Useful Tips on playing Darbuka-Doumbek for Belly Dancers. Darbuka- The Belly dance Drum
1. Create a rough guide: Depending on the occasion, venue, culture and situation in general, creating a mental map is an easy way to make life simpler at performances. It’s like this; you’re doing a gig in a Turkish restaurant, you have to entertain for 15 minutes with just one drummer and a dancer. First you must work out how you want to enter the space i.e. with a bang? Or perhaps a simple, soft veil piece?
How long will you play the entrance rhythm before you move to the next main pattern? What is the favourite rhythm of the audience that night? I mentioned it was a Turkish restaurant so Kasilima comes to mind! When the main drum solo is happening can the dancer play zills to back you up a little? Could the audience clap along? In time!? How will it end? Perhaps with a fast 2/4 rhythm and a spin for the dancer followed by a rizz (rush/roll) ending so he/she can shimmy away!
Having a really open plan can help tighten the act up so you look more professional and have some guiding lights to join the start to the finish. There is still plenty of room for improvising but you have a rough guide all the same.
At some gigs, especially restaurants and weddings, you never know quite what to expect. For this reason you have to be flexible during performance but still with a basic plan between drummer and dancer. It always gives you that tight edge!
2. KISS the dancer! Not like that my friends! Like this- Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s an old cheesy marketing saying that many of you have heard before I’m sure. Well, if you want to be asked back for another gig with the dancer (and I bet a million dollars the dancer booked the gig!) then the KISS formula will serve you well. Yes, you have rolls of thunder, and yes, you can outplay Hossam Ramzy on a bad day, but the dancer doesn’t really care at all about that. The dancer wants rhythm and clear drum fills. Less is more my friends. Also remember that a dancer (unlike us) needs to breath. This can be hard to do when there is no space in the music for a dancer to be still for a moment and regain composure.
3. Watch the dancer and NOT the floor: I am the first to be guilty of this act of crime. I once saw video footage of myself playing for a dancer on stage. We had actually worked out a few things that she would dance too during the drum solo and that meant that I didn’t have to watch her at all! When I saw the video I cringed. I looked very disinterested in what was happening and I completely missed something the dancer was trying to do in the moment! How can you play for a dancer and not watch what is happening? You just can’t! Remember, you are actually having a conversation and talking to her (or him). You are saying, we are here, I’m doing this for a moment and then I will play over here for a while. This is the last one and then I will go over there, do you know what I’m doing? That’s it, fantastic! Now let’s change to this idea.
You are saying all of this and much more, all with your eyes and your drum. Also it pays to know if all eyes are on the dancer or on you! Remember: it’s a good idea when playing for belly dancers to se your drum as a belly dance drum more than just a darbuka!
4. Get a vocabulary: Knowing what to play for certain belly dance techniques is essential. To do this you will need lots of different tones up your sleeve. Being able to roll fast is great, but can you do that for upper and lower body? Can you play a fast roll and then come straight back to the rhythm without missing a beat? Do you have a collection of puc or pop tones to use? Can you play a fast roll and then imply another rhythm with the right hand on top of this roll? Well, maybe that’s forgetting the KISS formula a touch but it’s still pretty cool.
5. Repeat your ideas: One of the oldest tricks in the book is to repeat your ideas four times. These ideas can develop each time but essentially its the same idea being repeated. The fourth one will usually have a small change to mark the ending of an idea and then the next one will begin. Playing this way will allow the dancer to hear what your idea is, create something, develop that “something” and then really bring it together for the final two times it’s played.
6. Who invited Aladdin? Speaking as a drummer from the Western world, we can sometimes over-do it in the dressing room. In my years of performing with musicians from the Middle East, the only people that go to their performances dressed up like Aladdin are musicians from the West! If you go to a Lebanese wedding or a Turkish club and see the musicians, they don’t actually wear that stuff. Dressing up like that is good for corporate gigs that are holding a theme party. Any other gig and you will just look a bit out of touch with reality in many people’s eyes. Slick looking pants, a crisp black shirt and perhaps a patterned vest is much more appropriate. Ladies can generally wear more glitzy outfits without looking as silly as us gents. Food for thought!
7. Every dancer is unique: As you will soon notice, every dancer has their own unique style. This is something to consider when playing together. What worked last night won’t necessarily work tonight. Some belly dancers are petite and like to dance fast and jump onto the nearest table! Others, prefer solid rhythms so they can just go through all the coreography that they may know. A dancer with a more voluptuous body may appreciate relaxed yet interesting drum fills. It’s all part of being able to build a really comfortable rapport with one another and compliment each other as dancer and musician.
The next few handy tips will be included in the second article on Playing for a Belly dancer– ‘The belly dance drum.’
Take care and happy drumming.