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The Pontic Greek Family History of Sam Topalidis

The Pontic Greek Family History of Sam Topalidis

My family’s Pontic Greek history documents oral history passed down to me primarily from my mother Kiriaki (Papazoglou) Topalidis and details from documents like death certificates.  It also contains some historical information in the Notes section to place my family’s history in historical context.  This summary of my family’s Pontic Greek history will hopefully spur people, not just Greeks, to share their own researched family history with others.  All our stories need to be told, before they are indeed forgotten, temeteron... Read More

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The Daouli Drum


Sam Topalidis 2014

Pontic author


‘Musical instruments are not just objects of historical interest or tools for music making: they are windows into society, history, and technology.’ 2




This work describes the history of the daouli drum, how it is played, how it is constructed and its past distribution in Turkey.  Reference is also made of its importance in Pontic music from the Black Sea coastal area of northeastern Turkey (the Pontos). 

The daouli is a double-headed suspended cylindrical drum played with two beaters (Figure 1) in Greece, Turkey (where it is called davul) and in other countries.  The daouli is also called: daule (Albania), dohol (Iran), dhol (Armenia), doli (Georgia) and tabl turki (Arab countries).9  (See note 1.)

Rural Greeks owe much of their sense of traditional music to those who play instruments for open-air village fair like the daouli and zourna (note 2).  Those self-taught players continue the Greek musical traditions, as the dwindling number of their successors continue to do today.  This is the tradition not only of the performer, but of the maker of the popular folk instruments of Greece who often play instruments they have manufactured themselves.1 

In most of Turkey, the daouli is the primary ‘dance drum’.  It accompanies stringed instruments in the Aegean zeybek-s, it accompanies one or more zourna in central, eastern and southeastern Turkish halay-s, and it is part of the heterogeneous ensemble that is used to perform karshilama (partner dance) and other wedding dances in Turkish Thracian Roman villages (note 3).  The one exception: it is only used for horon in the Trabzon city area, as most horons (line dances from the Black Sea coastal region of northeastern Turkey) do not incorporate drums.2  (See note 4.) 

In relation to Pontic dance music, in the Turkish northeastern Black Sea area the kemenche (Pontic lyra) is the basic musical instrument (see www.pontosworld.com/index.php/music/instruments/925-the-kemenche).  The zourna and daouli are only used when it was impossible to hear the kemenche (i.e. outside in a large crowd).  The daouli was not usually played with the kemenche; the bagpipe (tulum) was preferred as a second instrument (note 5).5 



The daouli is a wooden cylinder, covered at both parallel ends with skin held taut by rope and is principally a rhythmic instrument.  It is played by striking the drum-head with two specially made wooden drumsticks, held one in each hand.  For the right-handed drummer, the drum-beater held in the left hand is very thin and light.  In contrast, the drum-beater held in the right hand is much thicker, heavier and can resemble a club.1  (The descriptions that follow assume the player is right handed.  Left-handed players grasp the drumsticks with the opposite hands.)

Daouli and beaters: diameter 38 cm, cylindrical frame 20 cm high


Figure 1. Daouli and beaters: diameter 38 cm, cylindrical frame 20 cm high.1


The daouli is made in various sizes: the diameter of each skin surface (drum-head) varies from around 25 to 100 cm, and its height (the distance between the two skin surfaces) ranges from around 20 to 60 cm.  The size of the daouli is influenced by tradition (depending on the region) and the physical dimensions of the drum player, who makes the drum to suit his or her height, girth, strength and the length of their arms.  In the years since World War II, progressively smaller daoulia have been made in Greece.1  



For the presence of daouli type drums either among the Western Turks in general or in Middle Eastern or European countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, no unambiguous iconographical or textural evidence earlier than the 14th century has been found.  There is iconographic evidence, however, that the main constructional features of this drum were fully developed a millennium and a half earlier.6 

In iconographical evidence from South Asia, the use of direct
strap-bracing (without the intervention of a lapped hoop) is shown in reliefs at Bharhut (central India), completed between 100 and 75 BC in which, on a barrel drum, a central girdle serves as anchor for a simple W-bracing running from head to girdle.6

