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The ‘new’ making of ceramic darbuka and dohola drums.

At the end of filming ‘The Rhythmic East’ I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Athens, Greece with good friend and world renowned ceramic darbuka and dohola maker Theo Godas. To say I learned a ‘trick or two’ would be a huge understatement.  Theo’s passion and generosity of his knowledge was simply amazing.Some secrets will always remain with the maker just as the recipe remains with the master chief, however my knowledge of how much work, passion and skill really does go into making the ceramic darbuka/ dohola is very clear.

Thanks to the Turkish Ustad Misirli Ahmet, the ceramic darbuka/ dohola is now experiencing a new fresh breath of life. Misirli Ahmet redefined the way these drums are played. Influenced by Tabla players such a Zakkier Hussain, Misirli Ahmet created his own unique style, technique and new method for the drum. This ‘modern’ style of playing is often called ‘split finger’ or ‘Turkish technique’ but really it is simply the Misirli Ahmet technique. In my opinion Misirli did to the Arabic drum what Paco de Lucia did for the flamenco guitar: a total revolution. To add to my luck and good fortune, Misirli’s brother Levent Yildirim was also staying with Theo testing out his new series of doholas and running workshops across Greece.

Levent has been very influenced by his brothers playing style yet has managed to develop his own sound and style that when heard is almost beyond belief. These two drummers will do with two fingers what most top professionals will struggle to do with all ten!

Both drummers prefer the Dohola over the darbuka because of its larger shell and wider head. This larger size gives more bass and more possibilities of sound and is slowly becoming the drum of choice with modern players.

Luckily for these new breed of drummers pushing the limits of darbuka and dahola playing there are still a select handful of master artisans making ceramic drums with natural skins left in the world.

Meeting Theo Godas is like meeting the crazy professor in ‘Back to the Future’ with Michael J Fox. Theo is the crazy drum professor. He thinks, dreams, breaths and lives to make the best drums in the world with a distinct tone that is nothing short of perfect for each musician he crafts a drum for.

Theo’s passion for ceramic goblet drums began as a twelve year old boy working with his grandfather. His grandfather at the time was experimenting with different clays and skins along side a Tunisian drum maker. Twelve year old Theo was to learn about skin treatment, different tones produced by each skin, clay mix, where the best clay is to be found and measurements of the drum body itself, laying the foundation of a lifelong commitment to ceramic darbuka and dohola drums.

One of the main reasons I was visiting Theo’s workshop was to work together in creating a signature series drum for Fingers of Fury. There will be three sizes in the signature series range- sombati, mediodoholla and dohola. The main drum that I prefer to play at most of my gigs is the mediodohola size which as the name suggests is in between the sombati and the dohola.

So, like a hungry wolf I sat down for hours and hours in the ‘testing’ room and played every darbuka and dohola I could get my hands on! Many of these drums were still without skins on them. It was about getting the right feel and size and sound of clay. There is one new tone that can only ever be played on the ceramic drums and that is the high ‘tuks’ found around the ceramic rim of the body. It’s an awesome tone and once this is in your repertoire there is no going back.

After several days of playing drums, testing different skins or drum shells with no skins at all, Theo finally runs into the room, wild eyed like the mad drum professor he is, showing me one drum shell he had just found up in the workshop. This was it. I could tell just by looking at this shell it was the one for me. Perfect mediodohola size and ready for a skin. What an incredible shell. Baked in the earth four times and decorated using the ancient Greek method of earth baking, staining of colour using leaves and a simple yet beautiful design around the shell. All we needed now was to choose which skin to use. After a few days of learning the secrets of skin treatment and experimenting with different fish, goat and mule skins we chose a skin for the drum and I crossed my fingers of fury for good luck. This next process of applying the skin and the roping is crucial in getting a good sounding and long lasting tone that will also have some tension against humid weather conditions without being reliant on a light bulb system all of the time.

One thing I can highly recommend when seeking out a top quality musical instrument for yourself is to spend some time with the instrument maker if possible. If you bond with the maker and both enjoy one another’s company during the making of the instrument then there will be a special magic in the instrument itself. When we are dealing with a ceramic darbuka or dohola we are making a musical instrument in a highly organic form. There is no plastic here! We are using clay, skin from a creature that was a living soul on this amazing planet, fire, water and bare hands to create a musical instrument. This is as organic as it comes.

So with all of this in mind my good friend Theo and I stepped outside on to the balcony and spent the next eight hours roping the skin to the drum. It was light when we started and about three in the morning when we finished. I just sat there talking about my life as a musician back home in Australia, things that I had seen whilst traveling from Egypt to Greece making my new film ‘The Rhythmic East’ and listening to Theo’s stories of making drums as a child, the history of Greece and life in general. All of this meant that the drum was in good hands and that the drum was made to absolute perfection.

I took this drum back to Istanbul with me for a month whilst I was studying before coming back to Melbourne, Australia. In Istanbul the weather was very humid and hot and in Australia it was wet and the middle of our coldest winter for years. I was given a light bulb system for the drum but amazingly in all of these weather conditions I haven’t had to use it once. Every tiny step in the process of making ceramic drums is a crucial step in the final result. For me, this drum represents perfection and just like a fine wine it will change tone over the years.

Note: This drums dimensions, clay mix and skin will be used as the prototype for the new Fingers of Fury signature series

To contact Theo at Descarga Percussion in Athens

You can also find Descarga Percussion on facebook.

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