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Title: The Music of Islam--Riqq Solo; Hesman El Araby, riqq. Label: Celestial Harmonies. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 13140-2. Track: 11.

Contextual Associations

The riqq is a single-head membranophone used throughout the Arabic speaking world where it is referred to by a number of names. The instrument pictured and described here was purchased in Egypt where its most common name is riqq. In Egypt it is used primarily in entertainment ensembles hired for wedding and other celebrations, heard at nightclubs and at tourist venues, and performing in concert halls, theatres, and on television and radio to produce exciting and often virtuosic rhythms. Two important types of Egyptian ensembles in which the riqq is found are the takht (mid-19th to early-20th century) and the firqa (1930s on). It is, in general, played only by men.


The riqq is a single-headed frame drum with a shallow cylindrical shell of wood. The circular shell itself is constructed from two thin strips of wood that are layered one over the other and glued together in the bending process. Stretched across the top rim of the shell is a membrane made from goatskin (fish skin can also be used), which is attached with glue. At five equidistant points around the shell two parallel slits about three inches long are cut into the wall. In each of these ten slits are mounted a pair of miniature metal cymbals. The cymbals have a hole at their apex through which a nail is threaded; the nails are pounded in from the top rim and run between the two layers of the shell, and as they pass through each slit its two cymbals are added. Both the outside and inside walls of the shell and its bottom rim are decorated with geometric patterns made with inlayed wood and bone.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

Played either while standing or seated, a player holds the riqq roughly vertically with the membrane facing outwards. The shell is held firmly between the thumb on the open rim and the index finger on the covered rim, leaving the remaining three left hand digits and the right hand and its digits available to strike the membrane. A relatively low-pitched sound is produced with the open right hand striking near the center of the membrane; the digits of both hands play primarily at the edge of the membrane to produce a higher-pitched and dryer sound. When any of these primary membranophonic sounds is produced the cymbals attached to the shell produce a secondary idiophonic jingling. The instrument can also be sounded as a jingle ring by shaking it. In most performance settings the riqq player is expected to produce cyclic rhythmic patterns called iqa’at or awzan either in a basic or an elaborated form.


It seems likely that the riqq originated in Arab culture. The earliest reliable written sources mentioning such an instrument date back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed (7th century CE) (Blades, p. 184), and it is quite possible the instrument existed prior to this period. After being introduced to Moorish Spain by the 13th century CE, where it was called pandair and pandero (Marcuse, p. 135), it spread throughout Western Europe (eventual to be called in English the tambourine) and was carried to the New World by Spanish and Portuguese colonists and settlers (eventually to be called pandeiro).

Bibliographic Citations

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

Castelo-Branco, Salwa El-Shawan. 2002. "Performance of Arab Music in Twentieth-Century Egypt: Reconciling Authenticity and Contemporaneity." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 6. The Middle East. ed. Virginia Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds. New York: Routledge, pp. 557-564.

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.

Poché, Christian. 1984. “Riqq [rikk].” NGDMI v.3: 250-251.

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

van Nieuwkerk, Karin. 2002. "The Performers of Muhammad ‘Ali Street in Cairo, Egypt." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 6. The Middle East. ed. Virginia Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds. New York: Routledge, pp. 615-622.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: North Africa

Nation: Egypt

Formation: Arab

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.311 membranophone--single-skin frame drum (the depth of the body does not exceed the radius of the membrane)

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - frame

Number and function of membranes: one, for sounding

Membrane design: unframed

Membrane attachment: unframed membrane glued to shell

Membrane tension control: none, tension set at time of manufacture

Sounding for membranophone: striking directly with one hand

Sound modifiers for membranophone: concussion cymbals built into shell


8.3 in. diameter 2.4 in. height of shell 2 in. diameter of cymbals

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
metal - sheet

Entry Author

Roger Vetter