Naghara The Azerbaijani Cylindrical Drum

Naghara the Azerbaijani Cylindrical Drum

by Peyman Nasehpour

Introduction. In Azerbaijani music, the naghara (also spelled as nagara, in the Azerbaijani alphabet) is a cylindrical double-headed drum performed in Azerbaijani music ensembles. The naghara has traditionally a wooden body, though today, a plastic body has also become popular. Also, note that the skins of the naghara were natural (goat or sheep skin) in the past, though today, pre-fabricated heads are more popular because they are unaffected by changes in humidity. However, I personally believe that the sound of a natural-skinned naghara is more beautiful. Note that the heads of the drum are stretched and zigzagged by a special string that tunes the drum by tightening or loosening the string. Played with the fingers and palms of the hands, the Azerbaijani naghara rests in the drummer's lap and sets off to one side with one arm resting on top of the drum and both hands play the same head, similar to goblet drums like the tonbak and the darbouka. The same style is used to play the Armenian dhol.

Etymology of the naghara. The word naghara ناقارا is a dialect of the Arabic word naghareh نقاره and the latter word comes from the Arabic verb naghr نقر and its meaning is to beat and tap. In Persian literature, the word naghareh has been used in the works of different poets like Rumi. There is a proverb in the Azerbaijani language, including naghara, and it is used as a sign of surprise when something is too late. It says:

Toydan sora[=sonra], naghara!

And it literally means "After the wedding ceremonies, naghara!"

While in different regions, naghareh and all its dialects - as far as I know - are used to call kettledrums with different sizes and styles, it is quite interesting that the Azerbaijani cylindrical drum is called naghara. However, there exist types of small kettledrums popular in Azerbaijani music which is called ghosha-naghara (the word ghosha means a pair in the Azerbaijani language). Note that many cylindrical drums, in different regions, are called the dohol or similar names (for more, see Dohol (Persian cylindrical drum) and because of that, I believe that the name "naghara" for this Azerbaijani cylindrical drum is an error allowed by usage.

In the Azerbaijani traditional ensemble, the singer is supposed to play the ghaval which is a frame drum to accompany his voice and the other instrumentalists, in Azerbaijani modern ensembles, naghara has become quite popular. Armenian dhol and Georgian doli are almost the same as Azerbaijani naghara and their styles in performance are quite similar.

The basic strokes of naghara. Now, we proceed to illustrate the basic strokes of naghara.

  • The bass stroke. The bass stroke is produced by touching the four fingers of the free hand (from the pinkie up to the index finger) while beating somewhere in the middle part of the skin. Note that similar to the tonbak the skin of the naghara is divided into three parts called rim, middle, and center.

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

  • The snap. Another interesting stroke is produced by snapping the rim with both hands, in particular, the non-free hand. I have seen some naghara players performing the "bargardan" technique on the naghara. The bargardan technique is produced when the drummer puts the index finger on the middle finger and forcefully strikes the middle part of the skin with the index finger. For more, see The Strokes and Roll Techniques of the Tonbak.

  • The roll. The roll technique, which is not easy to elaborate on, is a combination of both treble strokes (either four-fingered or two-fingered) of the free and the non-free hands. Note that a roll is a combination of some strokes played very rapidly and periodically.

Remark. The cylindrical drums in which the style of their performance is similar to the Azerbaijani naghara are as follows: The dhol (Armenia), the baraban (Dagestan), and the doli (Georgia).

The description of the picture. In the picture, there are four musicians, and the singer with the frame drum is known to me. His name is Seyid Shushinski (1889-1965). He was an iconic master of Azerbaijani vocal music. The names of the instruments from left to right are: (1) the ghosha-naghara (Azerbaijani kettledrums), (2) the ghaval (Azerbaijani frame drum), (3) the tar (Azerbaijani long-necked lute), and (4) kamancha (Azerbaijani bowed spike fiddle).

Keywords. naghara, nagara, nagada, naqara, naqqarat, naqqare, naqqareh.

Also, see Azerbaijani Musical Instruments.