Status of the Tonbak Players of the Past
was not considered as a solo instrument in the past. I should explain
that in Ghajar period vocalists were of two kinds: avazkhan and tasnifkhan.
The avazkhan's job was to sing the non-rhythmic compositions of Persian
radif repertoire and the tasnikhan's job was to sing the rhythmic compositions
of Persian art music. Though there were some vocalists that were the master
of the both kinds: for this maybe the most famous example is the late
Ostad Abdollah Davami. Also most of the tasnifkhan-s were tonbak player
(zarbgir). So tonbak was the instrument to be played by the singers and
it was not considered as an independent instrument.
the past, tonbak players were to undergo at the hands of their fellow
musicians and from their status in society. They had to bear humiliation,
insults and exploitation This is still in some views true. Tonbak players
are labeled as accompanists, considered second-class citizens of the music
world, even if they occasionally play solos. This ill treatment that they
receive is partly due to the generally held concept that tonbak is incapable
of expressing different emotions. Tonbak has its own unique role in Persian
music and it seems that any other instrument cannot be substituted.
the early part of this century, tonbak was used mainly as an accompanying
instrument. The primary job of tonbak players was to play the basic rhythmic
structure as an underpinning to vocal and instrumental music. They had
to maintain a low profile at all times, even when the soloist made a mistake
and yelled at them in public. They had to be silent and could not say
anything because they were afraid of losing their job. They were the only
ones who knew how much devotion lay behind their skill. The pain of knowing
this and yet not being permitted to express it sometimes made them desperate.
all these negative attitudes, tonbak players fortunately never ceased
to improve and according to the most of the researchers this revolution
started by the late Ostad Hosain Tehrani. It was necessary for tonbak
to be free from the yoke of tasnifkhan-s and to be given at the hands
of players that they were interested to work on tonbak more seriously
The world went through a series of upheavals. Also some movements happened
in Iran. Due to this turmoil, the Iran's social structure began to change.
This, in turn, had a strong effect on musicians and music. The former
music patrons, i.e. the kings and aristocrats, were replaced by businessmen
Music Colleges and Radio and then TV. Rather than performing in small
salons for groups of relatively cultured aristocrats who apparently were
trained to appreciate the classical form, musicians increasingly were
expected to perform in larger halls for larger and apparently less well-educated
audiences with different tastes.
This bad social status of tonbak players and these changes in Iran caused
that tonbak players started to change and make movements.
tonbak masters such as Ostad Hosain Tehrani
because of their love of tonbak tried to make some changes. Gradually
tonbak and tonbak player made a better place in the music world. Then
other prominent tonbak masters such as Ostad
Nasser Farhangfar came to fore and progressed the tonbak more. The
clarity, stamina, extraordinary speed and overall power of these tonbak
players caused the tonbak to reach to the very good point of progress
and popularity. Tonbak found more roles in instrumental music, though
one of the most important characteristics of the art of tonbak playing,
i.e. to play cyclic rhythms, was forgotten.
Social Status of the Tonbak Players of Today
effort of these dear and devotee tonbak players such as Ostad
Hosain Tehrani and Ostad Nasser Farhangfar
caused that tonbak became more popular among well-educated people and
found more roles in instrumental music. Tonbak players of today now really
play very good. The clarity, stamina, extraordinary speed and overall
power of today tonbak players are really praiseworthy. But by taking these
progresses into consideration, the question rises: what good has it really
done to the social status of tonbak players? Maybe tonbak players of today
are more successful apparently. But the overall image of the tonbak player
is almost the same as the past. They are those accompaniments and the
secondary musician on the stage. The primary job of the tonbak player
is still to make the main artist's music more colorful and enjoyable by
becoming an adjunct to him or her. The social status of tonbak players
has not changed and in fact only their exposure has altered.
Should It Be Done?
my opinion the way that Ostad Hosain Tehrani had started should be continued
and tonbak players should start again to make more tonbak solo recitals.
By this comment I am not trying to say that the accompanying style of
tonbak playing is not incredible. Accompaniment is an art in itself, particularly
when it is performed on tonbak. There are many sensitive and intelligent
tonbak players, which show the power and beauty of the techniques of the
art of accompaniment.
The idea of this article comes from an article of the excellent work of
Pt. Aloke Dutta, Tabla, Lessons and Practice, 2nd Edition.
Ruhollah Khaleghi, Sargozasht-e-Musighi-ye-Iran, Tehran, 1974.
[M]: Hassan Mashhoun, Tarikh-e-Musighi-ye-Iran, Tehran, 1994.
[NS]: Peyman Nasehpour and Siamak Sahafi, Vas'iyat-e-Ejtema'i-ye-Tonbak
Navazan, Farda-ye-Behtar Magazine, No.16, 2nd year, Oct. 22nd, 1999.
[T]: Hosain Tehrani, Amouzesh-e-Tombak (Tombak Rudiment), Tehran, 1970.
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