Moroccan instruments 3: Darbouka
The darbouka drum
What is the darbouka?
The darbouka (also called Egyptian tabla, derbeke or doumbek among others) is the classic Middle Eastern and North African goblet-shaped hand drum. The darbouka drum is also played in parts of South Asia and Eastern Europe.
How is it played?
This highly versatile hand drum has a powerful dynamic and tonal range with a full dum/ bass note and clear, sharp high tones. Typically it is placed horizontally on the drummer’s thigh (see the photo below of me playing darbouka) but can also be held between the legs like a djembe. It also has a set of intricate finger techniques that produces a wide range of sounds and effects. A good darbouka player can make the darbouka “sing” and can exploit the drum’s capacity for both power and finesse.
The role of the darbouka in Moroccan music
The darbouka is widely played in Morocco but not in every musical context. Middle Eastern music is an integral part of the Moroccan repertoire so the darbouka features heavily in this context. The same applies to classical Moroccan music and Andalusian music styles. Darbouka is also the mainstay in “chaabi”, Moroccan pop music. This style also features the western drum kit, with syncopated rhythms and is played at very fast tempi. Wedding bands tend to play a mixture of all the styles of Moroccan music. The darbouka player works hard in this context and often until the early hours of the morning.
However, it is the the folklore styles that darbouka features less. In fact, it hardly features at all apart from styles like “M’helma” where the darbouka is used like a drum machine. There are none of the intricate techniques, just raw rhythm! I think that in this context, the darbouka replaced one of the traditional percussion instruments like “t’bellate”. This was maybe to change the sound of the rhythm section or more probably because the darbouka, with its sturdy design and easy to tune plastic head, is a more practical drum.
Darbouka outside the Middle Eastern and North African repertoires
The darbouka is a great drum in fusion contexts but also in styles of music that are not connected to Middle Eastern or North African music.
We can treat it like a drum kit with the “dum” (bass tone) replacing the kick drum, the “tic” (high pitched slap tone) replacing the snare and the “tac” (high pitched open rim tone) replacing the hi-hats. As a result, I love adding darbouka to styles like funk or reggae.
Where to listen to some darbouka
Click here to listen to and eventually download my darbouka solo for belly dance which features the Middle Eastern rhythms and phrases often found in belly dance.
Click here to watch a demonstration from the amazing Lebanese darbouka player Ronny Barrak.
Click here to download my darbouka loops package.
Click here for some free percussion loops and samples (including darbouka).