Monday, 4 June 2012

Out with the sagat, in with the zills

I've been trying to learn to dance with sagat for years.  It is a rare an interesting sight to see a dancer on stage who is proficient in playing finger cymbals, and as a former musician this instrument has always had a certain appeal.  I have also been impressed whenever I had a teacher who used her sagat in class to provide instant music to accompany the moves, and I wanted to do that too.

One of my dance specialities is Sha'abi style folk dance from the South of Egypt.  This looks and sounds great when danced live with sagat, as exemplified by the Ghawazee tribes of Upper Egypt.  I even performed my own tribute to the Ghawazee dancers a couple of years back in Sarasvati Tribal's Gaslight Faeries show.

However, I found it difficult to make progress in learning this instrument.  Mine are the heavy one-holed proper Egyptian sagat, imported from Mohammed Ali Street in Cairo.  And although I love the sound, the one-holed design means that although they are fine when played sitting down, when I dance, they wobble.  I have tried every manner of things to stop this happening, different sizes and thickness of elastic, even using bra elastic, but nothing really helped.

I had to find another solution to my finger cymbal problem.  So I turned to a different instrument altogether, the zill...

Finger cymbals are an ancient percussion instrument, still played by dancers in the middle east today.  In Egypt they are called sagat, in Turkey they are called zills and the instrument exists under different names and sometimes slightly different forms all over the middle east and North Africa.  Zills have a higher pitched, more ringing sound than sagat.  The slightly different sound means that they are not entirely authentic to Egyptian dance, however they are a reasonable substitute.  And due to their popularity amongst Stateside bellydancers, good quality zills are easier to find.  The best ones also have 2 parallel slits, which you string with thick flat elastic, and they don't wobble!

I did some research and discovered Saroyan, one of the manufacturers of quality zills popular with US dancers (other brands include Turquoise and Zildjian).  And more importantly, I found a supplier in the UK, Aladdin's cave, who carries this brand.  So here are my new zills, they are professional quality Saroyan Arabesque II.

I'm quite pleased with them so far.  They are heavy and loud and more tuneful sounding than my sagat.  They stay on my fingers too which helps me to hold my hands in a nicer more open position while dancing.  And more importantly, this has given me motivation to start practising more regularly again.

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