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Abdulhamid Alwan

Arabian Percussion
Milwaukee, WI

Percussion in Arabian Life

Hamid with riqq. Photo by Louie Holwerk.In Arabic culture, Hamid says, “Music is intertwined with daily life. There is happy music, sad music, wedding music, dance music, and religious music.” Percussion is present in all of these types of music. In fact, the common word for rhythm in Arabic is asl, meaning “principal,” or most important.

Drums are a popular instrument in Arabian countries. In Iraq, Hamid says, this is especially true among women. “Always when the women get together, someone plays a tabla, or a riqq, or a tabl baladi.”

The Name Says It All

Hamid playing tabla. Photo by Anne Pryor.In the United States, the tabla is often called a doumbek. This name comes from the way the drum sounds when played. The “doum” is the sound made by hitting the drum in the middle with your palm. The “tek” sound is made by hitting the edge of the drum head with your fingertips.

Drums and More!

Hamid describes himself as an “Arabesque artist” Antique tablas Hamid will repair. Photo by Louie Holwerk.and he makes many kinds of art with Arabesque designs. He builds and decorates drums, designs jewelry, and restores Arabian furniture. He incorporates Arabian culture into all of it.

Many of the tablas Hamid makes are a single color, like the ones you saw in his workshop. He decorates others with Arabic calligraphy or designs. Calligraphy is a certain type of script, or handwriting. It is like cursive, but more elaborate. The type of calligraphy Hamid does is called kufi. It is similar to the traditional calligraphy done in the city of Kufa, Iraq, where Hamid’s father was born.

Tabla with black glaze design. Photo by Louie Holwerk.Take a look at this tabla. Can you see that the brown and black parts of the larger design are the same shape? That’s a traditional Arabesque style.

“In Arabian art,” Hamid says, “the positive and the negative are always equal. And I use that in designs on my drums.”

Arab World Fest

Drum making and playing are just two of many Arabian traditions. You can experience others at the Arab World Fest. In addition to running their store, Hamid and Kim help organize Arab World Fest, a Milwaukee festival that celebrates Arabian culture. The festival is a way for Arabian artists to teach others about their art, and for people to learn about Arabian culture. Arab World Fest is held every summer. Be sure to attend if you want to learn more about Arabian life and art in Wisconsin and other parts of the world!

In Your Community

Would you like to learn about Arabic music in your community? Visit an Islamic Center in a Wisconsin town and ask members there if they know Arabian musicians. Resources for Students has a link to Arab World Fest, Islamic centers in Wisconsin, and ideas about other ways you can experience Arabian percussion.

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Abdulhamid Alwan



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