Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Return of Dumbek

Some time early last year the skin of my dumbek split close to the rim. I have been a fan of goblet drums since spending a month on an excavation in Carthage. We were digging down through a Roman harbour complex to a Carthaginian temple dedicated to Tanit. We had Saturdays off and I spent them getting lost in the souks of Tunis where there were various instruments displayed amongst all the other wonders. I left with two clay drums, one with a medium pitch the other much deeper. Somehow I got them home without breaking them but within a couple of years they were just so much mosaic. Breaks involving the flared section were easily repaired but once cracked at the rim the skin lost all tension and the drum was ruined.

Some years later I bought metal dumbek on which I learned to play Egyptian rhythms. To the amusement of other drummers I tuned it flat; I'd loved the sound of the deeper of the two clay drums and wished to recreate it. It also made it easier to bend notes, tabla style. It served me well until a fall onto a concrete floor broke the alloy tension ring. I was very fond of that drum and missed it greatly. So when a traveller to Istanbul returned with the drum in the picture I was over the moon. However, it was not long before the skin split near the rim. The drum had been made in Pakistan and imported into Turkey. I'm not sure whether the skin, which varied in thickness, was of 'export quality' (ie good-enough-to-sell-abroad-but-I-wouldn't-try-to-sell-it-locally quality), or whether it suffered from changes in temperature and humidity.

Last night, after a long wait, I collected my newly re-skinned drum. The new skin is darker than I have seen on this type of drum and certainly thicker than it was before. I'm itching to play it but the kids are in bed so I'll have to wait for the morning. I favour the under-the-left-arm position; the right hand plays the deep notes while the ring finger of the left hand flicks off the the thumb onto the drum just inside the rim. It's one of the quickest ways I know to get blisters but the sound is very satisfying.

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