Dum tak, tak dum a tak

A visit tonight from Andy of Etrangere and the Edinburgh Destroyers. He and Susan had been on honeymoon in Egypt and Arabic music had got under his skin, as it did for me in the mid-90s. We went over my rather rusty knowledge of Egyptian belly-dance rhythms, which was fun.

In the mid-90s, after the Hungry Ghosts band split up, I decided to indulge my interest in Arabic music and find out a bit more. I contacted Hilary Thacker, who runs belly-dance classes in the Egyptian style, for tips on where to begin and she kindly invited me to sit in on a class she ran just off Lothian Road with a live drummer (most classes used recorded music). The drummer was and is a percussionist in Salsa Celtica, but he knew his Arabic stuff too. I was allowed to return to the class for quite a few weeks as his ‘apprentice’ which involves playing the duf, a large bodhran-like drum. The duf-player plays the basic pulse of the dance (which you learn using vocalese like dum tak, tak dum tak) which allows the darabuka drummer to improvise with rolls and snaps. It’s the traditional way of learning and very effective. I came away with the rhythm imprinted not only on my brain but my body, and when I got home tried the ornamented drumming much as one used to strut one’s guitar chords in front of the mirror. I did this for several months, playing at a few of Hilary’s performances as well as classes.

After a while, songs and guitar lured me back, and tonight was the first time in years I’ve played the darabuka with anyone else. Maybe one day we’ll meet up with some Middle Eastern students and really start learning, but tonight it was nice to revisit that little corner of my musical world.

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