The Arab Music Archiving and Research foundation (AMAR), in collaboration with the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), presents “Durūb al-Nagham”.
Welcome to a new episode of “Durūb al-Nagham”.
Here is the first of a series of episodes about the ‘ūd discussed in a pleasant interview with Mr Mustafa Said.
Good morning Mr Mustafa.
Good morning to you.
Mr Mustafa, the subject of the ‘ūd is a broad subject. Let us start it off smoothly with some questions.
I am listening.
What is the ‘ūd to Mr Mustafa Said?
There are different readings: to some, all short-necked instruments without frets and with a sound box, that are played with a pick, are ‘ūd-s; on the other hand, in organology, after Hornbostel-sachs, all string instruments that are plucked and all bow instruments belong to the ‘ūd family. … There is no right or wrong definition of the ‘ūd as it depends on one’s opinion and on what they want.
Today, is the ‘ūd necessarily a percussion instrument?
Organology defines two separate categories:
- the ‘ūd is a short-necked instrument played with a pick, added to other instruments besides those we know as ‘ūd-s;
- all instruments that have a neck and that are plucked, whether they are played with a pick or with a bow, belong to the ‘ūd
This is the general understanding in organology –the science of musical instruments– that categorises the various instruments into families.
… To me, the ‘ūd is the ‘ūd I play.
In India, as you surely know, the slightest difference between instruments implies a different name for each of these instruments, whereas in the Arab World, several instruments are called ‘ūd even though they are different in size and in the sound they produce.
This is okay if we consider the term ‘ūd as a proper noun. Yet on the other hand, when ‘ūd implies a playing style and not the instrument’s name – which I think is more likely, as the ‘ūd can be played like a guitar or like a mandolin for example–, would the musician still be playing a ‘ūd, or would he have gone beyond that? I.e. when one transforms completely the playing style –I do not mean the inherited playing style, since I am totally against a rigid application of the heritage and completely for evolution– of a certain instrument, and applies a totally different playing style to it, would they still be playing this same instrument, or would they have gone beyond it and be playing a different one? … Irrespective of the size or shape of the instrument …etc.
But let us go back to the Abbassid era… Their books mention the ‘ūd, the barbaṭ, the ‘ūd shabbūṭ…etc., that were all called ‘ūd-s: Thus we deduce that, in the past, all the instruments that were played by plucking, even those with frets, were called ‘ūd-s…
I do not have a problem with this… But what about the playing style then?: How does one play this instrument? …
Now, let us tell an anecdote about the ‘ūd excerpted from volume 13 of Abū Faraj al-Aṣfahānī’s “Kitāb al-Aghānī”, at the end of the sanad (reference/document) about al-Nawfalī whose name is mentioned several times throughout the book as he had many stories.
This long story was told by Nāhiḍ bin Thawma al-Kilābī (a famous poet) to the author’s grandfather:
“He said that while they were once travelling towards Damascus, they passed through the village of Bakr bin ‘Āṣim al-Hilālī where they saw lots of people arriving and leaving, wearing flowered-coloured clothes, which made him think at the time that they were either celebrating ‘īd al-aḍḥa (Festival of the Sacrifice) or ‘īd al-fiṭr (Festival of Breaking of the Fast), until he remembered that both celebrations had already been fêted before he left his people in Basra.
While he was looking at them in astonishment, a man took his hand and led him inside a house where a young man with long hair sat, surrounded by people, and whom he thought was the Prince he had heard of. So he introduced himself to him, but was then told that he had mistaken a bride for the Prince.
Soon after, men brought bread –that the narrator first thought was close-knit fabric–, different kinds of food –that he ate a lot of–, followed by a red beverage he first refused to drink because he was afraid it would kill him, but he was advised to drink it because water would harm his belly after all the food he had eaten… This reminded him that he had been advised by his father and by the eldest members of his people to keep his belly hard/strong in order to stay alive. So he started drinking the beverage and could not stop drinking, going through emotions he could neither explain nor had ever experienced before.
…So he turned towards the man who had advised him to drink this beverage to insult him.
But at this point, four demons arrived:
- One was carrying a Persian quiver with two open sides and a thin centre, covered with fur (mi‘zaf);
- The second one took out of his sleeve a black object that produced a sound he had never heard before (mizmār or zurnāy);
- The third one was clicking two mirrors one against the other (castanets);
- The fourth one threw himself on the floor and people started throwing dirhams at him.
There was a young man in the house (we are getting closer to the ‘ūd description) whom everybody praised and wished well. He brought in a piece of wood with eyes in its chest and four strings, and out of which he brought a stick that he put behind his ear, then he started rubbing its ears and playing it with a piece of wood he held in his hand, so “It talked, by God!” –it was the best songstress the narrator had ever heard– and sang along with it. The narrator leaped up and sat at the feet of the young man whom he asked what was the instrument he was playing, to which the young man answered “A barbaṭ”. He asked him then the name of the lower string… “The zīr” the young man answered… “And the next one?”, “The mathna”… “The third one?”, “The mathlath”… “What about the highest string”, “It is the bam”. So the narrator declared: “I first believe in God, secondly in you, thirdly in the barbaṭ, and fourth in the bam.”
He added that his father laughed until he fell, and made Nāhiḍ laugh at his laughing!”
This was a funny description of the ‘ūd by a nomad who had never seen one before.
We also noted that Abū al-Faraj called it ‘ūd at times, and sometimes barbaṭ. Appellations were not a major concern to them …
Dear listeners, we have reached the end of today’s episode of “Durūb al-Nagham” about the ‘ūd presented with Mr Mustafa Said.
We will resume this discussion in our coming episodes.
Today’s episode was presented by Fadil al-Turki.