Naghara Azerbaijani Cylindrical Drum

Naghara the Azerbaijani Cylindrical Drum

A Note by Dr. Peyman Nasehpour


In Azerbaijani music, Qoltuq nagara, is played in Azerbaijani music ensembles. The name naghara is also used in lower Azerbaijan (in Iran). Naghara is a dialect of Naghghareh that comes from Naghr. The word naghar is an Arabic verb that means to beat.

Though in different regions – so far as I know – naghara with its different dialects, is used to call different kettledrums with different sizes and styles, but in Azerbaijan, it is used to refer a cylindrical drum. I should mention that in Azerbaijan, there is a kind of small kettledrums that is called ghosha-naghara (also spelled as Qosha Nagara).

Cylindrical drums are used broadly in many regions. The most famous name for cylindrical drums in Persia is dohol. So it is quite natural to see that in Armenia, this cylindrical drum is named dhol (or duhole).

Though the drum that accompanies the Azerbaijani traditional ensemble is a frame drum called ghaval (in Persia dayereh with its pre-Islamic name dareh) that is played by the singer, but the naghara is also used broadly for different purposes. Thanks to some American drummers, ghaval has been introduced and promoted in the West, but Azerbaijani naghara (or Armenian dhol) is still unknown and in this article, my aim is to explain a little about this nice cylindrical drum. I should mention that this drum is played in Georgia and Dagestan as well.

Naghara traditionally has wooden body but today plastic things are used too. It is covered on both sides by natural skins such as goatskins, sheep skins one high and one low in pitch but today again plastic heads are used too. The heads are stretched and zigzagged by a special string that tunes the drum by tightening or loosening the string.

Played with the fingers of the both hands the naghara rests in your lap and sets off to one side with one arm resting on top of the drum. 

The basic strokes of naghara:

The bass stroke is produced by the touching four-fingers of the free hand while beating somewhere near to the center of the head.

The treble stroke is produced by the touching four-finger (louder version) or touching middle and ring fingers (softer version) of the free or non-free hand while beating the rim of the head.

Another interesting stroke is produced by snapping the rim with both hands particularly the non-free hand.

Of course there are more strokes and every nagharachi (naghara player) uses her/his own taste to produce different sounds, but what I mentioned above are the least important basic strokes.

Anyway, though for playing the cylindrical drums both the heads are beaten by either hands or two different drumsticks but it is so interesting that Azerbaijani naghara (and similarly the Armenian dhol) is played like goblet drums such as the Persian tonbak and Turkish darbouka.

There is a proverb in Azerbaijani language that says toy-dan-sora-naghara! This literally means after the wedding ceremonies naghara!

Other names of this drum in other regions: Doli in Georgia, Dhol in Armenia (not to be confused with Indian dholi), Baraban in Dagestan and Jergh or watt in Chechenya.

In this picture, the ghaval player is the famous Azerbaijani vocalist, Seyid Shusginski (1889-1965). The other drummer plays Qosha Nagara (Azerbaijani kettledrums).