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about the darbuka

kadyr saidkharun:

To play the darbuka you put it to your left side.
God created the woman from the left rib of Adam, which is a great miracle inspiring us, giving us love, pain and life. 
Not only does the darbuka follow the shape of woman's body, but it also reflects her very element and passion. 

Mawlana Bisati:

The beats of chung and daf inflame my heart with the desire of meeting you, for anyone who fits a skin is the love of God.


The first darbuka appeared in the 14th century. In the East it is also called an Egyptian tablah - one-sided drum of the medium size with strong and deep sound. In the Middle Ages darbukas were made of ceramics, with goat or, less often, thick camel skin stretched on it. The peculiar sound could be found on the membrane of a thin fish skin. Later darbukas were cut out from boiled tree trunks. As for the framework of modern darbukas it is made of light metals such as aluminum or copper, and the membrane is made of plastic.

Since ancient times, darbukas with leather membrane have been tuned by being heated by the fire. The heat makes the membrane stretch, the sound changes, after that the darbuka can become a solo instrument whose pitch is traditionally higher than of other drums. Darbukas with plastic membranes do not need tuning before every performance. It is only done once. To get the right sound the membrane is tightened with special tuning keys. 

A drum in the East is not simply an instrument; it is the keeper of historical traditions and a constant companion of a man. There are Asian and African rhythms that haven't been changing for centuries, and they can still be heard at weddings, children's birthday celebrations, religious activities; they raise the moral of soldiers, mark the change of calendar and other traditional events. 

The darbuka is usually used as a solo instrument in the background of the daf, the tambourine, and the cimbalom which play basic rhythms. Oriental belly dance is impossible without the participation of the darbuka. A drum solo improvisation, when the body must align with each tablah sound and riff,  is considered pure tour de force for a dancer. 

The darbuka is often called "doumbek", althouth they both are quite different types of drums. However, the name stuck, as well as the term "tablah". That's where some confusion takes place. Doumbeks are usually a bit bigger and heavier than darbukas, and their sound is therefore lower. As for the tablah, if we decide to use this term, it is more correct to say "tabl", which is the common word for all the drums in Arab countries. The very "tabla" is an Indian drum, two drums, to put it more precisely, and the tablah playing technique is fundamentally different from the one of tabl, that is darbuka or doumbek playing technique. 

A lot can be told and written about the elegance of the darbuka, about its unique voice, but that's not it. You should hold the darbuka, listen to its sounds, entrust yourself and your soul to it...


Only the most basic technique of playing the darbuka will be explained here, which will interest those who haven't touched this instrument yet. For more detailed information about possible strikes and rhythms go here - rhythms.

So, you use both hands to play the darbuka, and the pitch of the sound depends on the spot of the membrane in which you strike. The basic strikes are “D-T-K”, where D (pronounced "Dum") is a low resonant strike made with your right hand closer to the middle of the membrane, with your fingers flat and together. T (pronounced “Te”) is a high resonant strike made with your right hand on the edge of the membrane, with your fingers flat, but not together. And finally, the К strike (pronounced “Ka”), similar to the T strike, but made with your left hand. Accordingly, small t (pronounced “tek”) and k (pronounced “ka”) are the same strikes, but accentuated.

Learning to play the darbuka starts with studying the family of egyptian rhythms "maqsum", which include "maqsum" itself, then "beledi", and finally "saidi"


The word "maqsum" means "cut in half". Simple "maqsum" is the basis for many other rhythms. It is of particular importance in modern and folk music of Egypt. A distinct rhythmic form "maqsum" [DT-TD-T-] can often be heard in the eastern musical compositions with persuccion accompaniment.

D   T   -   T   D   -   T   -     == basic rhythm 
D   T   t k T   D   t k T   tk    == filled 
D   T   k   T   D   k   T   -     == maqsum (one ka)
D   T   k   T   D   k   T - tk    == maqsum (one ka) filled at the end


"Beledi" is folk version of "maqsum", which has two distinct D at the beginning of the phrase. It is sometimes called "masmuudii saghiir" (i.e. "small masmuudii"). The word "beledi" means "provincial", "old-fashioned". "Beledi" is usually played in a slower tempo than "maqsum".

D   D   -   T   D   -   T   -    == basic rhythm 
D   D   t k T   D   t k T   t k  == filled 


And finally "saidi", another rhythm of the "maqsum" group. It has two distinct D in the middle of the phrase. This rhythm is very popular in Upper Egypt (i.e. in Southern Egypt, down the Nile). As a rule, it is played fast and with strong tones. It usually accompanies Tahtib (male ritual dance with a stick) or a belly dance (especially dances with a stick, which are a parody of its male version).

D - T       D - D       T -       == basic rhythm 
D - T - t k-D - D - t k-T - t k   == filled

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