Drum - samphor សំភោរ

Last update : May 9, 2021

Skor samphor ស្គរសំភោរ, or simply samphor សំភោរ in common parlance, is a very ancient barrel drum, first represented (without support) in the pre-Angkorian (7th century) bas-reliefs of the Sambor Prei Kuk archaeological site, then those of the northern, post-Angkorian gallery of Angkor Wat dating from the middle of the 16th century, with support. On the other hand, contrary to what is peddled in literature, it is curiously never represented in Angkorian iconography!


In organology, the samphor is defined as a barrel drum because the diameter of the center is greater than that of the ends. It is always monoxyle, i.e. carved from the same piece of wood: kokoh, reang, beng or jackfruit. Its length is 50 cm and its width is about 35 cm. It has two membranes of different diameters made of cowhide or, in the past, of horse skin: the "mother", the larger one, and the "child". They are cut in a circle of about two fingers larger than the edge of the drum and stretched over the drum by thin strips of cowhide. This method allows the hides to be easily re-tensioned when they have relaxed. Before being placed on the drum, the hides are soaked in salt water, lime and vinegar to loosen the hair and remove all elasticity. This process is called "killing" the hides. Some traditions indicate that Thursday is to be chosen as the day for installing the skins and that offerings are to be made to the deity Preah Pisnokar, patron saint of artisans.

The samphor always rests on a stand so that it can be placed at the correct playing height for a musician sitting on the floor. The back of the samphor has a carrying handle.

The samphor is struck with bare hands, the right hand on the larger skin and the left hand on the smaller one, or sometimes the opposite according to the habit of each musician. Before playing, a piece of rice paste, known as bay samphor បាយសំភោរ, litt. "drum's rice", is glued to the center of each skin to tune them. Originally, bay samphor was made from ordinary rice that was kneaded into a smooth paste and then mixed with ash; today, musicians commonly use Patafix (blue or green in the Cambodian market). Before playing, the drummer must prostrate himself before the instrument, for example, by making a sampeah (joining hands in the air and bowing), lighting incense, making offerings, etc. The player must behave in a dignified manner, including sitting with legs bent to the side, according to Khmer tradition. The "tailor" position is reserved for Buddhist monks.

The samphor has two heads but can emit sounds from four to eight pitches, or more depending on the player's skills.

The samphor is always present in the pin peat orchestra. It can also be used in other ensembles.