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Arabian oud: Amman composer weighs future of string instrument

By Johanna Montanari - Jul 12,2019 - Last updated at Jul 12,2019

AMMAN — The oud is said to be one of the most important historical and modern instruments in Arabic music, Amman-born composer and oud player Tareq Jundi said on Thursday, adding that, through the oud, “academics explained the Arabic scales and music theories”.

Jundi, who is now 36, told The Jordan Times he started to play the oud at the age of 11. “Back then, it was the only instrument I used to see in TV shows and songs. The oud was the most important instrument in the Arab countries before the effect of globalisation.” 

This made his decision easy: “The common culture was if you want to be a composer you have to play the oud. This is not the case anymore.”

The Arabic word “oud” literally translates to “a thin piece of wood”. It is one of the world’s most ancient musical instruments, with a lively tradition in north Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant dating back thousands of years.  It is also part of the lute family and an influential predecessor of the guitar. 

At the beginning of Arab civilisation, the oud had four single strings and occasionally five. Yet modern oud instruments generally consist of 11 or 13 strings grouped in five or six pairs plus one bass string. Also, while strings were historically made from animal  gut and plucked with a feather, today authentic oud strings are still made the same way or by using cheaper substitutes like nylon combined with metal windings.

On Tuesday night, Al Khatib Salameh Nowak Trio played in Darat Al Funun, a “home for the arts” overlooking downtown Amman. The trio  weave together “the heritage of Arabic music with brave new ideas”, according to the Darat Al Funun website.

Yet Jundi has a different opinion about combining the oud with more modern styles of music.  “All music these days go to fusion,” said Jundi. “No doubt, the role of the oud is still important, but its role is going down because the identity of Arabic music is going down, too.”

In the programme of the upcoming Jerash Festival for Culture and Arts, which begins on July 18, the oud still plays an important role. 

Renowned Lebanese oud player Marcel Khalife and Tunisian oud player and singer Lotfi Bouchnaq, who is renowned for introducing Tunisian maluf music to the outside world, will perform at the festival as well.

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