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190 – The ‘Ūd 10


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.

Mr. Mustafa, could you please tell me about the ‘ūd used as a solo instrument?

Yes. There are two hypotheses:

  • First, the same as any other instrument of the takht in Arab music or maqām music, the ‘ūd was used as a solo instrument like the violin, the qānūn, and the nāy, to perform taqsīm in solo. The difference between the ‘ūd and the other instruments is that the great majority of singers held a ‘ūd while singing, which gave the ‘ūd some importance. Yet unfortunately, in recordings for example, since most muṭrib-s held a ‘ūd, the taqsīm-s were played by other instruments which weakened the role of this instrument, limiting it to accompanying the singing, as the muṭrib did not perform taqsīm. Yet, when there was a lutanist, there was leeway for taqsīm on the ‘ūd the same as on any other instrument.

This was about the ‘ūd as a solo instrument.

  • Second, the virtuoso technical display. It is like any other instrument, even if in this aspect the ‘ūd took on more importance than other instruments, maybe also because some muṭrib-s who played the ‘ūd, like Farid al-Aṭrash, decided to perform their technical skills on the ‘ūd in their vocal waṣla-s. And, as we mentioned, Sharīf Muḥyiddīn Ḥaydar excelled the most in this, maybe because he had studied western music and the positions on the cello. All this helped him in his ‘ūd playing. This is also a type of use as a solo instrument, but for a different purpose.

Wasn’t the ‘ūd used as a solo instrument in Turkey before Sharif Muḥyiddīn Ḥaydar?

The ‘ūd existed. Yet, because there were other instruments such as the ṭanbūr, the role of the ‘ūd in ottoman or Turkish music was less significant than its role in Arab music. 

In general, in Turkey, in Iran, in Azerbaijan, and in all the regions that follow the maqām system, the tendency is more towards string instruments, long-necked instruments such as the ṭār, the sitār, and the ṭanbūr. In the Levant too, there was the ṭanbūr baghdādī and the buzuq.

This does not imply that there was no ‘ūd. Indeed, it existed in the region and there are many solo ‘ūd records made in Turkey at the beginning of the century of Ibrāhīm al-Maṣrī, Hrant, and Sādāt Uztubraq, among others.



Cherif Mohyeddin and Safiya Ayla

Cherif Mohyeddin and Safiya Ayla


Could we listen to some recordings?

Of course …

(♩) (taqsīm ‘ushshāq – the ‘ūdist  Sādāt) Turkish, (dastkāh shūrī drūmāt – Shahīdī) Persian.

Alright. Tell me about the ‘ūd as an accompanying instrument.

As we mentioned earlier, because most singers used to hold a ‘ūd while singing, the ‘ūd interpreted the same idea this singer, man or woman, conveyed with his/her voice… Nādra used to sing and to play the ‘ūd. The point is that what is interpreted with the voice is the same as what the melody interprets. It is not just a translation but rather the interpreter’s vision conveyed by both the throat and the instrument.

So it not a mere instrumental phrase, but rather a phrase sung.

Yes. The characteristic pertaining to this is that it changed the taf‘īla-s a little in taqsīm-s. But also, as we mentioned, since the muṭrib sings and thus does not have the time to perform taqsīm-s (instrumental improvisations), translations, or lāzima-s like the rest of the band, this may have affected negatively the role of the ‘ūd within a band, i.e. as a group instrument: numerous early 20th century takht recordings include a violin and a qānūn (zither), or even a violin, a qānūn and a nāy (flute), but not a ‘ūd.

Is a good singer’s instrumental performance weakened because of his focusing on singing?

This is not supposed to happen.

So, there are some who are good at playing and singing at the same time…?

Of course there are… But it is not about weakening the instrumental performance but rather about letting the instrument convey the same idea interpreted vocally. The performer must make the ‘ūd speak with his voice, so that both the voice and the ‘ūd are one and the same. And thus the goal of the instrumental interpretation is not necessarily the instrumental performance.

Focusing does not affect anything whatsoever.

No. Focusing on the playing is there all the time…

(♩) (taqsīm layālī, mawwāl “Bustān gamālak” – Riyāḍ al-Sunbāṭī playing solo on the ‘ūd to the ḥijāzkār kurdī)

Why is the Arabic ‘ūd always linked to writing and composing?

The great majority of music composers and writers used to play the ‘ūd, and thus wrote for it and played on it what / while they sang, though unlike Aḥmad Sharīf who composed for the qānūn, or Sāmī al-Shawwā who composed and wrote bashraf-s for violin. Still, the great majority of music composers and writers, knowing that music composition is both for instrumental and vocal interpretation, played the ‘ūd… either because the ‘ūd was a theorizing instrument, or because the instrumentalists who played other instruments also played the ‘ūd, such as violinist Sāmī al-Shawwā, allegedly the famous qānūnist Muḥammad ‘Abduh Ṣāliḥ, or nāy player Maḥmūd ‘Iffat. Many played their instrument and the ‘ūd.

Is it because the ‘ūd was easily accessible, cheap, easy to learn, or what?

This brings us back to the fact that, in our subconscious, the ‘ūd is a theorizing instrument, the instrument onto which maqām-s were theorized, which granted the ‘ūd this importance. So its production increased and thus, it became cheaper. The same could have occurred with the qānūn for example. Moreover, the qānūn and the sanṭūr are the most widespread, logically because they are the closest to the piano keyboard –played by most people in the west–. Yet, I can’t find a logical explanation as to why a non-string plucking instrument, through which producing notes is difficult and totally dependent on the ear, is widespread, unless that is because it is related to the theorizing issue that made it an identitarian tool / instrument.

Tell me about the pieces written for ‘ūd.

In maqām music in general, one can’t say that a piece was written for a specific instrument, because when a piece is written, the instrumental interpretation must be a part of its composition. Consequently, any piece must playable by any instrument. One can’t write a piece for the violin of for the piano the same as in the European Classical music tradition. Yet, even in Europe, things are changing: Paganini violin works are being played on the guitar.

A re-arrangement…

Attempts were made in this direction: first by Sharīf Muḥiyiddīn who wrote / composed specifically for the ūd. Some even wrote concertos for specific instruments: ‘Aṭiyya Sharāra wrote a ‘ūd concerto, a nāy concerto, and a violin concerto… Abū Bakr Khayra wrote for the qānūn… Some only did so for the ‘ūd.

Shall we listen to part of ‘Aṭiyya Sharāra’s ‘ūd concerto? …


The instrumentalist is Mr. Husayn Sabir, may God grant this great musician long life.

This concerto could be played on any other instrument…

It was difficult for those who decided to write for a specific instrument to go outside the essence of composition, i.e. within the maqām system, one can’t say he is writing for a specific instrument, because the interpretation is part of the composing process, they are indivisible. Thus, if a musician does not add his own vision to the work, his performance would be incomplete, and not the opposite.

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 November 24, 2016 by Amar  /  Tags:
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