An Interview with Dan Eliason, Middle Eastern Drummer & Teacher at Josie's International School of Dance
Where were you when you first discovered Middle Eastern Drumming?
I was in Santa Barbara. A friend interested in Middle Eastern Dance discovered an open invitation to a Middle Eastern drum practice, so we joined together. It turned out to be an arm of the UC Santa Barbara Middle Eastern Music Ensemble, a professional Middle Eastern orchestra. For me it was the start of a new musical journey. I eventually joined the orchestra officially and was a member for seven years. We performed classical and popular music and dance from all over the Middle East, my favorite being Arabic music of Egypt and the Levant. I love drumming and the Middle Eastern rhythms used in Belly Dance, and so I have found a perfect nitch with Josie's International School of Dance!
Did you have a musical background?
I had studied voice. While singing is wonderful, I had a gap in terms of rhythm. I always trouble "feeling" the rhythm of music. The drumming gave me the gift of rhythm!
Describe those magical seven years with the University’s Middle Eastern Orchestra.
Besides participating in wonderful music from throughout the Middle East, there was also a UCSB Middle Eastern Dance Troupe led by Alexandra King. Alexandra brought dances from North Africa and Egypt, and the orchestra prepared pieces to accompany dances. The troupe performed classical group dances and Alexandra performed solo dances including cabaret style belly dance. The orchestra's drum section prepared drum solo compositions to accompany Alexandra and her dancers. One of Alexandra's students that stood out from the others was Ansuya Rathor, at that time already a well-educated and accomplished performer. Ansuya also became a formally featured soloist of the UCSB orcestra. When the Syrian American Association sponsored their show in Los Angeles, the concert hall was overflowing. The first half of the concert was classical music including the famous Muhammad Abdul Wahab and others. The second half featured well known and popular Syrian songs like Fug in Nahil. By this time the audience was overjoyed and singing along. The final part of the show was a cabaret by Ansuya, including our percussion section drum solo, and full orchestra accompyment. Ansuya brought down the house!
What other famous drummers have you met on your journey?
I am proud to have had the opportunity to study with Souhail Caspar, Los Angeles based Syrian percussionist schooled in Aleppo; Sue Rudnicki, percussion director of the UCSB Middle Eastern Music Ensemble; and Hossam Ramsy, Egyptian percussionist. I am happy to have had opportunity to play for Alexandra and Ansuya. And I'm happy to be able to join with Josie's International School of Dance to introduce drummers and Nahara’s dance students to the Arabic belly dance rhythms. I seek to enrich each dancer's experience by helping develop knowledge and a true feel of the classic rhythms of Arabic music. We are also very fortunate to have Ramzi El Edlibi come up for his monthly 2-hour intensive drum workshops. Ramzi is an amazing drummer AND DANCER! So “Grab A Drum And Let’s Have Some Fun!”
Where can one buy a Middle Eastern drum (a/k/a Doumbek, Tabla)?
A great resource is online. Several students have purchased very nice drums on Ebay or Amazon. Look for Meinl, Alexandria, Mid-East Manufacturing brands. While the Darbuka lap drum (Derbeki, Doumbek, Tabla) is the most common and fundamental drum, the Def frame drum is wonderful, and the hand held Riqq is fantastic in popular music and also the "highest classical" form of percussion in Arabic music.
So come join us on Mondays @ 7:00 pm for our Beginner Middle-Eastern Drum Practice!