Never on Sunday
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Never On Sunday
Starring: Melina Mercouri, et al. Director: Jules Dassin
Charming idyll of intellectual boob coming to Greece, trying to
make earthy prostitute Mercouri cultured. Grand entertainment, with
Oscar-winning title song by Manos
Hadjidakis. Later a Broadway musical, Illya Darling.
Beat Voices : An Anthology
of Beat Poetry
by David Kherdian (Editor),
Allen Ginsberg (Contributor), Jack Kerouac (Contributor)
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Beat Voices Today!
Reading level: Young Adult
Vince playing with Naji,
photo courtesy of Vince
The Gilded Serpent Presents...
The North Beach Memories of
The decline of the ME clubs
Interview partially on the phone and
then more in person at the Expresso Roma Coffee Shop in Berkeley, California.
Vince was on his way to rehearse with the Murasaki Trio.
Vince met Naji
in college. They partied together and jammed during lunch. Naji brought
them together with Antoine who played the
oud and sang. Antoine was from Beruit, Lebanon. Naji was Iraqi. His real
last name was Alash. They began to play on Sunday afternoons at the
Cellar- in the Green and Grant Street area of North Beach in San Francisco.
They didn't get paid in the beginning. On the second Sunday they were
there, they were approached by Haroun (or Tony Taromina ?) to play
at his place, The Vagabond.
Haroun/Tony was interested in Subud - an Indonesian Islamic religion.
Haroun later became Fadil's bartender at the Casbah.
He was a very nice man.
At the Vagabond they were right next
door to the theatre on Larkin that was playing "Never on Sunday".
They became associated with the scene and started a real craze for the
The Vagabond was on Larkin and O'Farrell street
in the Tenderloin. The folks standing in line for the movie were standing
right in front of the paned glass window that let them see us playing
on stage in our fezes and vests. It was a perfect set-up. They started
out playing 2 nights a week and soon went to 5 nights a week for 2 years.
The scene was mostly Arabs and their girlfriends,
a party atmosphere. There were no dancers at first. This was the only
place they could go to hear their music that wasn't a special event like
a wedding or baptism. After a year the band began looking for a dancer
to add to their show.
Vince remembers one lady that Naji had
a dancer for a bit after showing her a few steps. He doesn't remember her
name but does remember she was one of the many poets at the time who
got in trouble for their poetry because she used swear words etc.
She had a book published by City Lights
Book Store. City Lights was getting busted all the time for publishing
the poetry that is now famous, (Gary Snyder, William Burroughs-"Naked
Lunch", Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Lenny Bruce
got arrested for saying "cock sucker" in his comedy routine.
This was the Beat Era, Free speech issues, etc.)
They would even drive to Los Angeles after
their gig at 2AM to recruit dancers. They imported 3 or 4 dancers from
the East Coast.This was during Gigi
times. One lady they had dance for a while at the Vagabond was Fatma
Ali. She was Algerian and married to an Air Force guy and had
a couple kids. She was quite good! She was wild and dynamic, had wild
long frizzy hair and had a scar on her face that went down her forehead
across one eye and down her cheek. She really had a"look".
Naji played dumbek and Vince played bongos,
finger cymbals or tambourine. they were called the Naji Baba Trio.
They were all supposed to split the money they made evenly. Naji left
the group over money issues. After Naji split, Antoine got Louie
Habib to play oud also. Vince continued to play with Antoine as the
primary drummer, now on durbeki. Naji Baba trio was the original name,
when we had the falling out, it became the Haji Babi trio, then at Gigi
became Haji Baba Group. (just to piss Naji off. )
It was during the beat era that Naji, Vince and other musicians had played
completely improvisatory music at 12 Adler, before Naji officially
brought in the Mid East theme. They had saw dust on the floor. Folks were
doing that " wild beat dancing." Naji then arranged to start
Middle Eastern music at the 12 Adler, after leaving the Vagabond. 12 Adler
was a father-son place. They put in a stage and then it became a place
to sit and watch a show, no more wild dancing or sawdust. Naji brought
Middle Eastern music and dance there after he left the Vagabond, I think,
and Yousef from LA. Some sort
of politics happened at the Adler. Naji was arranging and leader, but
then Yousef aced him out somehow. I don't know who Naji started at Adler.
Yousef and Jamila may have not been at the beginning, I was not involved
at the beginning. Eventually Naji was not there. Knowiing how cut throat
people can be- Yousef got rid of him somehow. I heard the folks at Adler
got tired of the mess and stopped the ME theme. Yousef went from Adler
to opening the Bagdad.
After business began petering out at the Vagabond,
Vince's group moved from Vagabond to Gigi's
on Broadway. Mr Gambini had a pizza place with very few customers
and so was convinced to try a Middle Eastern theme. When they walked in
the place it was completely empty, but was quite large with a beautiful
chandelier, bar and balcony. Mrs. Gambini had another successful
restaurant in Morro Bay. The new entertainment worked. they went from
2 night to 6 nights a week. Gigi's was now very poplular and crowded.
