Sound of oud

Mu­sic has al­ways played an in­te­gral role in Le­banese cul­tural her­itage and the oud is one of the na­tion’s most beloved in­stru­ments. From the mak­ers to the masters, LT ex­plores its mag­i­cal sound

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENTS -

A mu­si­cal jour­ney


Akin to the Western lute, the oud, mean­ing “thin wood,” is con­sid­ered by many to be the king of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments in the Arab world. Over the cen­turies, this beau­ti­ful, half pear­shaped wooden in­stru­ment has pro­vided count­less mu­si­cians with a won­der­ful means of lyri­cal ex­pres­sion. Al­though the mod­ern day oud has 11 or 13 strings, the in­stru­ment had just four or five at the very start of Arab civ­i­liza­tion.

Fadi Matta is a man who has ded­i­cated the last 30 years to mak­ing ouds. With more than 300 to his credit, Matta ex­plains that the craft­ing of this in­stru­ment is time con­sum­ing and highly del­i­cate. “Ev­ery in­stru­ment has its own shape and char­ac­ter, which, com­bined, pro­duce a dis­tinct range of sounds. The crafts­man­ship of a sin­gle oud, de­pend­ing on the tools and ma­te­ri­als used, could take any­thing be­tween three to four weeks. Also, given the num­ber of in­di­vid­ual parts that go into the process, a sin­gle over­looked mis­take would ren­der the in­stru­ment per­ma­nently flawed.”

A tal­ented oud player him­self, Matta mainly uses rose­wood from In­dia, Africa and Brazil to make his beau­ti­ful in­stru­ments. He notes, how­ever, that other woods may be used, such as red cedar, wal­nut, maple and spruce. “No one kind [of wood] takes prece­dence, as each has a dif­fer­ent den­sity, tex­ture and color. The re­sult­ing tones range be­tween loud and ex­plo­sive to warm and ten­der.”

What greatly af­fects the iden­tity and sound of the in­stru­ment, ac­cord­ing to Matta, is the source of the wood. “The wal­nut wood used to man­u­fac­ture Le­banese ouds be­tween 1800 and 1900 no longer ex­ists or is un­avail­able in quan­ti­ties meant for mass pro­duc­tion. Since then, we use the same type of wal­nut but of the Amer­i­can or African va­ri­ety. It is a bit rougher, lighter and not as aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing. The sound pro­duced is strong and sharp.”

In his work­shop, Matta metic­u­lously crafts his fixed and float­ing-bridged ouds. Watch­ing him painstak­ingly place the strings over the per­fectly cut rosette, he speaks in a warm tone about his jour­ney. “Be­fore I de­cided to go into man­u­fac­tur­ing this in­stru­ment, I first ded­i­cated my­self to learn­ing how to play it. Over the years, I felt the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pre­serv­ing an in­stru­ment which dates back thou­sands of years and will con­tinue to ex­ist for another thou­sand as it is cen­tral to the mu­sic emerg­ing out of this re­gion."

Matta notes that al­though the pro­fes­sion is no longer as prof­itable as it used to be, he re­mains com­mit­ted to his work. "What keeps me go­ing is the hope that some­day I will make my own mark and, in turn, help usher a tra­di­tion re­flec­tive of our rich his­tory, art and cul­ture into the fu­ture.” 03 259633, fadi­


Le­banon has pro­duced many fa­mous oud play­ers who have suc­cess­fully shared the mag­i­cal sound of the in­stru­ment with in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences.

Mar­cel Khal­ife

Syn­ony­mous with the oud, Khal­ife has been singing, com­pos­ing and play­ing mu­sic since the 1970s. Known in­ter­na­tion­ally, he has taught oud to many stu­dents over the years. Khal­ife strives to break from con­ven­tion that tra­di­tion­ally de­fines what and how some in­stru­ments should be played, earn­ing him great re­spect from his loyal au­di­ence.

Char­bel Rouhana

Born in 1965, Char­bel Rouhana has writ­ten mu­sic for film and theater and has played his oud mu­sic across Europe and the Mid­dle East. He is known for de­vel­op­ing a new method for play­ing the oud, which has been adopted by the mu­sic fac­ulty at USEK in Le­banon.

An­dre Msane

An­dre Msane be­gan to play the oud at the age of 14. Af­ter study­ing the oud pro­fes­sion­ally, he formed a group and toured Le­banon and France for sev­eral years. Msane’s mu­sic en­com­passes con­tem­po­rary and tra­di­tional styles.

Bassem Rizk

Le­banese com­poser and mu­si­cian Bassem Rizk is a master of his gen­er­a­tion. He has contributed sig­nif­i­cantly to the de­vel­op­ment of dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal meth­ods and has com­posed orig­i­nal mu­sic for film­mak­ers and the­atri­cal di­rec­tors around the world.

Mo­hammed El-bakkar

A cel­e­brated tenor, oud player and con­duc­tor, the late El-bakkar lived in the United States for most of his life where he pro­duced Ara­bic mu­sic and per­formed with his Ori­en­tal ensem­ble. Among his most fa­mous songs are “Banat Iskan­daria” and “Port Said,” still pop­u­lar to this day. He died in 1959 at the age of 46 while per­form­ing at an an­nual Le­banese Amer­i­can fes­ti­val in the United States.

Rabih Abou-khalil

A well-known oud player and com­poser, Abou-khalil’s trade­mark sound fuses dif­fer­ent styles of mu­sic to­gether, such as tra­di­tional Arab mu­sic with jazz or Euro­pean clas­si­cal mu­sic. His work is ad­mired glob­ally, par­tic­u­larly among the jazz gui­tar com­mu­nity who study and play his mu­sic.


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