Mr. Tambourine Man

Dudu-073109Dan Friedman in The Forward:

The tambourine, or “riq” as it’s called in Arabic, is actually, despite its Western connotations of preschool classrooms, a staple of classical Arabic music. Unlike kids or folk dancers who shake or clap it, classical musicians hold it vertically and still, at knee level. Like the larger bongolike dumbek, there are three major categories of sound: the “dum” the “tak” and the “kat.” But on the riq, each note can be varied not only by the tension and pace of the hand or the number of fingers applied, but also by the amount of accompanying jingle, the tautness of the drum skin and the amount of resonance the player allows any given beat or sequence.

What makes it so hypnotic and so deeply impressive is the range of simultaneous effects that the skilled player can conjure from the single instrument. In duets such as those that Buchbut played with Dalal, the audience is left wondering how the rhythmic scatter of one person’s hands around the riq could possibly correspond to the complicated, insistent percussion section accompanying the oud. Each finger is almost its own instrumentalist, playing a different pattern on its own and as part of a group.

With modesty appropriate for a player of this most self-effacing of percussion instruments, Buchbut says he knows for certain of two riq players better than himself in New York, and resists any attempt to talk about himself as one of the great riq players of that city. A software engineer by day, he took up the riq only eight years ago. “I was going to learn the djembe [a knee-high drum], but my friend’s girlfriend was learning belly-dancing, so he wanted to learn the dumbek to accompany her, so I started learning with him, and learning the riq came from that,” he said.

(You can hear Layali El Andalus here.)