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175 – The ‘Ūd 3



The Arab Music Archiving and Research foundation (AMAR), in collaboration with the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), presents “Durūb al-Nagham”.

Dear listeners,

Welcome to a new episode of  “Durūb al-Nagham”.

Today, we will resume our discussion about the ūd with Mr Mustafa Said.

Are the mentions, theories, and documentation on the ūd in books simplified, or is the ūd the unique important subject in the writings dedicated to it?

In most books that talk about it, the ūd is a theorizing instrument: dimensions, for example, are measured according to the chords on the ūd… So the ūd was the theorizing instrument.

Dimitri Cantemir

Dimitri Cantemir

The same as the anbūr with Dimitri Cantemir.

That came later! Cantemir may have used the anbūr because the ūd had no significant role in Ottoman music during that period. But, before Cantemir, while the anbūr existed, it was not used as a theorizing instrument, whereas the ūd was. Even the qānūn with al-Fārābī –that is the same as Pythagoras’ qānūn– was only a measuring instrument –a 1-string’ or monochord instrument used to measure notes–, unlike the qānūn today. But when it came to theory and to writing modes –the fingers, majra-s (course-s), i.e. the maqām-s–, the ūd was used as a theorizing instrument. Even before al-Fārābī, or Abū al-Faraj who talked about Umayyad and Abbassid murib-s, saying for example: “wusa fī majrāha” (middle finger in its course), or “sabbāba fī majra al-wusa” (forefinger in the course of the middle finger)…etc. in talking about the fingers’ position on the ūd… This was their maqām theory. So it is the ūd that was the theorizing instrument and not the mi‘zaf, the anbūr, or the nāy. This may be the reason why they did not change the name of the instrument, calling one a ūd and not the other, to avoid disputes. The point is that the ūd was a theorizing instrument, and that it accompanied the murib… even if there were other instruments, the ūd was the instrument held by the singer… This may be where it drew its importance from. Yet, even after Cantemir, whether in Arabic books or in Turkish books, the ūd was mentioned as a theorizing instrument. These books include those by Kāmil al-Khula‘ī, Mikhā’īl Mashāqa, Muḥammad Hāshim, and of course Viloteau’s “Waf Mar” (the description of Egypt).

Does the way an instrument is used imply a specific appellation of this instrument?

This would require a debate among several people who would discuss if what is played on a specific instrument determines its name or not. It is a question of points of view… This bears no importance in my point of view… Let them call it what they may… at the end of the day, the result is all that matters.

Tell us about the contemporary ūd. Let us go by region, listen to recordings if possible, and talk about the documentation.

The contemporary ūd

Let us start with the Arabian Maghrib and their very strange ūd tuning that starts with a rāst –that they call the zeyl–, followed by the ḥusayn –sixth from the first string–, the ramal –fifth descending from the second string–, then the māyā fourth ascending from the third string… a very strange tuning indeed. So if we consider that the zeyl is the C, then the second string would be the sixth from it, i.e. the A ascending and not descending from it… It descends again to the D, then ascends to the G… A very strange order.

Shall we listen to an example? …

Good idea!

Go ahead …

() (Taqsīm istikhbār ab‘ ramal māyā from the 1932 Cairo Congress)

This is what they call the Andalusian, Moroccan, or Tunisian ūd… You can give it the appellation you choose.

What about the difficulty in playing a ūd whose strings are neither in an ascending nor in a descending order?

Their nature must have imposed such a tuning! Anyway, it is their business…



But note that the existence of this Arab Maghrib’s ūd does not imply at all that nobody there plays the ūd we play. In fact, it is quite the contrary since the latter is the most widespread and the other ūd is almost extinct. There are also the quwayara, the sunayara, and all the other surrounding instruments that all belong to the ūd family.

