Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Bowl.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.2
Tuning: D” / C” / Bb’ / A’ / G’
Region: Middle East & North Africa.
Description: The simsimiyya [semsemiyya or sumsumiyya] a bowl or box lyre with five single strings. It is found in Egypt, from the Suez area to Sinai, Saudi Arabia and South-Yemen where this instrument has six strings. The name for this instrument is uncertain, there are numerous regional interpretations. One classical reference is of help; the word “samsama” means to ‘run with agility’. The vernacular use of the words semsemiyya or sumsumiyya in the area of the canal, during the 20th century.
The complex instrument represents a between the begena of Ethiopia and the tanbura [found in Somalia]. In South Yemen the Simsimiyya has a circular sound box. Two arms protrude from the main circular body where they are affixed to left and right sides. The strings are held taught in support from the yoke and frame. Originally wooden tuning pegs are used although it is common to see machine gear tuners mounted.
Construction: The simsimiyya is constructed like the begenna of Ethiopia. Although the body of the instrument is circular rather than box like. Usually they have five strings, although in South Yemen there is a six-stringed instrument sharing the same name. The strings are tied from the yoke to the frame by material, which may include animal hide or machine gear tuners to keep the strings in tune. A bridge is inserted underneath the string. The body made from a wooden centre like a bowl and hide is stretched over and held together in place by lacing.
Citations: Bibliography: M. Aqili Al-Sama, Ind Al’ Arab [arab music], Damascus 1966 p. 79 iii, 90 ; M. Aqili Al-Sama, Ind Al’ Arab [arab music], ‘Ilm al-alit al musiqiyya / the study of musical instruments Cairo, 1971; A. Siloah: The Simsimiyya – A stringed instrument of the Red Sea, Asian Music iv/1 1972 ; T. Alexandru: De La Kissar la semsemssiya traditie si inovatie in muzica organologie muzicologie studio [in Romanian]; tradition and innovation in musicology musicology studio studio [in English] Bucharest, 1980 Christian Poché ; Websites: