Davul-Zurna / Tapan-Zurla – Drum and shawm

Until this day, the ensemble playing of large cylindrical drum and conical oboe (Turk. davul-zurna, Maced. tapan-zurla) has held an important place in the folk music, customs and celebrations of Turkey and south-eastern Europe (Macedonia, Southern Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Bulgaria and the Greek mainland). Even though, in the past four decades, different electronic music groups have become increasingly popular (for accompanying dances), in many regions these two instruments are still indispensable at weddings and other festive occasions, such as (religious or secular) holidays, Muslim circumcision ceremonies, fairs or traditional wrestling bouts.

Davul-zurna are almost exclusively played by Roma, for whom making music is usually the main occupation or at least a side job (Roma as professional musicians). Generally, they are men coming from families of musicians where the knowledge of playing instruments is passed down from father to son. In most cases the musicians belong to long-settled (mainly Muslim) Roma groups, who live on the outskirts of villages or in separate quarters of town (Turk. "mahalle"; Romani: e mahála). In Greece these Roma are called Yiftoi by the population in order to distinguish them from (formerly) nomadic groups. This term – derived from Eyiftoi ("Egyptians"), admittedly often with a pejorative connotation – is also used as a synonym for "instrumentalist" (organopaichtis) by the Greeks.

Drum-shawm are played not only for the (majority) population of the respective region (Turks, Greeks, Macedonians, Albanians, Bulgarians and others), but also of course for the ceremonies and traditional events of the Roma themselves. At weddings, circumcisions or holidays (e.g. herdelezi, St George’s Day), they still play an important part, accompanying traditional dances or customs. In Skopje’s Šutka and other Macedonian Roma settlements, for example, the tapan-zurla play during the wedding procession on the street, marking important ritual moments such as dyeing the bride’s hair, hands and feet with henna, the arrival of a new guest or the slaughter of a lamb and the welcoming of guests on herdelezi (Silverman 2000). [audio illustration: tapan-zurla] If, amongst the Sepečides (basket makers) from Izmir (Turkey), the davul-zurna sound on the morning of the third wedding day, the bride’s virginity is considered to be proven. Thanks to these responsibilities and their symbolic connection with Roma identity itself, drum and shawm still coexist with modern music bands today.

Davul-zurna are usually played outdoors, not least due to the penetrating, “shrill” sound of the oboe and the high volume of the ensemble.

The zurna (Turk., Maced., Serb.: "zurla"; "zurna"; Greek: "zournas"; "karamouza"; Alban. "surle", Romani: e zurla; e zurna) is a shawm made of wood, with a wide conical bell. It has a double-reed mouthpiece, and mostly seven, sometimes six or eight finger-holes and a thumb-hole. A pirouette – a disc ideally made of metal, but also cardboard, if necessary – is attached to the point where the brass staple with the double reed has been inserted into the wooden tube. This makes it easier for the player to use the technique of "circular breathing", enabling continuous play: after filling the cheeks with air, inhalation takes place through the nose only, accompanied by air being breathed out through the mouth. [audio illustrations: 2 surnāī und 2 Trommeln / 2 zurna und davul] Depending on country and region, the oboes are of different length, on average 30-45 cm, but sometimes up to 60 cm. In Anatolia, a differentiation is made between three sizes: the large, low kaba zurna, the normal (orta) zurna (corresponding to the Macedonian "velika"), and the cura zurna (corresponding to the Macedonian "velika" and the Greek "pipiza"). The playing of the zurna – which Felix Hoerburger (1966), following jazz terminology, described as "dirty" – is characterised by microtonal deviations, virtuoso glissandi and ornaments (fast trills and auxiliary notes as well as vibrato created by changing breath pressure; cp. Rice 1982; Brandl 1996; Silverman 2000).

