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It’s Tabla Time

posted on: May 3, 2017

BY: Yara Jouzy/ Contributing Writer 

Instruments in the Arab world date all the way back to the 1800s. Music has always been a part of the Arab culture, traditions and way of life as it is ingrained in an Arab’s identity. The tabla is one of the most famous instruments that Arabs all over the world can recognize. Palestinians, Lebanese, Moroccans, Egyptians, the Gulf, and many more are all Arab countries that use this instrument. It’s always Tabla Time with Arabs everywhere.

There are a huge variety of instruments that Arabs use and identify their culture with. These instruments are divided into three groups, which are the string instruments, wind instruments and the percussion. The tabla is a part of the percussion group and is one of the most commonly played instruments by Arabs and Arab Americans.

The tabla, meaning drum in Arabic, is a small percussion instrument shaped almost like an hourglass and it dates back over one thousand years. It is also known as a derbecki, darabuka, dumbai, dumbek and darbuka in the Arab world. Depending on the region you are in, the name might differ. Neighboring countries such as Iran, India, and Afghanistan also use this instrument as a part of their cultural music.

The tabla varies in sizes depending on the musician. Usually, it is 14 to 16 inches tall and has a diameter of 1 to 12 inches. This drum can be made of wood, clay or brass with a hollow middle that is tied together with rope and glue. Back in the day, it used to have skin around it that was either goat or sheep skin. Today, the tabla is made out of metal or plastic, which is a lot stronger than what it used to be. The tabla also no longer is compromised of animal skin, rope or glue.

Other than it’s shape and the material it’s made of, playing it is the most exciting part; it comes naturally to Arabs. Kids usually watch their family members playing and they easily pick up the instrument and start playing. Although its basic beat can easily be learned, it has its certain style and technique. One part of the drum plays high notes while the other part of the drum plays low notes. Depending on the player’s tone and beat, her or she produces a series of “dums” and teks” to create the music. It’s up to the player to asse s how to play the instrument. It is usually played when siting on the players lap or standing up with one leg on a higher surface so that the tabla can be placed on the player’s thigh. It’s always recommended not to wear a ring while playing and to store it away from cold or very warm temperature.

The tabla is found at every Arab household. The tabla is one item that is frequently carried from the Arab World to America and has been since the first immigrants migrated to America at the turn of the last century. It’s highly gifted to adults, as well as children. Whether family members play the tabla or not, it’s always in the Arab American home as a decorative piece or hidden in the back of the closet or under the bed.

The drum is played at almost every family gathering or party and is, without a doubt, always played at Arab weddings. The tabla is what sets the energetic, fun and entertaining mood for the event. Something so small, simple and inexpensive does produce the loudest music, and most of the fun. Although it’s traditional instrument, it is played in folk, classical and popular music. It is also hear in most Arabic songs as it creates the beat of the entire song. Without a tabla, there would be no beat to Arabic music. Even if there weren’t a tabla, only a true Arab would grab a tanjara, a pot in Arabic, and drum to a beat on it. It’s a natural thing for Arabs to give a beat to anything they find including tables, chairs and more.

Tabla Time is all the time in the Arab world and among Arab Americans. Try the instrument today with a “tek” and a “dum” to the drum and create your very own rhythm!