Rhythm Study

June 11, 2021

One of the features of Middle-Eastern music that make it so fun to dance to is the variety of rhythms used. Here is a primer of some of the most common rhythms in the music and dance of these regions.
I’m going to start with the  4/4 rhythms, which are closely related and probably the most challenging to decipher. The D and the T refer to the sounds on the drum, the deep doum played near the center of the skin or surface, and the higher tek played near the rim.
4/4 Rhythms

Here is the great Lebanese singer Fairuz singing to a maqsoum rhythm.

Closely related to the Maqsoum is the Sai’idi rhythm, which is associated with the Said region of Upper Egypt. This rhythm is associated with tahtib (men’s martial art stick dance) and raks assaya (cane dance).

The Egyptian men’s martial art stick discipline known as Tahtib goes back thousands of years. Here is a documentary on it (in French). You will hear sai’di rhythms played.


Here is the famed dancer Fifi Abdou performing a sai’idi:


Another by the lovely Nagwa Fouad


Baladi is part of the Masqoum family of rhythms, and it is known in the Middle East as Masmoudi Saghir (little masmoudi).

This is a classic composition every belly dancer should know and it contains a few rhythm changes, including the ones outlined above. Can you hear them? There is a very distinctive Baladi that starts at 2 min 45 sec.


This next 4/4 rhythm, called Nawari, is sometimes interspursed with Sai’di, though it is most commonly used in debke dance from the Levant

Here is Nawari played on a popular track I use in class.

Here is a fun dabke (also spelled debke) flash mob in 2011 dancing  to the Nawari rhythm:

Here is a vintage clip of a dancer (name unknown) performing a Lebanese style cane dance to Nawari. (There are many cane dances, and the Lebanese one is distinct from the raks assaya (cane dance) from Egypt. The cane here is thinner and different technique is employed.)