By Bamururaki Musinguzi
Pictures by Raphael Khisa
Published October 19, 2010
Palestinian Simona Abdallah may be the only woman in the world to professionally plays the goblet shaped darbuka, despite the fact that this is considered a masculine instrument, and almost always played by men.The largely self-taught Simona Abdallah who has been playing since she was 15, performed Bayimba International Festival of the Arts (September 17 – 19, 2010) at the Uganda National Theatre in Kampala. She speaks to BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI.
Though the darbuka is considered a masculine instrument in the Arab world, you, a woman, play it. What challenges do you face from society over this?
I might be the only Palestinian/Arabic female that plays the darbuka professionally in the world and earn a living by being a musician. Of course there had been challenges being a female percussionist. In general there aren’t so many female drummers/percussionist in the world – but being an Arabic female percussionist makes it more challenging because of the culture. Therefore, there are very few women from the Middle East who are allowed to be professional musicians.
My family was silent for years and some are still silent because it isn’t normal for a woman to play the darbuka, and some of the family members don’t really know what to say or how to react. The most important person who I need to accept is my father. So after years I got some strength to tell him that I am a professional percussionist and wanting him to come and watch one of my shows. He attended and I was so curios to see his reaction. He was surprised and touched; he came up on the stage while I was playing and kissed me on the head, meaning that he has accepted it. This was quite touching. And from that day, two years ago, I just ignore what other people think about me being a musician. My mother was against it for many years, but today she is slowly accepting it. I love playing the Arabic percussion. I feel the energy besides bringing people together.
Have you ever performed in the Arab world? What reaction did you receive?
I played in Egypt recently. It was my first time playing for an Arabic crowd in Cairo. The reaction was amazingly positive. I was so happy and overwhelmed by the reaction – especially because this crowd knew how special it is and I had been looking forward to this moment. People were very surprised; many came and said its so great to see a woman play the percussion, many took pictures with me and some came with cute gifts to show their love and support. So it was one of my best performances.
Has the Arab world accepted you, a woman, playing the darbuka?
The modern Arab communities think it’s so cool and great to see a female on percussion. The young generation thinks it’s normal and cool. The people from more closed communities think it’s so weird and strange for me to play an instrument they only know is played by men.
How best would you describe your music?
I love to play to Arabic remixes; I choose music that I can recognise from my childhood – music back from between the 1950-1970s. Something that I can feel and know people will feel as well. I love to introduce the real cool Arabic music. It’s so important for me to feel the music and let the people feel my energies though the percussion. I really love to fuse different music cultures together, all kind of genres, and I also love to mix my own culture with others, European, African, Asian. I mean it’s just important to be open up and come together through the music.
Say something about your single, Reach Out; When should we expect your next album?
Reach Out is my first single. In the song I tell my story through the music. At the moment I am working on a full album called Navigator. I have called it Navigator because I am making a fusion between the Arabic rhythms mix with other genres, navigating different cultures and mixing and meeting in the middle. It’s electronic, idie, ambient mixed with the Arabic rhythms. My album will be out in December 2010.