When I was a six years old, I saw the cartoon about the cricket that played the violin and the ant that worked. The recorded tunes supposedly played by the cricket were wonderful. I have loved the violin since then and I decided I wanted to be like the cricket myself. Today, as a student at the Institute of Music I have chosen to introduce you to a traditional musical instrument from my country that is the ancestor of the violin.

I am pleased to be able to give you some details about this stringed instrument. The rabab is a bowed stringed instrument that belongs to the family of chordophones. It has a total length of 53 cm. This instrument existed from the pre-Islamic period almost everywhere in the world, from India, Spain, Morocco and Algeria to Egypt and Tunisia, albeit in various shapes and for different uses. The rabab has been played in Tunisia for serious classical music since the 11th century. It was used to accompany the naoubet (Tunisian musical style) in which it improvised and followed the singing. The rabab is the pivotal element in the traditional Tunisian orchestra called the tacht that includes the tar (tambourine), the ud (lute) and the naqara (pair of small kettledrums).

Let us look at the technical specifications of the rabab. The instrument is made of a walnut or cedar soundbox that looks like an elongated half pear joined together along its length. The top has an upper part covered with a thin sheet of hammered cooper, decorated with three small rosettes. The lower part is covered with goat skin. The instrument also has a peg box, two sheep gut strings that are attached at the bottom of the instrument and pass over a 4 to 5 cm reed bridge. The bow is very curved and made of horse hair. The rabab has a low range and music is written for it in the key of F. It has an strange nasal tone and plays long, sustained and harmonically rich notes. In Tunisia, the instrument is tuned in fifths (G-D).

The rabab player sits with crossed legs and places the rabab on his right knee obliquely across his body, with the peg box resting against his left shoulder. He holds one of the ends of the bow between his right index and middle finger. He places his thumb underneath the strands and uses pressure to control the tension of the bow. Unfortunately, the rabab has not been part of Tunisian orchestras for a considerable period of time. It has been replaced by the violin’s clearer sound that suits voices better. It is a real loss when our traditional instruments are abandoned since they mirror our traditions and culture. And now, my wish is to meet a new generation of Tunisians who play the rabab as well as the cricket played his violin.
Canadian Heritage Information Network
Canadian Heritage Information Network, Centre des recherches et études andalouses, Centre des musiques arabes et méditerranéennes Ennejma Ezzahra, Musée de la musique, Laboratoire de recherche des musiques du monde, Musée acadien de l'Université de Moncton, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Musée d'art et d'archéologie de l'Université d'Antananarivo, Musée ethnographique Alexandre Sènou Adande, Musée national du Mali, St. Boniface Museum, Lycée de langues étrangères Alexandre Dumas, Museum of the Romanian Peasant

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans