What is a Darbuka?

By Ibraheem Malik


The Darbuka is a drum that we typically class in the World Percussion category of musical instruments. It is a goblet-shaped drum that many people consider to be the leader of percussion instruments in the Middle East and North Africa. It is also played widely across South East Asia, namely in Indonesia and Malaysia.


The Darbuka is known as a goblet drum because of the way its shape narrows in the middle and widens at the base, similar to a goblet or chalice glass. Historically Darbukas were made of clay or wood with an animal skin stretched over the head; such materials would create high-quality sounds. However, we typically make contemporary darbukas out of aluminium, copper or synthetic fibres, which are ideal as they prevent damage to the Darbuka and don't break as easily as clay. They are also easier to work with and therefore make large-scale production easier.


Darbukas are commonly adorned with beautiful and fantastic designs, differentiating them from almost any other musical instrument. Many would say that a Darbuka isn’t complete without a flamboyant design flaunting the incredible design and technical prowess of the Darbuka’s craftsman. One may also note the different designs that the Darbuka can take dependant on its region of manufacture. Darbukas from Turkey use different designs to those from Egypt, which use different designs to those from Indonesia. The Darbuka may well be the best ornamented in the world that is in mass use. We can use various materials to create these fantastic designs, including paints, glosses, Mother of Pearl gemstones and coloured metals/plastics/stones.


The single-headed feature of the Darbuka is what distinguishes it from other similar musical instruments such as the Tabla or the Dhol. Another point of differentiation is that it is played with the hands, rather than with a stick or beater. This design allows us to use intricate finger patterns in Darbuka rhythms, which is what makes it such a popular instrument.


It is likely that the most similar instrument to the Darbuka is the Djembe, another similarly shaped drum from Africa. The main difference between the Darbuka and the Djembe lies in the Djembe's typically wooden body and natural skin, and the Darbuka's typically metal body and plastic skin. The Darbuka creates a sharper sound of a much higher pitch, whereas the Djembe produces a deeper sound of a relatively low pitch. As such, a Darbuka will cut through a mix of musicians more easily. I personally very much enjoy a mix that includes both a Darbuka and a Djembe!


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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By Ibraheem Malik

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