The Riqq الرق

Site dedicated to the the traditional tambourine of Egypt & the Levant (daf)

First, A Little History

   "Frame drums are found in many cultures and have a long history. Examples of different types are depicted in pottery, reliefs, paintings and folk art. The earliest depictions of frame drums appear in Mesopotamian art from the third millennium BC. These frame drums are much larger than those used in popular music of the late twentieth century. Depictions of smaller frame drums similar to some still used can be found in the artwork of Greece, Egypt, Persia, and India. They mainly show women playing frame drums in ritual, but men often appear in Arabic examples when a frame drum is employed for martial purposes. The first appearance of a frame drum with jingles attached to the frame is found on the 90 AD Roman sarcophagus, The Triumph of Bacchus."
                                                            - The Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World

                                           The Triumph of Bacchus ( 90 AD Roman sarcophagus)

The Traditional Riqq

  The riqq (رِقّ or  الرِقّ in Arabic). The riqq is sometimes called daff or def (outside Egypt), and is a Egyptian tambourine common in Egypt and the Levant region (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine), measuring anywhere from 10-8 inches in diameter to 2.5 inches in depth. It is usually covered with Egyptian sturgeon skin though it can also be covered with ray skin and even, more rarely, with goatskin. The body of the riqq is made of wood covered in inlay of mother of pearl, or other materials.  Often the best riqqs are made with a frame of hard fruit woods. The riqq also has five sets of heavy, beaten or molded brass cymbals (usually 2.5 inches wide, spaced evenly around the frame.
  The reason the riqq is often spelled with a double "q" is because of the consonant doubling or "shadda" (that tiny w-shaped mark above the Arabic "q": " قّ  " which signifies a doubling of the consonant) making a double "q" sound when spoken in Arabic. 

  Up until the first half of the 20th century the riqq was almost exclusively the sole percussion instrument used in Arabic classical and art-music ensembles in Egypt and the Levant.  (In nothwest African music they use another smaller tambourine, which has a different style of playing, called a tar.)

  The riqq has always been highly valued for it's unique timbre, and its complex, and stunning variety of sound, as well as for the virtuosity demanded of it's performers.  Though, sadly, because of the introduction of the darbuka (an instrument formerly restricted to traditional, and folkloric music) over the last 60 years in classical and art-music ensembles, the riqq has been relegated to a minor and less respected role and there are now very few true virtuosos of the traditional instrument left in the Arab world.


The legendary Egyptian singer Um Kalthoum, and the riqq player Hussein Mouawed (right)

Modern Riqqs

  Besides the traditional instruments, there are now, of course, adjustable skin riqqs, and many plastic headed riqqs.  I have found REMO's Layne Redmond fiberskin riqq, Eckermann riqqs, or Cooperman riqqs (with fish skin or REMO's Weatherking head)  to be the best sounding for the price.  As for mylar headed riqqs, (which I personally prefer not to use because their sound is so flat, harsh and lacks the rounded warmth and timber of traditional wood bodied, fish skin riqqs) I can only recommend Kavork riqqs that are fully wood-bodied (not metal framed and only wood edged, though the beauty and simplicity of the instruments is so seductive).  And, please, make sure you can adjust and play the instrument yourself before putting down $400.00+.  This advice comes from my own experience, as several years ago I bought a gorgeous Kavork riqq with a metal frame without giving it a thorough adjustment and test when purchased, and was terribly disappointed with the sound ever after (I had thought I could fix it with tape and other fixes but it never sounded any better than a very nice tin can whatever I did.) That was a VERY expensive mistake.   So be careful when you buy, and use your ears to choose the best sounding instrument for you, your needs, and your pocketbook. (See the links for makers web sites and the video page for a comparison of different riqqs from

                                        Ensemble Al Kindi with Master of the riqq, Adel Shams El Din (right).