The Rubab

A Traditional Afghan Lute

The rubab, also spelled rabab, is a wooden lute originating from Afghanistan, which is mostly played in Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. Its body is traditionally made of a solid block of mulberry wood, with its head being made of goat’s skin and the strings of the intestinal strings of young goats. Its powerful and energetic music have given it the popular name of ‘the lion of instruments’. A few of the rubab’s notable players include Aziz Herawi, Sufiyan Malik and Humayun Sakhi. It is one of the two national instruments of Afghanistan, with its music being extremely popular over there. It also enjoys an important role in the history of Sikhism.

A variant of the rubab called the rubab-e-pamir played in Tajikistan. The rubab was also played in several varied forms in Europe as well. A pear-shaped type was adopted in the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century as the lyra, and spread westward to Europe. A boat-shaped type, which is still played in northern Africa, was introduced by the Arabs to Spain in the 11th century. The rubab also gave rise to the rebec, a bowed string instrument which was played in Italy during the Renaissance.

The rubab is a wide-spread instument: here is an Azerbaijani stamp depicting it. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

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