The sounds of Arabia are mesmerizing and widely played by everyone from local folk musicians to international rock stars like Sting, whose duet with Cheb Mami, “Desert Rose,” featured Arabic riffs and lyrics. There are six main instruments (see below) that produce the sounds of the desert.
“These are instruments that have been played consistently for 5,000 years,” says Yousif Sheronick, a percussionist and world musician who has performed with Yo-Yo Ma, Philip Glass, Branford Marsalis and others. “They’ve had a tremendous impact on both the players and the listeners, or they wouldn’t have stayed around so long.” Sheronick attributes their longevity to their calming effects. “They’ve studied the brain activity of someone after they listened to a frame drum [a drum that has a drumhead with a width greater than its depth],” Sheronick says. “And rather than spiking, their brain waves flatten.”
“The sound of Arabic instruments is so beautiful,” says Brian Prunka, a Brooklyn-based musician who has played the oud for almost 20 years. “They have very deep and earthy sounds that are organic and warm. They’re simply captivating.”
Listen to the sounds of Saudi instruments on this playlist.
—Matt Hendrickson has more than 25 years of experience in magazine and digital journalism, covering travel, food and music for publications including Rolling Stone.