The Darbuka (also known as Doumbek, Tablah, or Derbeke) is the most iconic percussion instrument in middle-eastern music, and has been played by drummers for over 100 years. The name "Darbuka" most likely came from the word “daraba”, which means "to strike" in Arabic.
The geographical origin of the drum is Egypt, Turkey and Armenia, although it became very popular throughout the oriental music market in many different countries.
According to academic circles, its origins trace back to three percussion instruments played in the Arab world during the Middle Ages: Darij, Kuba and Kabar.
Many iconographic elements testify to the existence of these instrument in ancient Egypt, from the Middle Kingdom, as well as Babylon, with "drums to drink" (approx 1100 BC), and even in Sumerian cultures. The Mesopotamian, Anatolian and central Asian civilizations also played similar instruments.
Drums with its current goblet shape have also been found in Spain, a legacy of the Al Andalus period, during which the southern region of the country was ruled by Muslims from 711 to 1492.
Traditionally, the body of the Darbuka was made from materials like clay, wood or occasionally, metal, and the head was made from fish skin or goat skin stretched over the top rim. Modern Darbukas are made with metal bodies (typically from cast iron or aluminium) and plastic (synthetic) heads.
The Darbuka was popularized as part of the world music genre after its first appearance in western music in the mid 20th century. French composer Hector Berlioz was the first to feature a goblet drum within a western music composition, in his opera “Les Troyen”. Later on the Darbuka was used alongside a string orchestra by Halim El-Dabh in the 1950s production “Fantasia Tahmeel”. However, the Darbuka is mostly notable for its long use accompanying belly-dancers, and it’s known as “the heartbeat of belly dancing.” Belly dance shows usually include a duet of the darbuka player and the dancer.
There are also photos of women playing Darbukas from the late 18th century and early 19th century. Female performers who played for female-only audiences were very common in Egypt, Morocco and Algeria, because of the gender segregation brought by Islam and other tribal cultures, known for their ancestral musical tradition that originally had spiritual purposes.
Music bands that play in Middle Eastern countries include at least two Darbukas, or their slightly larger versions known as “Sumbati” and “Dohola”.
Although it was considered for some decades as a folk music instrument, it started getting adopted by classical music in the early 20th century. The Darbuka appears in many photos taken during the Arab Music Congress, held in 1932 at the National Music Academy in Cairo, Egypt.
Later on, the drum was adopted by folk musicians of non-Arab countries such as Greece and Yugoslavia through the influence of Turkey.
Saiid El Artist is a famous Egyptian drummer who created the modern Arabic table sound. He is responsible for elevating the Darbuka from the streets and nightclubs to the famous opera houses. He created a table orchestra and performs in the biggest concert halls of Egypt.
Misirli Ahmet from Turkey invented a new drumming technique 20 years ago called “Split Hand”, using the fingers individually to attain unprecedented speed and dexterity. This started a “revolution” in Turkey, and a new generation of virtuosic drummers, such as Misirli Ahmet, Suat Borazan and Bünyamin Olguncan.
Nowadays, there are many different kinds of Darbukas, which are manufactured all around the world, each type has its unique sound and design.