Riq – The Unbelievable Story Behind the Popularity of the Smallest Percussion Instrument

Percussion instruments have been around for centuries and can make a song exciting, add drama and flair to your music, and set the whole mood of a song. There is a vast variety of percussion instruments with different sounds and playing techniques around the globe.

If you’re a fan of traditional percussion instruments, then you must have heard about the Riqq. But you must be curious about how an instrument used by Arabic-speaking countries gained popularity around the world?

In this article, you’ll learn how the Riq, also known as tef, traveled from the pyramids to all around Europe and gained popularity among the masses.

An Overview Of The Riqq

The Riq belongs to the frame drums family and is a kind of tambourine with a 9″ diameter and five double jingles attached to it. This unique instrument originates from the Middle East, especially in Egypt, where the Egyptians used it for traditional music.

The Riqq has a rich history and has traveled the world with time. Let’s dig in a bit deeper and follow the journey this unique instrument has had.

Design Of The Riq

The traditional Riqq was made from a wooden frame and animal skin, and sometimes artists used complex design patterns to decorate the frame. 

Modern-day instruments use metals and synthetic materials.

History And The Timeline Of The Riq

For a long period of time, the Riqq was solely played in Egypt, and at the time, it seemed that the instrument would slowly die off or evolve as the years rolled on. In ancient Egypt, the Tambourine was primarily used in entertainment ensembles hired for weddings and other celebrations along with other Middle eastern Instruments

Riqq was also widely heard at tourist venues and theaters as it produced existing virtuosic rhythms.

The Riqq, which by the way, you can also spell as “riq, rik, daf or tef,” started its global journey when the crusaders brought it to Europe from the Middle East in the 13th century.

Women usually played the instrument along with songs and dances.

However, the Riqq did not gain any significant popularity until the 18th century when the Ottoman mehter music started to influence Opera music.

The Riqq was then a regular part of opera shows, with its signature sound easily detectable among other opera instruments and added much more flair and drama to the performances.

The Instrument was further introduced to the rest of the world by the Spanish and Portuguese colonists and settlers who took the instrument with them wherever they went.

Riqq In the Modern Times

As the Riqq became increasingly famous and popular among musical artists all around the world, it evolved and changed its shape and size to better suit the requirements. 

Here’s how the Riqq is identified and played in different regions worldwide:

Riq In Europe

In current times, the Riqq is known by many different names in different regions of the world; for example, the European nations named the musical instrument tambour in their own language. 

The Riqq has even made its way into Italy, where it is called the ‘Tamburello,’ and you can enjoy the instrument in the country’s folk music industry.

Riq In The Turkish Culture

The Turkish music industry uses the Riqq as a tempo percussion instrument, and you can hear it quite a lot in Turkish traditional music. The instrument is calledTef in multiple regions, and you would be mesmerized to see the intricate designs crafted on the instrument by Turkish artisans.

Players around the world fall in love with Turkish Riqq designs, and some of the best players in the world belong to Turkey.

Riq In India

Indians use a form of the Riqq called the ‘Daf’ in their folk music and a few theatrical performances as well, but you won’t find it being played excessively in other musical genres of the country.


The Riqq is a fascinating instrument that produces exciting and uplifting rhythms. If you are an enthusiast of ancient Middle eastern Instruments, the Riqq is definitely an instrument that you should try. 

And if you’re an artist looking to add an exciting touch to your music, the Riqq will help you do wonders with its percussive sounds that just make the listener want to get up and dance!

One thought

  1. Hello,
    I’m a professional riqq player and maker for more than 20 years.
    Most of the information in this article is incorrect, misguiding those who read it:

    1. Riqq did NOT originate in Egypt. Most probably it first appeared in Mesopotamian cultures, we can not be sure, anyhow it spread/appeared in the West Asia many centuries ago.

    2. It was not called riqq then, and also today it is called daf or tef in various regions of the Middle East. Riqq seems to be a relatively modern Egyptian term.

    3. Riqq was NEVER “solely” played in Egypt, it has been and still is played in large areas of the Middle East. It is not a specifically Egyptian instrument, it is native to Levant, Turkey and Iraq, and as well as Egypt.

    4. Tambourines of south Europe and north Africa and other similar drums, are NOT riqqs! They are relative instruments. Even if they derive from the Middle Eastern riqq (which is doubtful, more likely that various tambourines have developed independantly in each region), they are still not riqqs, and tamburello is not a riqq just as guitar is not an oud.

    Please correct your text and do not spread misinformation!
    Thank you,
    Lev Elman

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