The rebab (Arabic الرباب or رباب; also rebap, rabab, rebeb, rababah, or al-rababa) is a string instrument which originated in what is now known as Afghanistan, no later than the 8th century, and was spread via Islamic trading routes over much of North Africa, the Middle East, parts of Europe, and the Far East. The bowed variety often has a spike at the bottom to rest on the ground, and is thus called a spike fiddle in certain areas.
Rebab: Mevlâna mausoleum, Konya, Turkey
The rebab is considered part of the lute family (oud in Arabic). Plucked versions like the kabuli rebab (sometimes referred to as the robab or rubab) are plucked like the lute, but other versions are played with a bow. The closest to it is Gusle, the instrument still widely used in the Balkans. It is almost certainly the direct ancestor of the European violin, via the medieval rebec, as the Rebab is a key instrument of Arabo-Andalusian music. It is used in a wide variety of musical ensembles and genres, corresponding with its wide distribution, and is built and played somewhat differently in different areas.
Plucked rebabs, common in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwest India are oddly-shaped instruments, with a form that has been described by some as "boat like." The body of the instrument is heavy, carved wood, narrow in the middle, suggesting that it might have been played like a violin at one time, like its bowed cousins. The body is covered with stretched skin, usually stoutly glued to the body. The neck is very thick, and the fretboard is often intricately inlaid. The pegbox is often topped with intricate carving.
The kabuli rebab has three or four strings (usually with one string doubled) which are bridged by a carved piece held onto the skin face by pressure. These are attached to tuning pegs (not machine heads) set in the pegbox, and terminate at a single stout peg at the bottom of the instrument. Most plucked rebabs have a number of sympathetic strings stretched underneath the main strings. The sympathetic strings are tuned by pegs set along the base of the neck
There are various different types of bowed rebabs that have different functions. In Southeast Asia, the rebab is a large instrument with a range similar to the viola da gamba, whereas versions of the instrument further west tend to be smaller and higher-pitched. The rebab usually consists of a small, usually rounded body, the front of which is covered in a membrane such as parchment or sheepskin. The body varies from being ornately carved, as in Java, to simpler models such as the 2-string Egyptian "fiddle of the Nile" may have a body made of half a coconut shell. The more sophisticated versions have a wooden soundbox and the front may be half-covered with beaten copper, and half with goatskin.
There is a long thin neck with a pegbox at the end and there are one, two or three strings. There is no fingerboard. The instrument is held upright, either resting on the lap or on the floor. There is often a spike at the bottom to rest on the ground, similar to the ordinary holding of a cello but while seated on the ground. The bow is usually more curved than that of the violin.
Uses in music
It was heavily used, and continues to be used, in Persian music. Its also played in other countries such as India, most likely tracing its origin to Greater Iran because of its use in the Sassanid court, and Morocco, where a tradition of Arabo-Andalusian music has been kept alive by descendants of Muslims who left Spain as refugees following the Reconquista.
The rebab was adopted as a key instrument in Arab classical music, along with such instruments as the oud (ancestor of the lute), the ney (end-blown flute), and various percussion instruments. Much Arab music is based on the style developed in Andalucia during its Islamic period, and includes instrumental passages, usually with a strong element of improvisation, alternating with sung poetry. Improvisations or taksim are based on a complex system of modes (maqamat) and rhythms (iquala). The maqamat have different combinations of 24 possible quarter-tones, and each has its own mood, often associated with particular feelings or seasons. One hundred and eleven rhythmic patterns or iquala can be used; the simplest of these is the rajaz, based on the rhythm of a camel's hooves on the sand.
The rebab became a favourite instrument of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, and could be heard everywhere from the palace to the tea house. The Arab orchestra or group uses many drones, unisons and parallel octaves, giving a stirring, powerful sound, but it is mostly modal with little in the way of chordal movement. The rebab, though valued for its voice-like tone, has a very limited range (little over an octave), and was gradually replaced throughout much of the arab world by the violin and kemenche.
In Indonesian gamelan music, the rebab is not part of the core of gongs, metallophones, and drums but instead an elaborating instrument, ornamenting the basic melody. In contrast to the other elaborating instruments (except the suling), however, and like the singers, it does not have to conform exactly to the scale of the other gamelan instruments (with effects such as barang miring, the insertion of non-slendro pitches into a slendro piece to evoke a sad mood), and can be played in relatively free time, finishing its phrases after the beat of the gong ageng (the big gong that "rules" the ensemble). In both Indonesian and Malay gamelan music, it is traditional for rebab players to heavily ornament their melodies, just as singers do in those styles. The rebab also frequently plays the buka when it is part of the ensemble.
It is related to the Iraqi instrument the djose, which has four strings.