Beats Antique on Tribal Belly Dance and the Common Thread in Global Party Rhythms
By J POET
Beats Antique's kaleidoscopic carnival of belly dancers and musicians moves to a dizzying whirl of electronica mashed up with Middle Eastern grooves, Balkan wedding music, flamenco, French gypsy jazz, hip-hop, and dub reggae, for a sound that appeals to world music lovers as well as dance club regulars. The band is the cooperative effort of David Satori, Tommy Chappel, and Zoe Jakes. Satori's musical journeys led him from electric banjo, to Gypsy fiddle, Indian classical music and West African sounds. Just before meeting Jakes and starting Beats Antique, he was a member of the San Francisco Afrobeat ensemble Aphrodesia. Chappel started playing drums in rock bands, but studied New Orleans jazz, bebop, modern jazz, and world music at Berklee (College of Music). Jakes was a longtime jazz and ballet dancer before falling under the spell of belly dance in 2000. All three musicians compose and produce the music on their albums, but Jakes gets the lion's share of attention during live shows with her fierce stage presence. Ahead of Beats Antique's show this Friday (March 30) at the Fox theater, the three musicians spoke with All Shook Down from their Oakland home.
Your take on tribal belly dance uses influences from all over the world. Is tribal belly dance different from traditional belly dance?
Jakes: Belly dance came to America at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. After seeing it in the movies, America adopted it along with Art Nouveau, which was based on Egyptian art. American styles and Middle Eastern styles are connected, but different. Western dancers (in particular the tribal scene in San Francisco) made American belly dance into its own thing. It's a mix of moves from Indian classical dance, break dance, tango, flamenco and traditional Middle Eastern styles, using snaky arm undulations and the isolation of the muscles in the hips. My style is called tribal fusion, which was started by Rachel Brice, who is a well-known contemporary urban belly dancer.
What attracted you to Middle Eastern, Arab, and World music?
Chappel: I studied percussion at Berklee. Playing grooves from New Orleans made me realize the party beats people like tend to have similarities, be they hip-hop, Balkan, Arab or Latin. I wanted to mix 'em all up. Joining Beats Antique brought Middle Eastern music to the forefront for me. I enjoyed it before, but I've started delving deeper into it since playing with the band.
Jakes: On our early albums, we actually leaned more toward Balkan music, which gets clumped into the Middle Eastern thing. There's a little Middle Eastern flavor in Balkan music, but it's really a different sound.
Satori: I studied Eastern European folk music in school and got influenced by the odd time signatures. I had a guitar teacher from Macedonia who got me more into it, but I'm more interested in our interpretation of it. I've studied classical North Indian music and played in an Afrobeat band for a long time, so the blend comes naturally.
What does the title Elektraphone represent? How does this project differ from your last album?
Jakes: It's a made up word that uses the idea of a gramophone, a turn of the century record player with a big horn, and electricity. It's a way of implying electronic and acoustic, the idea of bringing electricity to old sounds.
Satori: We made it in three months, which is a lot faster than our other records. We had a lot of songs we'd put together during the last two years of non-stop touring, so we picked our favorites and busted 'em out. We experimented with them a bit during the recording, to continue moving them in the direction we're going. The next album will be more conceptual.
Chappel: It really came together organically. There's more electronica and more live drums as well as live horns, accordion, banjo and bass clarinet.
What's the band's backstory?
Jakes: We'd all been friends, and I was working with Miles Copeland, who managed the Police and started IRS Records. He was putting together the Super Stars of Belly Dance show and wanted to get a group together to make an electronic Middle Eastern album. We started working together on the album that became Tribal Derivations.
Satori: The album was supposed to be a one-off project, but it did so well that we were asked to do a second album (2008's Collide). We put a lot of energy and time into it. Right after it came out, we got asked to perform and started gigging. We had to figure out how to make a live performance out of what was a studio project. We started adding live instruments, a full drum set, and guest dancers and musicians, and slowly built it into this huge show. When we play the Fox, we'll be showing off the biggest version of what we can do with a full live band and six or seven dancers.