Soon all of Broadway was hopping.
At one time they closed a couple blocks
of Broadway from Montgomery to Columbus, to car traffic. People were
able to roam from one club to another to see: Jazz, Flamenco, ME clubs,
There was always a lot of jockeying between
the musicians. Per the Union wage, the leader of the group got paid a
bit more, so whenever the leader left, there was a shifting of power for
Carol Doda was a waitress at Gigi's before she had her boob job.
was a barker at Gigi's. Wilt Chamberlaine and Kim Novak
(you know, with the bleached blond short hair) were frequent customers.
they came their lavender convertible with the great danes in the back.
Kim dressed in lavender and Wilt looking huge. I saw WC at the Jazz
Workshop a lot too.
Gigi's was the most successful of the ME places. It was sold to a Greek
guy who turned it into a topless club.
Naji went on to open about 3 more places which all eventually died, a
coffee house with a ME theme , a big restaurant with dancers.
"Oh yeh! I grew up in San Francisco. I remember an arch over Pacific
Street that said that on it. I wondered about that. " Pacific was
the Barbary Coast.
The sailors used to come there to the bars and see the B-girls. They were
there to get the guys to buy them drinks. The girls were actually served
no alcohol, but the guys paid 5-6 dollars for their drinks. The City was
not happy with this. The Chinese and Italian mafiosos were involved. When
Pacific was closed down, Broadway was supposed to be a classier entertainment
area, but the Mafias soon were there too.
Regarding Bimbo's gig
Vince was originally playing with Fadil's
group. He later became good friends with Walid. They
did a lot of Palestinian events together. A lot of these events were at
the Ramallah Hall on Ocean blvd, named for a town in Palestine that a
lot of the local immigrants came from. Vince also played with Walid quite
a bit at the Bagdad. That was when Yousef still owned it.
As more and more Palestinian immigrants came over (They were being pushed
out by terrorist Jews over there. This was when the United States, Great
Britian, and France decided to give Palestine to the Jews who were demanding
a homeland. they were bombing hotels etc..), more musicinas came over
too. Vince was replaced a lot by the newer musicians. Walid left too and
got married. Vince got into the scene (ME music scene) because of Naji.
In the beginning there were NO
DANCERS in San Francisco. The Middle Eastern scene was already happening
on the East Coast and perhaps in LA, but not in San Francisco. It went
from no scene to 1000's of dancer by mid 70's. Bert and all of them
made their money then, traveling all over.
Mike's Pool Hall were connected, but the names were different Jazz
Workshop was there, there was also another place--the Matador,
Cal Tjader, Bola Sete- brazilian guitarist, Benny Velarde
was there. A place up on Broadway on Stockton with mambo, latin. The Hungry
i was on Columubus; it became the Purple Onion. Maya Angelou,
the famous poet, was a gorgeous torch singer there. Mort Sahl,
the political comedian, performed at the Hungry i also.
There were guns in there, rock throwing, one dancer got killed (Lisa
Miller didn't get killed at the Bagdad, but in LA ), a lot of bad
stuff happened, people getting drunk and losing their heads.
The Decline of the Middle Eastern Clubs
in North Beach
Vince believes partly due at least to the audiences boredom with the format.
The Bagdad and the Casbah thought that if they had a dancer on stage all
the time they could pull in the tourists easier. There was no relief!
In LA, they had a real show, i.e., they had the band play, a male singer,
then perhaps, a female singer then a dancer and that was the show!
The Arabs also just wanted to hear the same favorite songs all the time.
They weren't really interested in excellence, i.e.- they weren't interested
if a hot Egyptian musician came to play.
The bellydance craze also cheapened
the image. Vince gives an example of how BD stereotyped the music. He
tells how a gig may be set up in a very classy expensive Hillsborough
garden, but as the people at the party hear the music, even if it's
classical, someone will get up and do a silly imitation of a bellydance.
I think Pasha
lasted so long because people had to wait to see the dancer. Also because
it had the ambience and mood, which is important. Fadil;
The Casbah and George
Elias; The Bagdad just continued what was invented at Gigi's.
After 20 years people have seen the scene. Belly dance is not exotic anymore,
...seen it, too many bad dancers.
At the Rakassah Festival, the dancers
all dance to the watered down stuff. Irish type music with a dumbek
added. "The Americans have done it again," gone is the art.
You take so many housewives and line them up and watch them do their
fantasy "Sinbad the sailor" dance to awful music. The Arabs
themselves are at fault too. They now want synthesizers and plastic
drums, clap tracks and very few taksims. I call it "Arab disco
I have been playing the kanoun now for 3 or
4 years. My friends and I play only classical. We will play in a person's
home after they have dinner they sit in chairs and listen. Many of the
Arabs in the audience have never even heard the classical music we play.
I concentrate now on only the Arab music from the classical era. Om
Kaltum, Farid Al Atrash, Mohamed AbdelWehab, Samai's, Pashraf's, Tahmillah's,
mostly instrumental music.