A contrary view is, the daouli was known as early as Byzantine times (9th century), when it originally appears to have had smaller dimensions and was long and narrow in shape.  It was used extensively from then on is evidenced by Byzantine and post Byzantine miniatures and wall-paintings.  In all of these, from such early examples as the miniature depicted in the 9th century illuminated manuscript from the Pantocrator Monastery, Mount Athos, to the more recent miniatures and wall-paintings dating from the 14th to the 18th century one can discern basic morphological characteristics, as well as methods of playing the daouli of the present day – the form, the manner in which the bracing is tied and the instrument is slung over the shoulder, the use of the drumsticks for beating the instrument.1


Playing the Daouli

As an instrument intended to provide rhythm, the daouli is never played solo, but is always heard in combination with at least one melodic instrument.  Together with the zourna, the daouli makes up the ziyia, the traditional instrumental group of mainland Greece in particular, the group with which so many generations have enjoyed their folk songs; at festivities, marriage and baptism celebrations or village fair.  These two instruments are well suited for open-air performances with their strong penetrating sound.1

The daouli is suspended over the left shoulder by a shoulder-strap, with its centre of gravity below the waist, (or slung from a leather harness, circling the chest and passing over the left shoulder).6 

The proximal end of the handle of the larger beater is held gripped by all the fingers of the right hand.  On the upstroke, the inertia of the beater-head tends to open the grip of the fingers, while during the strike, flexing of the fingers adds speed to the movement of the head – an important determinant of tone quality.6 

The drummer strikes the centre of the beater-head, or slightly off-centre or can be struck relatively closer to the edge.  The striking of the head at or near the centre will tend to suppress all overtones with a node at the centre and, in general, to reduce the intensity of higher overtones in favour of lower overtones.  The breadth of the beater-head in many of the types of larger beater will still further reduce the higher, inharmonious overtones characteristic of drums with heads of uniform thickness.  By contrast, the much lighter, thin beater struck with the left hand, making brief
(non-damping) contact with the lower head, and at times along a radius, almost from hoop to centre, will generate a sound rich in upper partials.
  Hitting the upper hoop or the shell itself will also have this effect.6 

When a snare is present, the damping of the head is accelerated, and the sound has a dry, rattling or buzzing quality, due to ‘chatter’ of the stretched snare on the vibrating skin.  The presence of the rare ‘air-hole’ should tend to uncouple the two heads, so that the energy of vibration is less readily transmitted between them.6 

In general, the larger beater marks the strong beat (or beats) in each measure, while the small beater fills in the weak beats, in part or completely.  The absolute and relative pitches of the two heads differ.6

When playing at a festive gathering, the drum-player may remark, ‘I’m playing the way he dances’, at the same moment the leading dancer is saying, ‘I’m dancing the way he beats on his drum’.  It is to this intercommunication, the rapport established between the leading dancer and the musicians that the character of each folk song is due.1  

One of the markers of good daouli players is the extraordinarily fast speed of their articulated stick rhythms.2  It appears that the Pontic Greek diaspora who live in Greece, other European countries as well as America and Australia now play the daouli more often with their main musical instrument, the kemenche. 


How it is constructed

The first step to make a daouli is to construct a cylindrical frame or skeleton of the desired size.  A cylindrical wooden surface is then cut to the dimensions of the framework, and nailed to the latter.1  (See note 6.) 

