Behind The Rhythms of “Tantas Tierras” | Member Exclusive Insight

Deconstructed: "Tantas Tierras"

“This song started a few years ago with Manu, his little guitar and his vocals, then we started to add new musicians around the world. We started in Barcelona with Manu and his guitar and then we opened the song with these amazing Mariachis in Guadalajara, Mexico…”
-Mark Johnson on Deconstructed: “Tantas Tierras.”

Come take an exclusive look behind the instruments from West Africa that featured on our latest Song Around The World.

Get to know the origins of these instruments as well as the composition of their unique sounds and how to play them!


(also known as Doumbek, Tablah, or Derbeke depending on the region of origin)

Narjess Saad Ellaoui

The History

The origin of the term Darbuka was believed to derive from the Arabic word "daraba" ("to strike").

This is a percussion instrument of Arab origin used in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Europe.

The Darbuka was popularized as part of the world music genre after its first appearance in Western music in the mid 20th century, when French composer Hector Berlioz was the first to feature a goblet drum within his opera composition “Les Troyen,” which calls for a tarbuka in the Dance of the Nubian Slaves in Act IV.

The first compositions for goblet drum and orchestra were composed by Halim El-Dabh in the 1950s; his symphonic orchestra composition Fantasia-Tahmeel for goblet drum and strings, was premiered in New York City in 1958, with a string orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

A darbuka is also featured in the Symphony No. 14, Rituals by the Finnish composer Kalevi Aho.

The Sound

To play any type of darbuka you’ll have to learn three basic sounds: Dum, Tek and Slap.

The Dum is a low-pitched sound that consists of hitting the head of the darbuka with the right hand, fingers together and slightly arched outwards so that it is mainly the palm that makes the sound and not so much the fingers.

The Tek is a high-pitched sound that is made with both hands hitting the end of the patch with the fingertip of the ring finger.

Last but not least, the Slap is a potent and loud sound created with the right hand while using the fingers together, curving them in such a way that the hand is convex to the patch of the darbuka.

There are different types of darbukas and each has a different sound and unique design but, what makes them different? Let’s take a look at what different musicians have to say!

Turkish: Also known as goblet drum, the Turkish darbuka instrument was invented in ancient times by the old civilizations of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and mainly it was used in Central Asia. While the differences between the Turkish and the Arabic darbuka are small, their main differences are mostly related to its place of origin, playing technique and a slight difference on the body. Turkish darbuka resembles a goblet, therefore is known as a goblet drum.

One significant physical difference is that the Turkish darbuka has exposed edges that allow greater playability and better control over the instrument, this allows the user to play the “finger snapping” or “Turkish split hand” technique.

Turkish Split Hand Technique Progression by Omar Kattan

Arabic Egyptian darbuka: Also known as Derbake, this hand drum instrument is used mainly in the Arabian region. In fact, many darbuka players claim that the Arabic Egyptian darbuka resembles African djembe.

Arabic Egyptian darbuka

The most noticeable difference between the Turkish and the Arabic instrument is the way it’s played. The Turkish darbuka style exposes the edges on the head of the drum while playing, while the Egyptian darbuka has a round head on the drum, which allows musicians to perform in another style.

You can listen to a more metallic sound coming from the Arabic darbuka; this is because modern materials for the elaborations of this instrument are aluminum, brass, and copper, while the skins are made out of plastic or synthetic materials, however, some musicians prefer real skin that gives more depth to the sound.

Shoutout to these amazing musicians from Istanbul!

Can you guess which type of darbuka each of them is playing?


Luis Carlos Cassiani Simarra Landscape

The History

The güiro comes from hard shell gourds, which are fruits like the jícaro from the higüero tree (Crescentia cujete) that are native to Central America. The shape of the güiro is what gives that unique depth in sound, so each shell is unique depending on the gourd shape.

The current güiro was originally from Puerto Rico and is linked to the history of the Taíno indigenous people.The Taínos were the first indigenous people that Columbus contacted after his arrival to the “New World.” In addition to the musical arrangement, the Taínos used their instruments for things other than dances and rituals; they also used them to communicate announcements and warnings (probably in codes) to warn others about a threat.

Antique guiro

We can notice how the influence of the Taíno culture extends until the late-Classic period from Puerto Rico to Mexico.This snake-headed stone güiro dates from 500 BC to 900 AD. and goes back to the Mezcala tradition, one of the most distinctive and original traditions of the Mesoamerican area in Mexico.

Etymologically, the word güiro comes from the Arawak linguistic family that was spoken in colonial times and came from northern South America and the Caribbean.The güira was a tropical tree and the güiro was the name of its fruit.

The Sound

This instrument is a long, hollow gourd with ridges that produce sound when a wooden stick, (commonly called a scraper) or pick is scraped along the sides of it. It has the particularity that allows the entire instrument to vibrate and create the sound. It's a staple of dance rhythms such as salsa and cumbia.

