Also:       darabukkah      darbuka      dumbelek      dumbek      derbocka      zarb      dombak      

Title: Instruments de musique du monde—Darbouka (Egypt); performer not identified. Label: Le chant du monde. Format: CD. Catalogue#: LDX 274 675. Track: 12.

Contextual Associations

The picture gallery on this page presents four examples of a type of single-head, goblet-shaped, hand-struck membranophone distributed broadly throughout the Arab, Turkish, and Persian cultural regions of the Middle East and among some Slavic-speaking peoples of Southern and Eastern Europe. Such drums go by variety of names (and variant spellings) in the literature on the music of these regions; here we will select one of the more commonly encountered names/spellings to use generically--darabukka (an Arabic word). Other possible candidates are: darabuka, darbuka, dumbak, derbocka, dumbuk, and tabla (Arab region); dumbelek, deblek, and dumblek (Turkish region); and zarb, dombak, dombek, and tombak (Persian region). The four drums pictured in the gallery (left to right) were made in: Egypt (darabukkah), Turkey (dumbelek), Syria (darabuka), and Morocco (derbocka). This type of hand drum is used in the music making of a variety of social spheres depending on local: folk music, art/classical music, and/or urban commercial/entertainment music. In recent decades darabukka have come to be readily available throughout the world for use in hand drum and fusion ensembles, and purchased by curious professional and amateur musicians.


The shells of the four drums pictured here are all tubular and roughly similar in shape, but are made from a variety of materials: nickel-coated brass, copper, cast aluminum, and glazed earthenware. The larger opening at the bowl-shaped end of the shell is covered with a stretched membrane; the other end is left open (see detail image). Synthetic material (plastics such as polyesters and mylar) is used for the membranes on the first three drums pictured in the gallery, while goatskin or sheepskin is used for the fourth drum. All the membranes have reinforced edges: the first three have rigid flesh hoops the diameters of which are slightly greater than the diameter of the opening they cover; the fourth drum has a pliant hoop made of rawhide lace. The means by which the heads are attachment to the bodies likewise vary. The first two have a pair of metal counter hoops, one lapped over the drum head flesh hoop, the other positioned below and against a raised ridge around the circumference of the shell; bolt screws connect the two counter hoops and are used to adjust the tension on the head (enlarge image of second drum). The third drum’s head is stretched over its rim with a heavy flanged ring; screw bolts connected at their bottom end to the shell are used to control head tension. Indirect lacing is used to set the tension of the fourth drum’s head; rawhide lacing basically runs back and forth from the lace hoop in the edge of the head to another lace hoop that is tightly tied around the waist of the shell. This basic pattern is made more complex by routing the lacing through addition lace hoops (enlarge image of fourth drum).

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The drum typically rests horizontally on one of the player's thighs, the head facing forward at an oblique angle. Tuning the drumhead before playing is as simple as tightening or loosening the counter hoop screws on drums with such mechanisms (the first three drums in the gallery), or involves either dampening the head with water or drying it out over an open flame for traditionally laced drums (the fourth drum). Open palms and all the fingers of both hands are used to strike the head both at its center and rim to produce a variety of timbres and rhythmic patterns. In most performance settings the darabukka player is expected to produce cyclic rhythmic patterns called iqa’at or awzan (Arab region) either in a basic or an elaborated form.


Although large goblet-shaped drums are associated with ancient Babylonian and Sumerian cultures (Marcuse, p.p. 147-148) and it is assumed that the more diminutive darabukka-type drum evolved from them, when and where the miniaturization of this drum form took place is not known. Although not played exclusively by Muslims, many Muslim cultures around the world have a darabukkah-type drum, suggesting that the spread of Islam in the late-1st Millennium and the first half of the 2nd Millennium CE might have contributed to the wide-ranging distribution of this drum form.

Bibliographic Citations

Blades, James. 1970. Percussion Instruments and their History. New York: Praeger.

Conner, William J., and Milfie Howell. 1984. “Darabukka [darbukka, darboukka, darabuke etc.].” NGDMI v.1: 546.

Dournon, Geneviève, and Jean Schwarz. 1990. Instruments de musique du monde. CD and liner notes. Le Chant du Monde LDX 274 675.

During, Jean. 1984. “Zarb [dombak, tombak].” NGDMI v.3: 891.

Guettat, Mahmoud. 2002. "The Andalusian Musical Heritage." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 6. The Middle East. ed. Virginia Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds. New York: Routledge, pp. 441-454.

Hassan, Scheherazade Qassim. 2002. "Musical Instruments in the Arab World." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 6. The Middle East. ed. Virginia Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds. New York: Routledge, pp. 401-423.

Marcuse, Sibyl. 1975. A Survey of Musical Instruments. New York: Harper and Row.

Touma, Habib Hassan. 1996. The Music of the Arabs. trans. Laurie Schwartz. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: North Africa

Nation: Morocco

Formation: Arab

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.26 membranophone--goblet-shaped drum: the body consists of a main section which is either cup shaped or cylindrical, and a slender stem

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - goblet

Number and function of membranes: one, for sounding

Membrane design: framed with rigid flesh hoop

Membrane attachment: counterhoop, lapped over framed membrane hoop, connected by lacing or tension rods to counterhoop encircling shell

Membrane tension control: rotating screw rods or bolts

Sounding for membranophone: striking directly with both hands

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


18.5 in. length (first instrument) 9.9 in. rim diameter (second instrument) 12.2 in. length (second instrument) 6.5 in. rim diameter (second instrument) 17.1 in. length (third instrument) 8.6 in. rim diameter (third instrument) 15.6 in. length (fourth instrument) 7.5 in. rim diameter (fourth instrument)

Primary Materials

membrane - synthetic

Entry Author

Roger Vetter