The Matka

The Complex Simplicity of a Folk Instrument

At Save the Sitar, we have covered many diverse types of instruments, from sarangis to tablas. Continuing this tradition, today we will cover an unusual yet amazing instrument: the matka, an instrument which may appear to the uninitiated as a … pot?! What’s this? We cover instruments, not cooking utensils! Or at least we think so—perhaps we should reread mission statement!

Okay, we’ve checked the matka’s Wikipedia page (our research sources are impeccable) and concluded that it is indeed an instrument. The matka, also known as the ghatam or gara, is ideal for playing rhythmic patterns at an energetic tempo and is a prominent part of folk music throughout much of Pakistan and India. The matka itself is a percussion instrument which is a large clay pot. Despite its simple appearance, playing it is anything but simple. The matka is played by both hands, with the dominant one hitting its abdomen to produce a hard treble sound while the other one plays the bass by clapping its open top and striking its rim with the wrist. This requires extraordinary hand coordination, which is perfectly demonstrated in the video below, where our interviewee, Ghulam Sarwar, plays the matka and sings a traditional Punjabi song. Notice the metal chhalay he wears to protect his fingers while striking the matka, very similar to the mizrabs sitar players use.

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