The davul (Turk., Maced., Serb. "tapan"; "tupan"; Serb. "goč""bubanj"; Greek "daouli"; Alban. "lodrë", Romani: o davuli, o daúli) is a large cylindrical drum made of wood with two membranes (goat or calf skin) held by hoops and a W-shaped rope tension. The height of the shell is usually less than the diameter of the skin (e.g. 50:60). The main beats are executed with a curved or hook-shaped wooden stick called "tokmak" or "çokmak" (Turk.), "mavalka" (Maced.), "čukalka" (Serb.), "macarung", "kukë" or "topuz" (Alban.); the rhythmic subdivisions are played with a thin (bamboo) stick (Turk. "çubuk"; Macedon. "prčka"; Serb. "prutić"; Alban. "thurbes"). The drum is suspended over the shoulder with the membrane for the main beats pointing upwards, so that the right hand can take a big swing before landing the stick diagonally from above. The other hand rests on the edge of the shell, letting the beats subdividing the rhythm vibrate on the membrane.

In Macedonia and Turkey, the davulcu (Turk., "drummer"; Maced. "tapandži") is mostly the leading player, with the zurnacı (Turk., "oboe player"; Maced. "zurladži") standing or sitting next to him. The davulcu moves with the dancers or joins them in a circle, sometimes also performing artistic tricks (e.g. swinging the drum high above his head or putting a leg across it). In Greece and Albania it is usually the other way round: the oboist plays the main role and sometimes also performs artistic tricks, like balancing – with the help of some glue – a full glass of wine on his instrument while playing (Reinhard 2000; Hoerburger 1954, 1976, 1994).

In many regions of Turkey usually only one of each instrument is used. In Greece and Macedonia, however, often two shawms are played to the drum, with the (alternating) drone of the second zurna accompanying the melodic play of the first. [audio illustration: 2 zurna und davul] Occasionally both oboes play in heterophonic unison, in octaves or parallel thirds. In addition to dance or song melodies, the leading zurna player performs rhythmically-free melodic improvisations and metric variations. The drummer also improvises, making use of the different sounds of the two membranes (Rice 1982; Silverman 2000; Hoerburger 1986a: 238ff.; 1994). Sometimes a larger number of drums and oboes play together; in Kosovo for instance the ensembles, consisting of at least four players, may have up to ten musicians (Pettan 2002).

The German musicologist Felix Hoerburger (1954; 1966) advocated the theory that davul-zurna are a genuine ensemble of the Roma, which they brought from north-west India to Europe. Indeed, the earliest attestations of this pair of instruments do not date from until after their appearance in the Orient and the Balkans (pictorial representations in Macedonian churches from the first half of the 14th century – before the arrival of the Ottomans in Europe – correlate with the first reports mentioning Roma in the Southern Balkans; Hoerburger 1954: 24ff.). Moreover, the origin of these instruments, and to some extent also their names, can be traced back to the Middle East and India. In Afghanistan and in Iran the drum and oboe are called dohol or dhol and sornā or surnai, in Pakistan and Rajasthan ḍholak or ḍhol and surnā, surnāī or śahnāī. This pair of instruments can also be found in northern Africa and – in modified form – western Africa and East Asia (China, Malaysia), its spread being apparently paralleled by that of Islam (Hoerburger 1986b: 253). From East Afghanistan and Pakistan eastwards the drums are usually no longer cylindrical, but barrel-shaped; and from India to East Asia the shawm, rather than being a conically bored instrument made from a single piece of wood, has a conical metal bell attached to the tube.

The large area where the drum and shawm are prevalent is characterised by some cross-regional common features, notably their role on festive occasions (mainly weddings), and the fact that they are usually played by professional musicians mostly belonging to the lowest social strata. In Pakistan and North India, partly also in Afghanistan, the drum-oboe players are members of ethnic groups (or casts) called Ḍom, also Mīrāsī or Bericho.


