"Tonbak" looks like a crudely written note from a four-year-old, but it is also the name of the principal percussion instrument of the musical Persian empire. The body of this drum is shaped like a chalice and it is generally made from mulberry or walnut, with the skin from a lamb or goat. This artist is one of the masters of the tombak in Iranian classical music, a genre devoted to modal systems and improvisation in which the drum is used for accompaniment as well as a fuel injection system for the climactic portions of the improvisation. He is often credited with creating something of a renaissance in interest in the tombak in Iran. Hossain Tehrani began playing at the age of 13 and from that point on was supposedly always found pounding on these drums, which are also called "zarb," the Arab word meaning striking. The name tombak is also directly related to the technique of the drum, as it is made up of the syllables tom and bak, indicating two of the basic blows in this instrument's amazingly complex systems of digital rhythmic manipulation. In the '20s, it was considered a musical instrument worthy of only street entertainers, a situation this artist did much to rise above. In 1928, he began to study with Hossein Khan Essmailzadel, a music master and player of the kamancheh. He went on to study with several master tombak players such as Reza Ravanbakhsh and Kangarlo. He also studied street musicians who played the drums, taking in all the different rhythms he heard. At 26, he began a lifelong friendship with Abolhasan Saba, to whom he credits the lion's share of his musical education. Tehrani was one of the first artists to begin performing on Radio Tehran when that national broadcasting network began in Iran in 1940. The following year, he began teaching at the advance music college, although sadly enough the tombak would eventually be removed from the list of instruments taught there.
The instructor Khaleghi, another of this drummer's musical mentors, began his own college, entitled the National Music College, in the late '40s, turning over the responsibility of teaching tombak to Tehrani. During his teaching career, he collaborated with the National Music Ensemble. He recorded quite regularly with Ostad Framarz Payvar and was also featured in the UNESCO-sponsored Philips series Modal Music and Improvisations in the volume devoted to Iranian dastgah. On this album, he performs with kemantche player Asghar Bahari. The drummer also performs a solo on the Folkways anthology devoted to Iranian classical music. He also recorded an entire solo album on an Iranian label, but in most cases, the easiest way to find his recording efforts tends to be tracks on anthologies of world music released by labels such as Alladin. These amazing tracks, such as a tombak solo entitled "The Train," are tantalizing morsels indeed and will leave listeners hungering for a full meal. Tehrani has published the instructional book Tombak Rudiment written in collaboration with fellow tombak players Hoshang Zarif, Mostafa Kamalportorab, Farhad Fakhrodini, and Hosain Dehlavi. This text was published by Moasseh Farhangi-Honary Mahor.