the time and would love to do Naima Akef’s original choreography one day.

The instruments used in this version are strongly the Egyptian flute (Egyptian Ney) as well as drums and Naima’s zills. You can see the crowd using these instruments in the circle surrounding Naima as she dances.

Later versions of this song includes one by Hossam Shaker (found on the album Jalilah raks sharki 3)  which is like the original but a modern recording and with less zill sounds. A very melodic and extended version is found on the album Best of Ya Salam which runs for over 7 and a half minutes.

There is another version of the song later in the film which is slower and mournful. It has a woman’s voice singing lyrics and she sounds sorrowful and longing. When reading the lyrics we find out it is sung from the perspective of Tamr Henna’s sister – Tamr Henna has left her tribe and nobody knows where she is. Her sister (played by Fayza Ahmed) is looking for her and sadly singing;

“Oh, Tamr Henna! Oh, Tamr Henna!

You’ve walked out on us and gone away

Oh, Tamr Henna! Oh, Tamr Henna!

You’ve walked out on us and gone away

All flowers are here longing for you,

Missing the life and soul of the party

All flowers are here longing for you,

Missing the life and soul of your beauty.

Oh, Tamr Henna! Oh, Tamr Henna!”

This version is almost six minutes long and does not have a choreography in the film to it.


Naima Akef biography:

Original Naima Akef choreography from Tamr Henna

Other versions of this song:

Best of Ya Salam

Jalilah raks sharki 3

Faster version by unknown artist

Slower version from 1957 film sung by Fayza Ahmed with subtitled lyrics in English