Swarthmore Hosts Arabic Drumming and Debkeh Dance Workshop

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The Middle Eastern Culture Society brought a drumming and dance workshop to Swarthmore on Saturday as part of the Middle Eastern Culture week and a preview to culminating concert, Music and Memory: Legacy in a New World, held later that evening. The drumming workshop was hosted by the Al-bustan Percussion Ensemble and the dance workshop conducted by Nehad Khader, both from Al-Buston Seeds of Culture, a non-profit organization promoting knowledge and enrichment of Arabic culture.

Both workshops were held simultaneously in different rooms in LPAC, but culminated in a coordinated performance of students dancing to drumming by other students. The turnout was better than expected, according to Neda Daneshvar ’10 and Christine Ernst ’10, two of the student coordinators, who helped organize the event. Other organizers included Camilla Kamoum ’11 and Arielle Littles ’10. Since the event was open to the public, it attracted a diverse crowd of all ages and interests.

The drumming session began with a spirited showcase of Al-bustan’s talents. Five members of the ensemble beat their debkeh drums, entrancing the audience who surrounded them in a circle. After a loud applause, the group proceeded to teach participants the basics of debkeh drumming by introducing the history of the debkeh, including the the materials used to fashion the drums and the techniques to strike them to produce different sounds in proper rhythm.

According to Daneshvar, “Khader told us that when people were building houses, they would have to stomp on the floors to make them hard and sturdy. They began to do this with drums, and that’s how debkeh was born,” she said. While the art of debkeh persists in Middle Eastern culture, it is primarily reserved for traditional weddings.

Students learned the three basic syllables in Middle Eastern debkeh drumming. The syllables are “doom”, which is produced by striking the middle of the drum with the flat of the hand, “tick”, which is a sharp rap on the edge of the drum with the fingers, and “tack,” which is a lighter strike on the edge of a drum with the opposite hand after performing tack.

The dance workshop was held in an adjacent dance studio and filled with participants of all ages, from small children to elderly members of the community. Ernst particularly appreciated the diverse crowd. “I liked how there was a broad range of people there: people of all ages, people from the deaf conference who stopped by, students, and faculty. It was nice having a broad spread of people,” she said.

Khader taught the lesson two steps, beginning with a circle dance with everyone holding hands, to focus on the footwork. Subsequently, she taught the individual part for males and females, in which one or two people stand in the middle of the circle and move both their feet and their arms.

After an hour of lessons, the dancers moved to the Boyer Dance Studio to perform with the drumming ensemble. The drummers began playing two rhythms ad infinitum, while the dancers displayed their newfound movements in the middle of the circle. Both Ernst and Daneshvar enjoyed this culminating performance. Participants were so enthused that a small group stayed behind to jam out to some of the rhythms that they had learned.

Correction: This article previously stated that Urooj Khan ’10 was an organizer for this event, which is not the case. The Gazette apologizes for the error.

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