Dhol can refer to any one of a number of similar types of double-headed drum widely used, with regional variations, throughout the Indian subcontinent. Its range of distribution in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan primarily includes northern areas such as the Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Kashmir, Sindh, Assam Valley, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Konkan, Goa, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. The range stretches westward as far as eastern Afghanistan. A related instrument is the dholak or dholki. Someone who plays the dhol is known as dholi.
The dhol is a double-sided barrel drum played mostly as an accompanying instrument in regional music forms. In qawwali music, the term dhol is used to describe a similar, but smaller drum used with the smaller tabla, as a replacement for the left hand tabla drum. The typical sizes of the drum vary slightly from region to region. In Punjab, the dhol remains large and bulky to produce the preferred loud bass. In other regions, dhols can be found in varying shapes and sizes and made with different woods and materials (fiberglass, steel, plastic). The drum consists of a wooden barrel with animal hide or synthetic skin stretched over its open ends, covering them completely. These skins can be stretched or loosened with a tightening mechanism made up of either interwoven ropes, or nuts and bolts. Tightening or loosening the skins subtly alters the pitch of the drum sound. The stretched skin on one of the ends is thicker and produces a deep, low frequency (higher bass) sound and the other thinner one produces a higher frequency sound. Dhols with synthetic, or plastic, treble skins are common.
Some of the most common Punjabi dhol rhythms are bhangra (originating with the old, community bhangra dance), dhamaal (associated with many cultural functions, including worship at Sufi shrines), and kaharva, a dance and song rhythm. The staged “bhangra” dance, originating in the 1950s, gave special prominence to kaharva, for the performance of actions called luddi. In the 1970s, many more actions were added to staged bhangra to go with the kaharva rhythm, which started to become one of the most prominent rhythms associated with the dance. At the same time, this type of rhythm would be played on the dholki drum to accompany Punjabi songs. So when, in the 1990s, Punjabi pop songs began to evoke bhangra dance, they used the kaharva rhythm. It is known now by various names. Some dhol-players call it kaharva, its technical name, while other players in Punjab call it luddi to refer to the dance of that name. With the style of dhol-playing that developed in the U.K., the name chaal was adopted—probably in reference to the “chaal” movements it accompanies in modern bhangra—however, that term is not used elsewhere. Johnny Kalsi is a UK Dhol player that established a syllabus to teach the art of playing this instrument. Although there is no official syllabus or phrasing for the learning process, he took the North Indian language of Tabla to visualise the beats as phonetic phrases to make the learning easier.
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