In Tunisia and throughout the whole of the Maghreb, religious groups are found that practice similar rites because of the belief in sub-Saharan Africa in possession by evil spirits. The stambali that came to Tunis via travellers or black slaves belong to these groups.

These exchanges between black African and Islamic Maghreb cultures has meant that stambali is presented as an art, an ancestral practice, a belief system, a repertoire of sacred songs and an eastern Asian ritual. The stambali orchestra essentially consists of three instruments, including the gombri (stringed instrument of the lute family), chkacheks (crotales or castanets) and the tabl (drum). The chkacheks are the instrument that interest us the most since they are an essential element of the stambali and have a special place in the rites of the North African black community. Chkacheks are round iron crotales or small metal cymbals 26.3 cm in length with a maximum width of 9.5 cm. They are played with both hands. They belong to the family of idiophones.

Generally speaking, chkacheks are not sold commercially. They must be ordered from a blacksmith. However, as the profession has declined, the Read More
In Tunisia and throughout the whole of the Maghreb, religious groups are found that practice similar rites because of the belief in sub-Saharan Africa in possession by evil spirits. The stambali that came to Tunis via travellers or black slaves belong to these groups.

These exchanges between black African and Islamic Maghreb cultures has meant that stambali is presented as an art, an ancestral practice, a belief system, a repertoire of sacred songs and an eastern Asian ritual. The stambali orchestra essentially consists of three instruments, including the gombri (stringed instrument of the lute family), chkacheks (crotales or castanets) and the tabl (drum). The chkacheks are the instrument that interest us the most since they are an essential element of the stambali and have a special place in the rites of the North African black community. Chkacheks are round iron crotales or small metal cymbals 26.3 cm in length with a maximum width of 9.5 cm. They are played with both hands. They belong to the family of idiophones.

Generally speaking, chkacheks are not sold commercially. They must be ordered from a blacksmith. However, as the profession has declined, there are only one or two artisans in Tunis who can make them. In stambali ceremonies, the chkachkias (chkacheks players) stand to the left and right of the maâlem or yenna (gombri player and master of ceremonies). The place to the right closest to the "body" of the gombri is usually given to the most expert chakachkia. This player may also direct the other percussionists by changing the rhythm according to two-beat or three-beat nouba (musical combinations). Chkachkias do not, however, play the entire rhythm but only the down beat.

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

My first discovery after arriving in Tunisia was the Erlanger Palace, home of the Arab and Mediterranean Music Centre. Today, this old estate atop the cliffs of Sidi Bou Saïd is a wonderful treasure trove where everyone who visits will uncover a mine of unsuspected riches.

I was most interested in the wrought iron decorating most of the palace's overhanging windows. This special feature was unknown to Tunisian architecture before contact between the Iberian peninsula and the Maghreb and is the result of Andalusian migration.

Here, however, we do not hear the sound of castanets tapping out dance rhythms, but rather the "chkacheks", a pair of iron "crotales" or rattles shaped like a figure eight. The "chkacheks" are played with both hands and are used to mark time for stambali music, sometimes at the expense of the melody! This highly rhythmic music is a feature of the Black Tunisian community and it is performed in possession and trance religions like those found in sub-Saharan Africa. The coming together of different people helped to forge the history of Tunisia, as it did elsewhere. Originally, this musical style moved no Read More
My first discovery after arriving in Tunisia was the Erlanger Palace, home of the Arab and Mediterranean Music Centre. Today, this old estate atop the cliffs of Sidi Bou Saïd is a wonderful treasure trove where everyone who visits will uncover a mine of unsuspected riches.

I was most interested in the wrought iron decorating most of the palace's overhanging windows. This special feature was unknown to Tunisian architecture before contact between the Iberian peninsula and the Maghreb and is the result of Andalusian migration.

Here, however, we do not hear the sound of castanets tapping out dance rhythms, but rather the "chkacheks", a pair of iron "crotales" or rattles shaped like a figure eight. The "chkacheks" are played with both hands and are used to mark time for stambali music, sometimes at the expense of the melody! This highly rhythmic music is a feature of the Black Tunisian community and it is performed in possession and trance religions like those found in sub-Saharan Africa. The coming together of different people helped to forge the history of Tunisia, as it did elsewhere. Originally, this musical style moved north as a result of the forced migration of black slaves who gave it a very special style in Tunisia. The traditional rhythms became the mortar of their collective identity and the symbol of their community in the midst of its torment.

"The chkacheks make our hearts beat - Onward! The chkacheks give us our life beat - Courage!"

Like the palace's wrought iron, the "chkacheks" are also made of metal. In the past, blacksmiths would make them, working the metal until it took on the appropriate shape. However, as this profession declined, "chkacheks" were no longer sold in the marketplace. I was told that there are only one or two workmen in the city of Tunis who can make them any more.

The tempo seems to be slowing down, but for those who would like to strike them, the iron is still hot!

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Chkacheks

The chkacheks or krakeb (castanets) are iron crotales in the shape of a figure eight. They belong to the family of idiophones and are used in stambali, dharb ennissà and el miden music; types of sacred music played by the sub-Saharan black community found throughout Tunisia. Each chkachek is 26.3 cm long and 9.5 cm at its maximum width. Chkacheks are made by expert blacksmiths.

The Arab and Mediterranean Center Tunisia

Iron
26.3 x 9.5 cm
© The Arab and Mediterranean Center Tunisia


Chkacheks: Audio

Chkacheks: Audio

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.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Understand that music is an expression in all cultures
  • Understand that the relationship between personal feelings and music transcends borders and cultures
  • Develop respect for music from a variety of cultural contexts
  • Examine traditional music practices in selected Francophone countries
  • Demonstrate geographical awareness by identifying Francophone countries
  • Be aware of the musical contributions of various cultural groups in their own community
  • Understand that all world music can be organized within a standard classification system

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