Moroccan percussion instruments part 2: Qraqeb
What are they?
Qraqeb (or krakeb/ karkabet) are the metal castanets played primarily in the gnaoua music of Morocco and North Africa. Along with the bendir frame drum, they are another quintessential Moroccan percussion instrument.
Origins and symbolism.
Gnaoau music originated from the peoples of sub-saharan West Africa who were sold across North Africa as slaves.
Their lyrics are full of references to their origins (especially Sudan) and to slavery. Qraqeb are said to represent the shackles or chains of the slaves with the guembri (bass lute) representing the slave boats.
How do you play them?
Qraqeb, as you can see from the photos are 2 sets of 2 cymbals, each set attached at the bottom with a metal or leather ring. Some qraqeb players remove this ring and when I asked why, they told me that this is how they should be played and that the ring was only there to keep them together as pairs during the fabrication process. However, the large majority of qraqeb players I’ve seen and played with keep the ring in.
Like a lot of Moroccan percussion instruments, qraqeb are deceptively difficult to play. Just finding how to hold them and balance them in your hand takes a lot of practice. In general, the qraqeb are kept closed for a micro-second when the player clamps them together, generating a tight, closed sound. But it is also possible to keep them open and let them ring longer.
Qraqeb in Gnaoua music
In a typical gnaoua set-up, you will find the master guembri player and lead singer accompanied by up to 20 qraqeb players.
There are only two main rhythms played by qraqeb in gnaoua with a third being played only at the beginning of a “Lila” (evening ceremony) or of a concert. Butr a good qraqeb section are synchronised and sound as if there is only one player. Combined with the speed they play at and the complexity of the arrangements within the music, you realise just how skilled they are. Not only that but they also dance and perform acrobatics when playing……amazing.
Having almost died out, Gnaoua music has become incredibly popular in Morocco largely due to festivals like the Gnaoua festival in Essaouira and if ever you have the chance to go to this festival it is well worth the visit.
Where to hear qraqeb being played
To hear Mouna playing qraqeb in a gnaoua song click here and listen to track 2 “Hamouda”.
The most popular gnaoua musician in Morocco at the moment is Hamid El Kasri. He’s well worth a listen to and you can find him here.