Many a time have we spoken to people who don’t know what a Darbuka is and upon seeing a picture, they have been stunned by just how beautiful a Darbuka can look. This is mostly due to the elaborate Mother of Pearl designs that almost all professional Egyptian Darbukas are adorned with. Beautiful designs can be created using these Mother of Pearl pieces that just cannot be found on any other instrument. Let’s take a look at just what makes a Mother of Pearl Darbuka so special.
Where does Mother of Pearl come from
Let’s take a step back and look at how pearls are created. They are formed inside the shells of pearl oysters and freshwater pearl mussels (both sea creatures). Now, a pearl is produced inside the shell of both of these animals, but the inner lining of that shell also shines a beautiful iridescent white. This is known as Mother of Pearl (Nacre).
Take a look at the below picture. It shows a pearl oyster shell, with a perfectly formed pearl oyster inside it. Now look at the inner lining of the shell itself and see the beautiful white iridescent lining. This is Mother of Pearl.
White Mother of Pearl vs Blue Mother of Pearl
You will also notice when looking at Darbuka designs that there are different types of Mother of Pearl colours. For example, our Emerald Pearl collection uses Mother of Pearl pieces which are dark green in colour. Blue Mother of Pearl, like White Mother of Pearl, is formed in an animal shell. While White Mother of Pearl is formed in pearl oyster or freshwater pearl mussel shells, Blue Mother of Pearl is formed in abalone shells. An abalone inner shell looks like this:
The difference is purely aesthetic, but it’s important to know that White Mother of Pearl is fairly easy to get hold of, and is available in large quantities. Blue Mother of Pearl on the other hand is relatively quite rare, which is why it’s harder to get Blue Mother of Pearl pieces, and why they are more expensive. At the end of the day, Blue Mother of Pearl comes in shades of blue, purple and green so there are more possibilities of what can be done with it.
How are the fantastic Mother of Pearl Darbuka designs created?
- From our studios in London, we liaise with expert craftsmen and designers from Egypt to render stunning designs that we can then overlay over a Darbuka body.
- We then forward these designs on to our crafting workshops in Egypt, where the designs are then reviewed by our master Darbuka craftsmen, who confirm that the designs can indeed be recreated on the Darbuka body.
- Our craftsmen then get to work, taking a plain aluminium shell, they sketch the design over the aluminium body to provide a guideline to work with.
- They then cut the Mother of Pearl pieces to size, and manually, piece by piece, attach each Mother of Pearl piece to the Darbuka body, creating the design that was originally sketched on to the Darbuka.
- Then, they apply any finishing touches, any paint overlays and ensure that the design on the Darbuka matches the expected design.
- Finally, the design is sealed to the Darbuka by applying a gloss layer over the Darbuka body, creating the beautiful finish you find on all good quality Darbukas!
Benefits of Mother of Pearl in a Darbuka
The benefits of Mother of Pearl are 2 fold.
Firstly, we have acoustic resonance. Mother of Pearl is a very acoustically resonant material. Let’s take a normal Pearl for example, which shares very similar acoustic characteristics to Mother of Pearl. If you tap a normal pearl with your nail, it will ring. This ring is accentuated if a larger quantity of Pearl is used.
Conversely, if you were to tap a normal stone, or a piece of aluminium, it would not ring as much as a Pearl would, and you would find that actually increasing the size of the stone/metal would reduce the ring rather than increase it. This is accentuated on the Darbuka with the way that about 1.5kg of Mother of Pearl is used on each Darbuka.
This use of Mother of Pearl creates a beautiful ring on each high pitch stroke that is played, making the Darbuka’s tone even more beautiful. Furthermore, if the head is tuned well (ensuring that an even vibration is sent through the Darbuka), and the Mother of Pearl has been applied evenly and correctly (ensuring vibrations pass through the body more smoothly), the Darbuka’s Tek and Ka strokes will be greatly enhanced by the use of Mother of Pearl in the Darbuka shell.
It is important to note that if the Mother of Pearl pieces are not applied well, say by using cheap glue, or they aren’t applied evenly, or pieces of different thicknesses are used, the sound will not resonate properly and may sound uneven. In a worst-case scenario, incorrect use of Mother of Pearl can actually make a standard aluminium Darbuka sound worse! You can save yourself a lot of headache by ensuring whatever Darbuka you purchase is well made and expertly finished!
Secondly, Mother of Pearl is beautiful, and that just makes it that much better! Imagine you needed to put some foul brown paste on your Darbuka to make it sound better, that would be a calamity! Instead, we can adorn a Darbuka with a stunning Mother of Pearl design to create a Darbuka which sounds amazing and looks like an artistic masterpiece. If that isn’t a win-win situation, I don’t know what is!
And that’s it! The long and short of the story is, Mother of Pearl is better. And trust us, when you rock up for a lesson, gig, performance etc. with an awesome Mother of Pearl Darbuka, your life will change for the better. Just try it and see!
As always, if you have any further questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch with us and we’ll try our best to help out. Also, make sure you’ve joined our Facebook Group or mailing list to ensure you’re up to date with all the latest goings-on here at Malik Instruments!