Beats, Belly Dancing and Rocking the Casbah: An Interview with Final Veil’s Cora Camille

 In Culture, Interviews

There is not a band in town that sounds like Final Veil. Not one. At a time when St. Louis’ indie bands are cutting a swath through the indie scene, Final Veil’s members are confidently walking along their own path.

Formed by singer Cora Camille and comprised of DJ and effects wizard Christian Oncken, percussionist Rick Costa and bassist Chris Stout, Final Veil blends Egyptian and Arabic musical styles with electronic beats and live instrumentation to create deeply rooted exotic sounds complimented by modern club and augmented live with belly dancers and multimedia visuals.

Camille’s passion for making Egyptian-flavored music stems from her training as a belly dancer at a young age. It was developed further in 2003-2004 during her Fulbright teaching exchange in London, where she came under the tutelage of the internationally acclaimed percussionist Hossam Ramzy.

In addition to having Ramzy’s mentorship, she met fellow musician Wadie Nossier, a skilled instructor and an acclaimed oud maker who helped her hone her craft as a musician and performer. Returning home, Camille formed Final Veil and released her first, self-titled album shortly thereafter. Her sophomore effort, “Arabian Daze,” came next in 2014, followed by “Dreaming of Cairo,” a 2017 collaboration with Ramzy and Phil Thornton. In June of 2018, her vision for the band musically and aesthetically coalesced with the release of the band’s fourth album, “Salome’s Spell.”

Since then, Final Veil has continued to explore new sonic terrains and develop more elaborate live shows. The band performs at The Tap Room on Feb. 29 and at The Sheldon on June 2. In addition to these dates, the band is working on both a new album and a documentary film.

Energized by Final Veil’s recent creative output and two upcoming shows, Camille spoke with Guided: St. Louis about the impact of belly dancing, performing in St. Louis and her love of Egyptian music.

Guided: How do you get St. Louis musical audiences to explore Egyptian and Arabic music?
I always feel that the entry point is with belly dancing. It is definitely a different thing for a local audience—and world music is pretty small in this area. As an artist, I started out as a belly dancer rather than as a musician. That is what inspired me to do music. My first version of Final Veil was basically an Egyptian music cover band. And then I thought that I would rather just take those influences and mix it with some Western music. As a result, one of the best things I think we have done over the last year or so is add a kit drummer, which adds more of a Western flavor and makes it more appealing to an American ear.

Guided: Can you talk about the challenges you have had with building an audience?
One of the hardest things is for people to not know who to compare us to. If we are not a cover band, it is harder in St. Louis. That’s my impression. With The Tap Room, the vibe is really relaxed, and the guy who books it, Brett Underwood, has his finger on the pulse of the underground. I love his ability to have cool, diverse lineups all the time. I wish more people would do that in town.

Guided: Where does belly dancing fit in as a component of your music?
I am noticing that interest in belly dancing is ebbing and flowing in St. Louis. People who don’t know about that scene would be shocked to know how many belly dancers there are here and in the surrounding area. It is a pretty big scene in terms of anything related to world music. It helps create a much more fun live show because there is a whole visual aspect to it. My dream is to eventually have all the visuals mixed with the music. It also makes us much more theatrical than many other bands.

Guided: How did Final Veil’s synergy between Arabic music and electronic music develop?
Although there are many kinds of Middle Eastern music, my experience and expertise are in Egyptian music, which has a 4-4 beat that mixes really well with club music. There are other people doing it in bigger cities and other parts of country and in Europe. One thing that makes us different from a lot of those bands is that they don’t have singers. That is one thing that makes our sound really different. Also, I took about a year of Arabic lessons to understand proper pronunciation and have some songs in Arabic.

So we have some traditional Middle Eastern songs that we play, but we do a really different version of them. I love putting it all together. We also added kind of a rock influence as well on this last album, which was a new and different thing. I’ve been really fortunate to find this amazing string quartet to work with. They recorded on a lot of our last album. It was pretty cool because so much of our music is electronic, and having a cello and violin player to do some really great solos on it added another very Middle Eastern element to our sound.

Image courtesy of Bill Webster.

Guided: In what ways does belly dancing help better empower young women?
The belly dancing community is very empowering for woman, especially with body image and for being expressive. I grew up in that, I started when I was 15. It helped me during a really important time in my development into who I was—and it helped build my confidence as a woman in the world. Doing solo performances in belly dancing is something that you do not see in all styles of dance.

Belly dancing also doesn’t have the barriers that other forms of dance have. For example, if you are a ballerina, you have to be very thin and you need to be very young and devote every day to it if you want to make it. But belly dancing is something that fits with a woman’s lifestyle as she evolves throughout her life. Another thing is that different: Women are respected in the community for what they bring to it in terms of how they express themselves.

Guided: You recently added covers into your sets. How was that?
We did decide with our last show in December to add in a couple of covers. The crowd just went wild. I had made it a point to not doing that forever but then decided it would be fun for people to hear how did songs like “Rock the Casbah.” That was fun. We are going to do a version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” at our next show because I’ve always loved that growing up.

Guided: Are there any specific things that you want audiences to take away from your music?
I think what we are doing is extremely rare and unique in St. Louis. We are part of part of a larger musical movement that St. Louis doesn’t know much about. One of the bigger challenges for audiences is that it is hard to pigeonhole us. I am always trying to find ways to describe us so people can understand who we are. We have this influence of belly-dancing music, but we don’t sound like traditional belly-dancing music. We use electronic beats, but we also are not an electronic band either.

Featured image courtesy of Amber Haake.

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