Another long pause between entries. And this time, I am not writing about food. I do continue to bake my sourdough bread, but due to a starter mishap, am only down to white right now and have not yet restarted the semolina.
I’ve been playing more music with my friends in the Bhakaili Branslers this year. Mostly I play frame drums, but I want to start playing more stringed instruments again. As much as I love my Larrivee 3/4 parlor guitar, however, it is not period to my 12th century Sicilian persona.
A citole or rebab would be much more in keeping, but I have not had a lot of spare money as of late, especially for a custom-built instrument. However, a solution seems to have presented itself. Back in the winter, I noticed, in a local antique store, something dubbed an “Indian guitar.” It was only $50, so I bought it.
It turned out to be an Afghani rebab, and it is a direct descendant of the Persian or medieval Middle Eastern rebab, seen here in a mural from the Cefalu Cathedral.
The rebab is now in the hands of Paul Butler (known in the SCA of Master Arden of Icombe) for a complete rehab. There is a lot that needs to be done to it to make it playable. Paul told me, only half jokingly, that the instrument was probably made on some mountainside in Afghanistan in the 1970s with just a hook knife, a chisel, and a file, and whatever materials the maker could lay his hands on. The fretboard was actually nailed on, with actual scavenged building nails, probably because the maker didn’t have access to decent glues.
Part of the rehab will entail putting a solid top on it, instead of animal skin, for stability’s sake and less worry about skin replacement later. All of the pegs need to be replaced, and the bridge and nut need to be replaced. Of course the fretboard needs to be glued on instead of nailed, and there will be new strings. Tuning will probably be in “standard,” or as what is inferred as standard tuning, with a set of drone or sympathetic strings. Paul has more information about citoles and their theoretical tuning here.
There’s some debate about these instruments were played. Modern Afghani musicians play their rebabs like a a guitar or any non-bowed stringed instrument (here is a very good video that not only shows it being played, by a musician named Udi Ben Kna’an, but talks about how the rebab is constructed). Paul notes in his instrument-building and research pages (found here) that rebabs were bowed in period. But the beam painting from Cefalu Cathedral and paintings from the Capella Palatina muquarna show the rebabs played as nonbowed instruments. A luthier in Sicily, Giuseppe Severini, has his own reproduction of a plucked rebab from Sicily here. To me, it doesn’t really look like the one in the Cefalu Cathedral or any instruments depicted on the Capella Palatina muquarna. Then again, these visuals are very abstract. And some details, you have to use artistic imagination to fill them in.
I look forward to having my rehabbed rebab back before the end of this year – Paul’s very busy and I am very grateful he chose to take this beast of a project on. I know it’s in the best of hands now.