Brandl, Rudolf M. (2000) Die "Yiftoi" und die Musik in Griechenland – Rolle und Funktion. In: Baumann, Max Peter (ed.) Music, Language and Literature of the Roma and Sinti (= Intercultural Music Studies 11). Berlin, pp. 195-224.
Bryant, Wanda (1991) Musical Change in Turkish Zurna Music. In: Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology 6, pp. 1-34.
Hoerburger, Felix (1954) Der Tanz mit der Trommel (= Quellen und Forschungen zur musikalischen Folklore 2). Regensburg.
Hoerburger, Felix (1966) Musica Vulgaris. Lebensgesetze der instrumentalen Volksmusik (= Erlangener Forschungen. Reihe A: Geisteswissenschaften 19). Erlangen.
Hoerburger, Felix (1976) Die Zournâs-Musik in Griechenland. Verbreitung und Erhaltungszustand. In: Reinhard, Kurt (ed.) Studien zur Musik Südost-Europas (= Beiträge zur Ethnomusikologie 4). Hamburg, pp. 28-48.
Hoerburger, Felix (1986a) Zur weltweiten Verbreitung der orientalischen Volksoboe. In: Eichiner, Hans / Emmerig, Thomas (eds.) Volksmusikforschung, Aufsätze und Vorträge 1953-1984 über Volkstanz und instrumentale Volksmusik. Laaber, pp. 250-259.
Hoerburger, Felix (1986b) Beobachtungen zur Improvisationspraxis der Zurna-Spieler. In: Eichiner, Hans / Emmerig, Thomas (eds.) Volksmusikforschung, Aufsätze und Vorträge 1953-1984 über Volkstanz und instrumentale Volksmusik. Laaber, pp. 239-249.
Hoerburger, Felix (1994) Valle popullore. Tanz und Tanzmusik der Albaner im Kosovo und in Makedonien (Hg. v. Thomas Emmerig u. Mitarb. v. Adelheid Feilcke-Tiemann u. Bernd Reuer). Frankfurt a.M. etc..
Pettan, Svanibor (2002) Rom Musicians in Kosovo. Interaction and Creativity (= Gypsy Folk Music of Europe 5), Budapest.
Peycheva, Lozanka / Dimov, Ventsislav (2002) The Zurna Tradition in Southwest Bulgaria. Romani Musicians in Practice. (Bulgarian Musicology – Researches), Sofia.
Picken, Laurence (1975) Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey. London.
Reinhard, Kurt / Reinhard, Ursula (1984) Musik der Türkei. Band 2: Die Volksmusik, Wilhelmshaven.
Reinhard, Ursula (2000) Grenzstile der Roma-Musik zwischen Orient und Okzident. In: Baumann, Max Peter (ed.) Music, Language and Literature of the Roma and Sinti (= Intercultural Music Studies 11). Berlin, pp. 225-245.
Rice, Timothy (1982) The surla and tapan Tradition in Yugoslav Macedonia. In: The Galpin Society Journal 35/3, pp. 123-137.
Sadie, Stanley (ed.) (1984) The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. London.
Sadie, Stanley / Tyrrell, John (eds.) (2001) The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition. London.
Silverman, Carol (2000) Music and Power. Gender and Performance among Roma (Gypsies) of Skopje, Macedonia, In: Baumann, Max Peter (ed.) Music, Language and Literature of the Roma and Sinti (= Intercultural Music Studies 11). Berlin, pp. 247-262.

Sound Recordings

Dietrich, Wolf (ed.) (1996) Gypsy music of Macedonia and neighbouring countries. Collected in the field by Wolf Dietrich (TSCD914).


Brandl, Rudolf M. (2000) Zournas und Daouli – Umzug am Heiligen Abend im Bazar von Thessaloniki (Live-Aufnahme am 24.12.1999), RMB Video, Orbis Musicarum, Live Recordings from the Phonogrammarchiv of Göttingen University, OM 23. ISBN 3-927636-65-7 (8,5 min). Göttingen.
Image Printable version
Image tapan-zurla
Image 2 surnāī and 2 drums
Image 2 zurna and davul
Çırpıköy (Turkey), 2003
Dolno (Bulgaria)