The wooden surface, the drum-shell, is made of a single piece of layered wood, traditionally of beech or walnut.  In order to acquire its cylindrical form, the wood is first soaked in water, or worked into shape by means of fire.  Two iron rings are attached to this wooden shell when it is ready; subsequently, when the instrument has been completely finished (with skins attached), a sling is passed through these so that the drum can be suspended from the shoulder of the drummer.1 

Finally, an ‘air-hole’ is cut at some point in the surface of the cylindrical shell so that the air inside the drum can ‘leak out’ – so that the skins do not burst as a result of the vibrational movement of the air inside the drum when it is beaten.  This air-hole also affects the sound produced by the instrument; a very small opening makes for a sombre and dull sound, whereas a very large hole makes for a hollow sound.  The usual diameter of the air-hole ranges from around 1 to 2 cm, according to the size of the drum.  On large drums, there are occasionally two and sometimes even three such air-holes.1

To make the two heads of the drum, goatskin, or more rarely, sheepskin (which is not as strong as goatskin) is treated and used.  The hides of the wolf, the dog (are used only for small drums), and the donkey are also considered suitable material, because ‘they are strong and do not have many pores’.1 

There are two main methods for preparing the hides.  Either the skin is sun-dried, or it is salted by the addition of alum, and kept rolled up from three to five days, after which it is soaked in slaked lime and water, again from three to five days.  Then it is cleaned and made as thin as desired with a piece of glass.  Many tanners grease it with oil so that it will remain soft when it has dried out.1 

Ready-made commercially produced hides are also used to make
  After it has been tanned, the skin is then stretched and fastened to two wooden hoops, which are fitted to the two parallel ends of the cylindrical shell of the drum.  Finally, even spaced holes are cut around the circumference of the skins.  A rope is them passed through the holes of the two skins, bracing them together, and is tightened by being bound in different ways.1

In some regions, where small drums are commonly used, as in eastern Crete, two snares of sheep gut are diametrically stretched over either one or both of the drum-heads, and are fastened to the wooden hoop or hoops, as the case may be.  These snares add sharpness and a distinctive timbre to the sound of the drum.1 

Though goat skins are commonly used in Gaziantep (in southeastern Turkey), the two heads are made of skins differing in thickness.  The thinner skin comes from a male kid, while the thicker skin (for use with the heavier beater) is taken from an older female goat that has not as yet born young.6  (See note 7.)

There are two main classes of large beaters: crook-shaped and
  In the former class, the head of the beater that strikes the batter head of the drum is a planar hook or crook (either hollow or solid).  In the latter class, the head of the beater is a spheroidal, oval or ellipsoidal solid of revolution, surmounting a cylindrical staff.  The proximal end of the handle of many large beaters; and in particular those associated with
rope-braced drums, is shaped to facilitate use in tightening the bracing.

The small beater: is usually a straight twig of hardwood, frequently cornel, stripped free from bark and may be quite plain or provided with a finger-grip of wool or leather.  Juniper is also another suitable wood.6 


Distribution in Turkey

Up to the 1970s (at least), the daouli was probably endemic in most of the provinces of Turkey in the sense that some of the inhabitants of each province (with the possible exception of the Pontos region) whatever their precise ethnic status, themselves made and played the instrument.  In the Pontos region, however, both drummers and zourna players are likely to be migrants from other provinces.6 

The existence of differences between drums from different regions in Turkey argues against the view that ‘gypsies’ of one sort or another, roving freely through Thrace and Turkey, are the bearers of the drum tradition (note 8).  Drums may differ: in size and in the construction of the shell etc.  If the distribution of these different elements is mapped, it becomes evident that they undergo independent variation.6  


Concluding Remarks

The daouli drum is a much loved musical instrument played over Greece, Turkey and many other countries including countries where the Greek and Turkish diaspora now reside.  Opinions seem to vary in the literature on the occurrence of playing of the daouli in Pontic Greek or Pontic Turk music.  We need new studies written in English to enhance the significant work of the past1, 6 on the status of playing the daouli and other folk instruments in Greece and Turkey and what the future may hold.

May we foster the playing of folk music as a means of expressing joy, a reflection of our society, history and a means for building a mutual bridge of understanding our cultures. 




Note 1:  The two main references in this work, from a Greek and a Turkish perspective, although they were published in the 1970s, are still valuable sources today.  In 1976 Mr Fivos Anoyanakis first published his landmark book, Greek popular musical instruments in Greek.  It was first published in English in 1979.  His second English edition, published in 1991, contained no updates to his earlier edition.  Thus his research is accurate up to 1975.  In 1975, the Englishman, Dr Laurence Picken, published detailed research for his ‘magisterial’ book, Folk musical instruments of Turkey.


