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Egyptian 'Tabla' Player Shares His Love of Traditional Drum with the Ozarks

George Sadak proudly displays his handmade traditional Egyptian drum, the 'tabla,' which has an aluminum base covered by 30
George Sadak proudly displays his handmade traditional Egyptian drum, the 'tabla,' which has an aluminum base covered by 30

The “tabla”  is the Egyptian generic word for a “drum.”  Also known as the “darabuka,” this goblet shaped instrument has become a pillar of Egyptian culture. For one man visiting the Ozarks, the tabla is even more than that—it’s tied to the rhythm he remembers from his boyhood in Egypt, and it’s become a symbol of the Egyptian people. George Sadak brought his handmade tabla, encrusted with mother-of-pearly inlay, to our studios Friday morning.

“I started about when I was six or seven years old. I was fascinated with a drum set, actually—not the tabla. And I started playing that…but I just found a love for rhythm,” Sadak said.

Sadak has merged the traditional tabla with more modern sounds, which he works in electronically.

“I would sample myself at home playing a frame drum, playing a tambourine or a ‘rik,’ what we call the ‘rik,’ which is the eastern version of the American tambourine.  And the ‘saggat,’ which is the finger cymbals. And different kinds of drums. And I sample them here…and then when I’m doing my show, I trigger them on the fly,” Sadak said.

Sadak moved to the United States with his parents when he was 16. Now, he lives in Seattle. His love for the tabla has made the journey with him.

“In Egyptian households, I’d say…70 percent of Egyptians have a tabla at home. Everyone loves music and dance and tabla,” he says.

He recalls hearing, as a boy, people playing tabla along the streets on his way to school; on the train; on school trips. Last spring, he watched on the edge of his seat, as did much of the world, as many of his former schoolmates and neighbors took to the streets to oust then-president Hosni Mubarak in a dramatic revolution.

“An interesting part is: when I was watching the revolution happen, they were in Tahrir Square, and they had drums. And they were chanting with the drums,” Sadak said.

He says there are not a lot of books and formal training schools for learning to play the tabla…and yet, there are masters to learn from. Sadak had an opportunity to go back to Cairo to learn from them.

“I hung out on a street called Mohammed Ali Street, which historically, a lot of the Egyptian artists were born there. It’s kind of a poor area. Wonderful artisits…third generation artists living [there]. I got to go there and just absorb everything: absorb their music, their lifestyle, how they say things. The way they speak—it represents a rhythm. You know, the rhythm comes from a lifestyle,” he said.

Now, Sadak plays the tabla for Americans to enjoy.

Sadak will play the tabla tonight and tomorrow night at Riad’s restaurant, starting at 9 o’clock. That’s at 1250 East Republic Road in Springfield. 

[Sound: music fades out]