In the Arab Mashriq, most ūd-s are alike; the difference only lies in the number of strings as the ūd-s played are either 5-string’ ūd-s or 6 and 7 string’ ūd-s, the latter being the most widely spread in Egypt and in the Levant. So, all these ūd-s are played in Egypt and in the Levant, added to Iraq, Turkey, Iran…etc., as follows: 6-string’ ūd-s in Turkey and in Iraq, 6 and 7 string’ ūd-s in the Levant and in Egypt… 5-string’ ūd-s are seldom found while they are still played in the Arabian Gulf, and by singers –and by myself– in Egypt.

Is there a lesson to be drawn or learned from the number of strings?

Absolutely not! It only concerns the person who performs taqsīm, the person who interprets …

The lesson or moral is in the sound produced and in the playing.


()(Riyā al-Sunbāī, taqsīm bayyātī)

In Yemen, there is the ‘ūd qanbūs

() (asan al-‘Ajamī, firtāsh yamanī)

I expect that the other ‘ūd exists in Yemen also.

Of course, the ordinary ‘ūd exists in Yemen though it is the ‘ūd qanbūs that is Yemen’s particularity and is also played in Oman. The ‘ūd played in Egypt, the Levant, Iraq, and Turkey also exists in regions of Africa, including Sudan, the Ethiopian Plateau and the Horn of Africa, even Mali and Mauritania.

By the way, there is an instrument in the Arabian Maghrib called the jimba whose notes are thicker than the ordinary ‘ūd’s.

We could listen to something if you wish.

Let us hear it …

() (an instrumentalist accompanying Sheikha Sharīfa)

There are also ‘ūd’s of the same type as the Yemeni skin-covered ‘ūd qanbūs as we mentioned earlier. I am not sure if it was inspired from the mandolin, or the other way around.

There is also the Iraqi ‘ūd –who may be called as such because it was first introduced by Munīr Bashīr. This is not the point though… what matters to us now is that the Iraqi ‘ūd is supposed to be like any ordinary ‘ūd, yet the faras (bridge) of the one that appeared in the 1970s or 1960s was not attached to the wajh soundboard, but rather to the last part of the sound box attached to the soundboard, where the strings are tied. There is another type of faras closer to the violin’s, or the qanbūs’ as we noted, that is not fixed but rather attached and steadied by the string itself… the pressure of the string on the faras itself. It is called a ‘ūd with a faras mutaḥarrik (a floating bridge ‘ūd) that was trendy in the late 20th century and early 21st century. Unlike the qanbūs, this ‘ūd has a wooden –not a skin– soundboard and is called an Iraqi ‘ūd or ‘ūd ‘irāqī… This is also an existing ‘ūd

() (excerpted from Munīr Bashīr’s concert in Budapest)

It is also said that in the Gulf Coast region, there is a ‘ūd that is played called ‘ūd hindī (Indian ‘ūd) that was maybe imported by ‘Abd al-Lāh al-Faraj to sing ṣawt in the Arabian Gulf, specifically in Kuwait. Muḥammad Zuwayyid said that he saw this ‘ūd, played on it and even sketched it. But I truly do not know if this instrument is different from or similar to the qanbūs. We have no recording or illustrated documentation relatively to this instrument. We do not know anything about it… Still, it is a type of ‘ūd that was played in the Arab World.

The ‘ūd is played in Greece, in Cyprus, as well as in a great many other regions. It is much more widely spread than people in the Arab World might expect. It was played in Europe –where it is called a “Luth” or lute– starting the 10th or the 11th century, or maybe earlier, and remained there up to the Baroque period.

It surely also exists under different shapes in other regions, such as in South America where it is called the “Laud”, in Argentina and other places… and in Russia where it is called a “Balalaika”.

Short-necked instruments are widely spread, though not all of them are ‘ūd-s …It is a question of perspective…

() (Yorgo Bacanos and his band)

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.

“Durūb al-Nagham”.

  2016  /  Podcast  /  Last Updated August 11, 2016 by  /  Tags:
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