Note 2:  The zourna is an ‘oboe-like’ woodwind instrument which uses a double reed and generates a piercing sound. 


Note 3:  Davul zourna olmassa ben de gelin olmam’ – ‘If drum and oboe are not there I don’t want to be the bride’.  This Turkish proverb shows how much this daouli and zourna music is revered, that a village wedding without it seems impossible.3 


Note 4:  Until a few decades prior to 2001, folk instruments in Turkey were played either solo or in small groups.  From around 2001, there was a growing tendency for many instruments to be played together.  In large and medium-size cities, there was also an increasing tendency, at the festivals of wealthier groups, to add European and electronic instruments.  All over Turkey, folk music groups incorporated a variety of instruments, both Western and traditional, to create small orchestras; these performed with amateur and professional singers at festivals.8  


Note 5:  Markos Dragoumis (2003) Director of the Musical Folklore Archives of the Centre of Asia Minor Studies in Athens, stated the favoured musical instrument of Pontic Greeks was the kemenche.  Another traditional instrument is the tulum (bagpipe) which is sometimes accompanied by the large daouli.4 

Alkis Raftis (199?) the President of the national Dora Stratou Dance Theatre and Company in Athens, stated in relation to Pontic Greek music, the kemenche was mainly played solo or accompanying the singer.  Nevertheless, when the dance takes place in the open air the kemenche may be accompanied by a second kemenche or a daouli.  He further adds, ‘It is necessary for a wide dance circle to be accompanied by a percussion instrument which produces strong sound and marks the tune.  This instrument is the daouli, which is nowadays replaced by modern percussion instruments with electronic amplification.’ 7  In fact, on the Dora Stratou Greek Dance Theatre produced CD, Twenty Pontic dances and songs, a daouli is played on 11 of the 20 songs.  And magnificently played as well!


Note 6:  In the description in one area in Turkey, strong leather thonging replaced nails, as iron nails impaired the sound of the drum – perhaps because of their tendency to work loose and buzz, or because of their tendency to corrode.6 


Note 7:  The following link is to a useful video on how to make a daouli (in Greek with English subtitles):  http://vimeo.com/21460051

This link is to an article updated in 2004 by David Golber on how he makes daouli drums: http://www.phantomranch.net/folkdanc/articles/tapan.htm


Note 8:  In Greece, gypsies have in the past occupied a special place in the folk musician’s world.  They contribution to Greek popular music due to their passionate playing and especially in the evolution of an instrumental style as well as in some instances the very structure of folk melody.1




1. Anoyanakis, F 1991, Greek popular musical instruments, 2nd edition, Melissa Publishing House, Athens.


2. Bates, E 2011, Music in Turkey: experiencing music, expressing culture, Oxford University Press, New York.


3. Dietrich W 1977, Folk music of Turkey, booklet provided with the music CD which was recorded between 1968 and 1976, Topic records, England.


4. Dragoumis MPh 2003, Songs of Pontos: recordings of 1930, Booklet provided with the Pontic Greek double CD, produced by friends of Melpo Merlier Music Folklore Archive with the cooperation of the Infognomon Publishing Company, Athens.


5. Kilpatrick, DB 1980, Function and style in Pontic dance music (A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction for the Doctor of Philosophy in Music 1975, University of California, L.A.), Archeion Pontou [Archives of Pontos], supplement no.12, Epitropi Pontiakon Meleton [The Committee for Pontic Studies] Athens.


6. Picken, L 1975, Folk musical instruments of Turkey, Oxford University Press, London.


7. Raftis, A 199?, Twenty Pontic dances and songs, Booklet provided with Pontic Greek music CD, Dora Stratou Greek Dance Theatre, Athens. 


8. Reinhard, U 2002, ‘Turkey: an overview’, The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, vol. 6, The Middle East, pp. 759–77. 


9. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2001, vol. 7, ‘Davul’, p. 82.



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