George Abdo:
Remembering a Legend

When George Abdo passed away in May of 2002, I felt compelled to mention him in as many related e-mail groups and web-sites as I could.  Fittingly, I should have something here on my site honoring him as well.
For me, it all started with “George Abdo and The Flames Of Araby.”  As I’ve mentioned in my Bio and my Favorites links, my memories of his music go back to my childhood.

Seeing George Abdo’s live performances at the Averof, as well as my listening to his recorded work, it made an indelible impression on me, and continues to inspire me.  I know for a fact that I would not be the musician I am today if it wasn’t for George and his phenomenal group of musicians.  Many special thanks to drummers Steve Kouyoumjian and Leon Manoogian.

I believe that he was a true pioneer in the medium of Middle Eastern music and dance here in America.   So much of what’s happening today wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for Abdo and others of his generation in the 1960’s and 1970’s laying the ground-work and setting the template.  Whether you were performing or teaching a dance class over the last 30 years, chances were that his music was present; it was perfect for learning.

I’m fond of saying that aside from his wonderful singing voice, his great gift was as a band leader and musical arranger.  His arrangements were totally new within the context of Middle Eastern music, with the needs of the dancer totally in mind, thus he pioneered something new and accessible to the American audiences that were coming to the shows.  He brought this music out from the weddings and haflas and into the clubs.  Another very important detail was the role of the dancer as an essential contribution to the musical ensemble, and not simply as a decorative ornament.  I feel in this context the dancer was part of a band, which was very different in America previously, where belly dancing was to be seen mostly as Burlesque, with completely unrelated music, or a worse environment - Hollywood movies.  I believe he helped bring belly dancing to an appreciative art-form and changed its image by being faithful to it, without removing the sensuality from it, or disguising it with colorful genre terminology such as “Goddess Dance” or “American Tribal” sub-divisions that thankfully, didn’t exist in those days drawing boundaries.  If this was all he ever did for the art-form, his contribution is huge.

He helped create the genre of belly dance music here in America as we know it today.

In a new context, Abdo and others helped forged an effective arts medium with a newly defined identity where the belly dance music and belly dance itself were one.  The music communicated and moved with the dancer as a partner, they were complete.  One was simply not an additive for the other.  George Abdo was certainly an innovator who forged the template for this now defined medium, or genre.

It’s important for me to mention here that even though Abdo and his band were doing “Fusion music” they did not stray far from the indigenous, cultural context and details of the songs, rhythms and structures.  So important is this, as to make this music have its proper form, yet be something new as well.  This is something so evidently missing from many groups here today doing American-Middle East music, many who are being born out of SCA events and Renaissance fairs all around the U.S.  This is why many of them (in my opinion) sound like Celtic, New Age, or Renaissance music, without any connection to the roots that I can hear.

All of the musicians I’m referring to in Abdo’s band had strong connections to Arabic, Greek, Armenian, and Turkish music, as they were Armenian, Greek and Arabic musicians born here in the U.S.  This was the music they heard in their homes, the music their parents listened to.

They also loved all other kinds of music as well, some also played rock and jazz, so when they give it a new twist and bring in these influences, it doesn’t lose its definition.  With this noted, his music is so much more needed today to educate and learn from, for both musicians and dancers if you’re going to do Fusion. But above all, just to listen to some really great and exciting music, his albums certainly deliver whole-heartedly and more.

I’ll never forget those nights at the Averof when I experienced the live music and belly dancing, as it truly blew my mind.  The combination of the energy rush from this powerful group of musicians, and the strong, sensuous, beautiful women who exquisitely interpreted the music, I say it was unforgettable.  This power of men and women creating Art together, this was Abdo’s music personified.  This is music that both men and women can relate to and identify with.

I’m listening to his recordings a lot these days.  Forever preserved is the excitement, presence, and phenomenal musicianship, great songs, and singing, all that has left its impression on my psyche from over 25 years ago.  This is the mark of great musicians who’ve left a charge of Baraka in the world.

Thanks for the Baptism George!  Above all, thanks for all the great music.

You will be missed.


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