Ihsan Al Munzer ‘Belly Dance Disco’ 2LP/CD (BBE Music) 2/5

Originally released in 1979, “Belly Dance Disco” is Lebanese keyboardist / composer / arranger Ihsan Al-Munzer’s first solo album. It has been re-issued as the first in the series of records titled “Middle Eastern Heavens” on the BBE Music label, curated by Beirut born DJ, Ernesto Chahoud.

Let’s start with the sleeve. It features a smiling blonde bikini-clad lady standing slightly awkwardly on a sandy beach in front of the sun-kissed surf and holding, also slightly awkwardly, an acoustic guitar. My kitschy sensors are tingling already!

The album is a fusion of international contemporary sounds and Middle Eastern music. Al-Munzer says “I wanted to put a mixture of European beat with Arabic percussion, but I made the European rhythm and harmony very easy to listen to for the Arabic ear – soft and understandable”. So what does that sound like? I’d pitch it somewhere between 70s synth-pop, easy listening, disco-lite and belly dance. It’s a heady mix ripe for plunder by samplers to bring that exotic edge to your hip-hop and dance tunes. A sample from “The Joy Of Lina” does feature on a Mos Def track from a while back.

“Girls Of Iskandariah” has a melody line delivered by layers of synthesiser and synthetic string sounds with heavily reverberated percussion and an innocuous Latin disco bassline. “Night Entertainer” brings some restrained funk guitar into the soundscape. “The Joy Of Lina” and “Dance Of Tenderness” are sonically and rhythmically more interesting as the western influences are reined in a little. “Jamileh” is musically direct and the most successful fusion of the foreign sound and Middle Eastern feel.

Unfortunately, the quality drops off severely for the second half of this album, particularly “A New Candle”, which is convoluted and a tad boring with its melody mostly blagged from Happy Birthday. “Once A Year” has a promising soul intro but lapses into synth-laden easy listening. “A Flower Of My Imagination” is similar but more uptempo with Latin drum machine rhythms. The last tracks, “Love Of Laura” and especially the immediate and funky “A Night At The Station” are a big improvement.

Obviously, this is great fun but does it offer anything more than novelty or as part of a sample source library? Well, yes, it does. In parts. Tunes like “Jamileh”, “The Joy Of Lina” and “Dance Of Tenderness” are imaginative and exciting. They have bags of charm and would spice up a compilation record or a DJ setlist. However, the standard of the songs here is variable and the weaker tunes can’t really maintain the momentum provided by the better tracks.

Kevin Ward