28 Jan 2016

Djerbian music: a shared experience

A drum is pretty simple, right? It has no strings, no chords to remember; there’s nothing complicated about a drum– you just hit it and you’re good, right?


As I found out in this shared experience, there’s nothing simple about Djerbian drumming. First, let’s look at the drum:

The Tunisian darbuka is made of goat skin, stretched over a ceramic base, then fastened with strings to keep its tension. Every time you play the drum, you have to heat the skin first, this gives more depth and resonance to the sound. 

To play the drum, you settle it on your leg, with the open end facing behind you and the drum head facing forward. One hand on top, one beating from the side, each plays a different part of the rhythm.

Okay, let’s listen in on the lesson:

Can you make a deep sound? Okay good, now make the high popping sound… good. Now do this beat:darbouka

Buhdumdumbuhdumdumbuh-buh-buh. Oh, you’re not getting it? Switch hands. Now watch closely.

Almost. Try again.

Good! You figured out that beat! Now do this one.

We took turns trying to replicate what we were hearing, laughing and sighing over the complexity, yet delighting in the new challenge. I’ll tell you, I have a whole new respect for percussionists now.

All together, my friends and I learned to replicate maybe five different beats on the drum.

We also learned about the culture of music in Djerba, what music is used for weddings during which events. We got to see some footage from a local wedding and identify the rhythms being used. What a great challenge!

But no shared experience is complete without a meal. Just when we think we’re finished, they’re bringing in a low table and filling it with homemade salad, Tanjeen, and other Djerbian delicacies, all washed down with some sweet mint tea.

Makes you want to take up drumming, right?


  • marlene
    January 29, 2016 Reply

    Definitely a memorable experience. Drumming to Djerbian and Libyan rhythms was definitely a challenging experience. Loved it!

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