Jamal Mohamed popularises West Asian percussion instrument

Feature story about Jamal Mohamed, who teaches percussion in SMU's Meadows School of the Arts and is credited with popularizing the Doumbek.

Jamal Mohamed settles down on a sofa, places the Doumbek sideways on his legs, smiles and begins drumming. The sound, its resonance hits you. This interesting Lebanese hand drummer flicks his fingers over the Doumbek's skin until it sounds like there are several drummers playing with him.

Watching Jamal on the Doumbek, a drum used throughout West Asia, one feels hitting the drum is one of the easiest things to do. “It's not like a violin or a saxophone where you have to study just to begin to make it sound good,” says Jamal. Jamal's virtuosity in rhythmic complexity, his dexterous use of hands and amazing creativity are all the result of years of perseverance.

A first generation immigrant to the United States, Jamal's father migrated from Beirut when he was just two years old. Growing up in Chicago, listening to blues and jazz, Jamal carried the sounds of his native land in the recesses of his memory.

“I remember bugging my father to buy me a drum set, to play contemporary North American music. My father bought me a single bongo drum. I was disappointed then for I was a Beatles fan,” says Jamal who is on his first visit to India.

Right through his high school Jamal was fully into contemporary Western music. “But I used to listen to all kinds of music. At home, Arabic music was there and I was slowly being drawn to my roots.”

The turning point came when Jamal went back to Beirut for a year in 1965. “My father insisted that I spend time with my family there. And in the 60s Beirut was a lovely place to be in. It was the centre of arts and music. A group of friends and I formed a group ‘The Gamblers.' This was when I came to realise the possibilities of the doumbek and Arabic music.” . . .

Jamal, currently, teaches percussion and is the director of the World Music Ensemble at Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University.

He works extensively with dance, theatre, film, music therapy, and has an exciting new music group ‘Brahmah'. Jamal has carved a niche for himself as a hand drummer. His style welds jazz, Latin styles with the sounds of this ancient instrument. And Jamal also designs and makes a number of the instruments he plays such as the Egyptian Ney Flute or an Egyptian Darabuka. In fact, in 2010, Toca, a leading brand in the percussion market, brought out ‘Jamal Doumbek,' Jamal's signature drum.

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