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Zikrayat, the Queens-based musical group that performs new sounds inspired by the golden age of Arabic music and dance, released “Cinematic,” its second album, Saturday. The release was a long-anticipated follow-up to the 2008 Independent Music Award winning album Live at Lotus.

Bandleader Sami Abu Shumays, a Long Island City resident, composed original music for the album, mixing it with both popular and rare songs and dance instrumentals from Egyptian film musicals of the 1950s and 1960s. The arrangements evoke the sound of mid-20th century Egyptian film orchestras.

According to Shumays, Zikrayat strives to capture the Egyptian small ensemble referred to as “takht” and also capture the texture of the musicals.

“They have a lot of dance music. It’s fun, but it’s sophisticated. We capture that kind of artsy-retro dance,” Shumays said.

Shumays plays violin and also sings backing vocals for Zikrayat. The vocals of Salah Rajab are highlighted by the dance beats of master percussionist Faisal Zedan on “Cinematic,” which also features percussionist Johnny Farraj, oud and accordion player Dimitri Mikelis, nay player Bridget Robbins and bassist Apostolos Sideris.

“Cinematic” is a mix of studio tracks and a few live tracks that capture the sounds of their inspired performances.

“We have this whole variety show inspired by the vaudeville format because we can present different sides — the more classical end as well as dance elements, all in one show,” Shumays said.

Joining Zikrayat in their upcoming performances are musicians Tareq Abboush (buzuq, backing vocals), Salma Habib (vocalist), Rami el-Aasser (percussion) and Zafer Tawil (percussion, oud, violin and backing vocals), and belly dancers Robin “Dameshe” Shumays (Sami’s wife, and Zikrayat’s dance director), Yowalka, Mariyah, Sherine and Jaida.

Zikrayat is set to perform its variety show at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center Friday at 8 p.m., in a multimedia production featuring clips from Egyptian films of the 1940s through the 1960s synchronized to live performances of dance and vocal numbers. The event will feature master dance artist and choreographer Dalia Carella, who will pay tribute to dancer Badia Masabni’s Casino Opera and other Cairo night-clubs of the 1920s and 1930s.

Their LPAC performance promises solo dance pieces alternating with solo vocal pieces, group dance pieces, a vocal duet, instrumental improvisations and more. The show is part of LPAC’s Lab program, which looks to give exposure to emerging artists in New York City.

“What I find exciting about Zikrayat is their ability to address many different audiences across different disciplines,” said Steven Hitt, LPAC’s managing director.

The music and visual performance put on by Zikrayat speak to the Arab and Arab-American community in New York.

“We have an audience of Arabs and Arab-Americans. The younger people have an interest in exploring the culture, while the older people have a nostalgic connection to it,” Shumays said.

However, the music also aims to catch the interest of the belly dance community – which encompasses a multitude of cultures and social groups.

“The belly dance audience is not very familiar with the depth of the tradition, but it is poppy and fun,” Shumays said. “It has an appeal to both audiences.”

The vision for Zikrayat began after Shumays and his wife Robin returned from their honeymoon in Egypt in 2005. The couple purchased a variety of old Egyptian musicals, and promptly fell in love with the genre. After pitching the concept of the group to a few musical acquaintances, Zikrayat was born.

Shumays describes the time period they are exploring as “very ornamented and intricate.”

“My wife’s a belly dancer, and she likes stuff from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s — upbeat music. We reached a point of agreement with the ’50s,” Shumays said. “It’s a period where Cairo was producing many musicals per year. It still had this very complex sensibility regarding melodies, but it was also fun, upbeat and danceable.”

Zikrayat will also join Salma Habib at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan May 23 at 9:30 p.m. Habib is a prominent up-and-coming Arab vocalist in the United States.

“Cinematic” was introduced with a performance by Zikrayat Saturday at Barbes in Brooklyn, where there were also performances by musical groups Shusmo and Falu. There was a simultaneous broadcast on WFMU 91.1 FM on Rob Weisberg’s “Transpacific Sound Paradise” show, which can be streamed from WFMU’s Web site at

The album is available for purchase at and and on iTunes, and is also available during Zikrayat’s live performances.

If You Go


When: May 7, 8 p.m.

Where: The Little Theater, LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Ave., Long Island City

Cost: $15 in advance, $20 at the door, $10 for students

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Updated 5:48 pm, October 10, 2011
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