“It’s a combination of traditional surf rock with Egyptian rhythms fused with the visual elements of live belly dancers. Kind of Dick Dale meets Omar Khorshid,” says Rich Mansor, guitarist and leader of Zamman, an eight-piece band he formed a year ago.
The band began with a very different aesthetic. “It started out as a two-piece sludge duo,” Mansor recalls. “Very grungy, very punk. But I am Middle Eastern, so those influences are a part of me. I had a connection with a very famous Egyptian keyboard player and we did an event where I realized that this was a market that no one had tapped into. We understood that we could continue to be just another punk band or we could connect with this huge audience [the belly dancing community] that was stagnant because of a lack of live music.”
Prior to that gig, Mansor was unaware of the size of this demographic. “I might have known two at the time, but it turns out there are hundreds — they started coming out of the woodwork, and they all wanted live music to dance to.”
Mansor’s group reimagines material from an earlier era. “The dancers like to perform something they already know, to win their loyalty you have to give them something they are familiar with, but done in your own way. We take songs from the World War II era and modernize them into our own style. We make it a lot louder, a lot more live sounding – we are a rock band at heart so I describe it as being knocked out by Mike Tyson – we like to come out hitting hard.”
Blending in with the dancers can be a challenge, according to the musician. “It’s very important for them to be in synch with the music, so we do rehearse with them, because each dancer has their own style. For that moment, they are a member of the band. Only a few will make it to the next level.”
Everything counts. “There are certain requirements for a dancer to be successful,” Mansor reveals. “The way they enter the room, the way they perform, and the way they leave should almost be transparent — like a mirage or a dream.”
He sees a bright future. “What we do appeals to a Western audience even more than a Middle Eastern one, simply because no one has ever heard what we do.”