A-Z of riqs

Hasan Abdel Maged professional fish skin riq

Riq and frame drums

Frame drums are found in many cultures, and have long lasting history. Examples of many different kinds, are replicated in clay statues, hand writings, paintings and popular art. The first place where the frame drum is found, is in Mesopotamia in the 3000BC. The idea and concept of smaller frame drums such as the riq, are found mostly in India, Iran, Egypt, and Greek. In old paintings it is common to see a woman plays the riq during a ceremony or ritual. A riq with cymbals first appears in the 90 century, in a piece called ‘Triumph of Bacchus’.

The riq in old traditions
The Triumph of Bacchus

The traditional riq

Riq. رِقّ or الرِقّ in Arabic. It is often called ‘daf’, ‘tef’ or just ‘def’ – out of Egypt. The riq is a popular tambourine in Egypt and around the levant – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. It’s size is between 8″-10″, and around 2.5″ thick. Trigon fish skin (such as Hasan’s famous fish skin riq), Acipenser fish skin or goat skin are the common forms of membrane for the riq. The riq’s body is made of dense lightweight wood. The riq has 5 sets of cymbals, hammered or forged. Until the middle of the 20th century, the riq was almost exclusively exiting in the Egyptian musical world. In north africa, a similar instrument was played, which called ‘tar’. The tar is rather massive and bulky in compare to the riq.

Along the years, the riq was always appreciated for its unique sound, complexity and the mesmerising variety of sounds it can produce. More over, it’s magic lays in the virtuosity and the high technical level it requires from its players. Although, unfortunately, as the ‘darbuka’ took over the classical arabic music in the 60’s, the riq got cornered. From a place of prestige and respect, it become a non popular instruments, and few are the masters who play it today.

um kalthoum
Oud Kalthoum and her famous player Hussain Awad

Modern riq

Today riqs are being in a complete different manner and way. The skin has been gradually replaced with plastic substitutes. Today the variety of plastic ‘heads’ is big and you can get anything from rough plastic, to skin-like fiber that will last forever. Another big step in modern riq is weight, as the materials becoming more and more fine and light. At last, tuning became an issue, when players demanded from the makers to have an easy tuning mechanism. Today most modern riqs feature an in-frame tuning mechanism that allows a swift and easy tuning within seconds.

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