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The dhantal is a long steel rod which was adapted from the axle used to connect the yokes of the bullocks that transported the cane-filled carts on the estates in Trinidad and Tobago. The metal horseshoe used on the estate's horses and mules was used to strike the dhantal. In this way the dhantal became a new instrument for providing rhythm. In more modern usage, the horseshoe has been replaced by a U-shaped piece of metal that fits more easily in one hand. The remaining hand is used to mute the rod for various percussive effects and to accentuate rhythms played.
The basic rhythm of the dhantal is an eighth-note, two-sixteenth note ostinato (repeated pattern), which may be counted in rhythmic solfege as "One and-tah, two and-tah, three and-tah, four and-tah," etc. One contributor here notes that this rhythm is the same basic 'feel' as the merengue of the Dominican Republic, which itself was probably based in a nearly identical African rhythm popular for dancing throughout Africa and the Afro-Caribbean diaspora that includes Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago has a substantial Indian-ancestry population, and this is probably why the dhantal is also played in India along with the harmonium and other Indian instruments such as the dhol (dholak) drum.
The dhantal is also used in Fiji during religious singing. This percussion instrument along with the dholak, harmonium, kartal, and jhanj forms the basis of musical instruments of a Ramayan mandali. The dhantal is played by striking the metal horseshoe to the steel rod (usually a 3/8" or 1/2" diameter steel rod or pipe of approximately 1 and 1/4 meters (four or five feet) in length. Its timbre is sharply metallic and provides a clearly defined tal (beat or pulse) to help the ensemble stay in rhythmic sync.
It is not clear if the dhantal was originally an instrument brought by Indian indentured-worker immigrants to Fiji. The dhantal is popular in Trinidad as well, especially among the Indian community. The Fijian dhantal is almost identical to the Trinidad version. The dhantal may be closely related to the early indentured-worker instrument called the dandatal, which was a wooden stick and had a rectangular shaped striker. The words danda means stick and tal means rhythm.
The dantaal is widely used in Guyana, which has a significant East Indian Hindu population.
The dhantal can be found in the state of Bihar, India. The fact that it is also found in Fiji, Guyana, Surinam and Trinidad where large concentrations of Indian indentured laborers settled would suggest that it was most likely created in India and easily made/recreated in these other countries with materials that were readily available.
- Beck, John (1994). Encyclopedia of Percussion. Garland. ISBN 978-0-8240-4788-7.
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