Can you hear the güiro in this Song Around The World without watching the musician?}

There are different types of güiros and each creates a different sound, they are made of:

Glass and wooden fiber: Made by many percussion manufacturers, these güiros are made to be more durable while maintaining a soft sound that is closer to the original gourd-made instrument.

Little Cuban boy steals the show in Old Havana! "Dancing in Cuba"

Metal: They produce a higher pitched sound popular in dance music. Another variety are the flat metal güiros, which lack the resonance of the hollow - cylindrical güiros, but retain the recognizable scraping sound.

Shoutout to this awesome güiro solo!

There are also different types of scrapers. The most common type is made of metal with a handle made of other materials, but you can also find an alternative which is a block of wood or plastic with metal teeth, like a comb.

This type of scraper creates a higher, more complex sound when used on a metal güiro. Metal tines are used almost exclusively with a metal güiro, but can also be used on a wooden or gourd güiro to create a distinct sound from the wooden scraper.


Pauloheman Udu

The History

The udu (which, in the Igbo language of Nigeria. means vessel or pot), unlike other percussion instruments, was invented and developed by the women of the Igbo people from clay pots. With a population of around 40 million throughout Nigeria, the Igbo is one of the biggest and most influential tribes in Africa.

These clay pots were an everyday use of the Igbo people. They were used to carry and store water from the river to their homes, store food and seeds, as well to nest bee colonies and carry the honey. The udu was also used for women's ceremonies and rites.

The Sound

This instrument is a clay pot with an opening at the top and on the side, the pot is played by striking the hands against the walls of the pot.

The udu can be played by hitting the drum with the palm or fingertips, and depending on the texture of the surface, it will provide variations by creating different rubbing sounds.

The main body of the udu drum is ideal for conga and bongo players. It has rich and great textures between the chambers which are the insides of the holes. The chambers generate a mellow, dry bass tone that may sound similar to a dumbek or tabla.

A composition on the udu (water drum) by percussionist Fahad Zuberi

There are two types of udu drums available, one being the ceramic udu from Ghana (glazed and unglazed) and metal type from Nigeria.

The ceramic type has two openings and is mostly played with both hands to obtain a variety of sounds. The metal type has one opening and is played with a foam paddle for driving bass rhythm.




The History

Percussion is one of the most important items in folk and African music.The calabash is a large percussion instrument from West Africa and it’s made from a gourd cut in half, washed, sanded, hollowed out, dried and sometimes painted or carved to get a unique handmade instrument. Gourds are classified according to shape, which consequently determines the use to which they are put.

In Nigerian society, music is as diverse as a culture itself, traditional music is part of this culture which symbolizes the bond between the past, present and the future generations. As an important part of the culture, creating music was often linked to agriculture during the growing season as well as celebrations and war chantings to lift the spirits of their warriors and everyday chores.

The Sound

The calabash is particularly found in a unique style of music from the Sahara region of Northern and West Africa, known as “desert blues” or “desert rock.”

Local Cameroonian Music with Calabash Instruments

A calabash that is made from giant gourds are usually very rare to find because they take a very long time to grow, and depending on the season, it might not grow properly. It’s also really important for players to put a cushion or pillow under the calabash to imitate the resonating sound that they will get by playing in the sand.

Listen to the sounds of the calabash in this Live Outside featuring Mamadou Diabaté and Sayba Diabaté, accompanied by Roberto Luti on the steel guitar.

Diaraby | Playing For Change | Live Outside

Also watch this member exclusive performance featuring Mamadou and Sayba Diabaté.


The History

The ngoni is a lute instrument from West Africa and is part of the Mandinka culture. The Mandinka are people from West Africa with a global population of 11 million and are descendants of the great Mali Empire that flourished in West Africa from the 13th through the 16th centuries.

The Mandinka have an oral tradition, in which “griots,” or storytellers, keep alive stories of village and family history, often accompanied by music on the kora.

Recommended: Inside West Africa’s Griot Culture | Prince Diabaté | Mark’s Park

The ngoni is said to be the African ancestor of the modern-day banjo: both are played by plucking, and the shape of their bodies are similar to drums.

The sound

N'goni (ngoni) are West African rhythm harps and there are three main types: the djeli, the donso and the kamale.

The donso and kamale n'goni are similar to the kora, only having less strings and being slightly different in construction.

The donso n'goni is the six string harp of the traditional hunter societies from the historic Wassoulou region of Mali. The word donso can be translated as hunting or hunter, which is the reason the donso n'goni are also known as the hunters harp.

​​N'goni are held with both hands and the strings are plucked with the thumbs and index fingers.

Depending on the technique, you can also play different genres like blues or other African pieces.

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba - Abe Sumaya

Watch Bassekou Kouyate perform the ngoni in this Song Around The World “Queen Bee.”

Did you know any of these instruments? If you’d like to start playing, check our available instruments in our PFC shop!

Tantas Tierras Manu11

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