Believe it or not, the dumbek was once thought of as the bottom of the food chain in Middle Eastern music. But that, fortunately, is in the past, and the dumbek has ascended to its rightful status as a hipster piece of percussion. Even better news, Remo has now given this wonderful instrument a face-lift and an upgrade. Visually stunning, each Ergo-Drum System dumbek is a powerhouse of intelligent design and rhythmic flavors.
Modeled after traditional Middle Eastern designs, the contoured Ergo-Drum System features light-weight Acousticon shells, which are a pleasure to carry around, particularly on the bigger drums during extended jams. The dumbeks’ ergonomic counterhoop and bearing edge, along with the recessed key-tuned system, are also huge performance boons — no more hurt and broken hands. The drums’ flared end helps you maintain a comfortable playing position at all times, and if you want to play one of the dumbeks in your lap, you don’t have to worry about the drum slipping off.
The drums are available in three visually striking coverings — Sapphire Ruby, Amethyst Citrine, and Emerald Garnet. The finishes have a cool sparkle and colorful tile-like design that is both unique and fitting for the contemporary percussion player. Real beauties. So if you’re a gigging du’er, you’ll definitely want to invest in some protection.
Traditionally, many dumbeks have used fish-skin heads. Directly affected by weather, however, these heads were difficult and unpredictable to tune. (If any of you stick swingers remember playing calfskin heads, you know what I’m talking about.) The Ergo-Drum system, though, features Remo’s wonderful, brand-spanking-new Skyndeep graphic drumhead, which is synthetic and uses a proprietary ink-embedding process for the graphic. Rising or falling temperatures? Outdoor gigs? No problem for the Skyndeep. Cranking up the head was fairly simple and produced some outstanding slaps. The bass tone didn’t change all that much and never sounded choked off or distorted.
The name dumbek is derived from the instrument’s two pitches — doum (or dum) for the open tone and bek for the slap. And let me tell you that the drums whip out a whole lot of both. With the 8" drum you can achieve a big sound without compromising the high-pitch slaps and pops most commonly associated with Middle Eastern percussion. Bass tones from the 9" dumbek were also deep and full, while slaps and pops were crisp and tight. I tested the sustainability of the bass tones by cranking up the tuning a good bit. At a certain point, the bottom end was a little thin but not terribly so. Finger snaps and slaps cut through at both ends of the tuning spectrum.
The largest drum, 10" in diameter, really projects and has a terrific bass tone with great sustain. Just like on the smaller drums, slaps just pop out effortlessly. This is in part, I believe, because of the comfortable Ergo design and posture of the drum. I took advantage of the accompanying 5/32" nylon chord, which is used to extend the tuning range, as I put the dumbek through its paces. The nylon chord adds a pretty hip way to adjust the drum’s pitch range higher without having the drumhead protrude past the counterhoop. All you have to do is remove the counterhoop, lay the chord directly on and around the drumhead, replace the counterhoop, and then tighten normally. The drumhead stays flush with the counterhoop and therefore maintains a flat playing surface. After a certain point, though, the drum did not get any higher in pitch and began to choke the bottom end.
I took a couple of the drums for a real-world test drive. The gig was in a venue with lots of high ceilings, and the small ensemble included piano, flute, clarinet, and cello. During the concert, the dumbeks provided solid and full rhythmic support. I could hear every little nuance — from the softest pops to the long sustain of the open bass tones. With no amplification at all, the dumbeks cut through perfectly, and the balance between the instruments was wonderful. Tuning on the fly, however, was difficult because the ratchet end of the two-piece tuning key kept coming off the handle, leaving the end piece stuck in the drum. But that’s a small complaint when you consider that the drums added such a beautiful color and flare to the music.
How to wrap up my experience playing Remo’s Ergo-Drum System dumbeks? I simply have to give praise. The drums live up to traditional values but also seamlessly incorporate modern technology without sacrificing sound or feel. All three sizes perform excellently and look fantastic. So I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one to fall in love with.
Remo Ergo-Drum System Dumbek
Acousticon shell, ergonomic counterhoop, Skyndeep drumhead (with “Fish Skin” graphic), two-piece tuning key
Sapphire Ruby, Amethyst Citrine, and Emerald Garnet
8" x 18" $195
9" x 18" $205
10" x 18" $215
Remo, 28101 Industry Dr.,