By Ibraheem Malik
There are many types of Darbuka available on the market today. We have different materials, different sizes, and even different shapes. Let’s explore some of these and see what’s what.
Wood Darbukas are a thing of the past
These are rare to come by, and when you do find them, they tend to be quite terrible. I wouldn't recommend getting a wood Darbuka. They are often on the shelves of street sellers on the streets of Cairo, and these “instruments” are considered souvenirs at best.
Clay Darbukas can be amazing but are difficult to maintain
Some may say that since Darbukas were traditionally made of clay, that these are the best kind of Darbuka. The reality is that Darbukas were also traditionally played in deserts, where it was always hot and dry. Nowadays, the Darbuka is played around the world where there are a multitude of different temperatures and humidities to consider. Herein lies the core problem of the clay Darbuka; the skin is tied to the body using rope, and the skin is usually a natural animal skin. This means that it will lose its tension should the humidity increase, which is a real problem in most parts of Europe and the US. It's also very fragile, which means if you hit it against something hard or drop it, it will likely crack and become unplayable and unrepairable. If you're a beginner, this choice of Darbuka may be unwise.
That’s not to say that clay Darbukas aren’t a wonder to play. I personally have a clay Doholla which I use and play all the time, however it was hand-made and very expensive, and also prone to damage. I therefore don’t travel with this Doholla where possible. It also requires an adjustable heat source that is placed inside the Doholla (usually a light bulb) to keep the skin tight and playable in all climates. As such, I need a socket available to play this Doholla!
Metal Darbukas are convenient and sound fantastic
The invention of the metal Darbuka in the 20th century was indeed a brilliant idea. You now no longer have to worry about a Darbuka going out of tune when it’s needed most, nor do you have to worry about it dropping and breaking. Parts are easy to find and can be fitted without any professional help, and they generally sound quite good too. I recommend a metal Darbuka to all beginners trying their hand at Darbuka for the first time. After all, I learnt on a metal Darbuka myself.
A note on Turkish flat-head Darbukas
The Turkish Darbuka, an interesting spin on the classic round-headed design of the Arabic Darbuka. The Turkish Darbuka is characterised by its flat head with sharp edges and exposed tuning lugs. This makes finger snaps and very advanced Turkish split-hand rolls much easier to play. They’re also easier to make and so can be cheaper too. Unfortunately, they are not ideal for beginners and are optimised more for someone playing using the Turkish split-hand technique. This is quite an advanced style of playing and might take years to build up towards. As such, a typical beginner would be better off with a standard Arabic Darbuka at the start of their journey.
The Darbuka Master’s Blog aims to help any Darbuka player answer every question they have about the Darbuka. This blog contents short answers that touch on concepts covered in our world-leading course, the Darbuka Mastery Program.
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