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An ode to the oud
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Pass it on
I'm reading
An ode to the oud
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
An ode to the oud
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
17 October 2021

An ode to the oud

How the oud creates beauty and inclusivity.

Shai Shriki

This story originally ran in issue #67 of Dumbo Feather

Discussed in this Story

The oud is the signature sound of the Middle East – a joyful instrument that also invokes a lot of nostalgia, often making people cry. The oud is beauty, emotion and memory all at the same time.

The string instrument can be traced back 5000 years in Mesopotamia, and has travelled throughout the whole of the Middle East. Every region has a unique way of playing it. In the year 711, a musician from Baghdad named Ziryab travelled with the oud from the Middle East through North Africa and into Spain. Soon it was adopted by musicians throughout Europe who put frets on and divided it into two semitones, making it the lute. During the Baroque era, the lute evolved into string instruments such as the mandolin and the guitar.

The oud has been one of the great gifts of my life, and has had a long history in my family. I have memories of sitting with my loved ones around the table for the Shabbat dinner, eating, drinking, laughing and sharing stories, before the instruments would come out for everyone to play, sing and celebrate life.

My grandfather was a particularly wonderful musician. When I was a boy, he would pick me up from school on his pushbike and pedal in a steady rhythm, making me feel relaxed. It was like music. When we got to his home he would put a cassette in the VCR of the recorded football match from the weekend. He smoked his pipe, and we would watch the game on mute while he played the oud. He was my inspiration from the beginning.

It was quite a few years before I began to play the oud myself. As a teenager I just wanted to rock and roll, to play the electric guitar and jam. Then I came back to the oud, and was like, “Wow, this is beautiful.” There is something magical about traditional music in that it evokes particular emotions and transports you to these ancient landscapes. Many people who have just heard the oud for the first time will describe having had this incredible experience or vision or realisation. And audiences who have grown up listening to it will often say, “This is the feeling of home, you just filled me with tears of joy,” or “I am flooded with memories of my mother’s home on a Friday afternoon when they put the music on to cook and clean.”

I tour and share my music with many people, and the biggest message I try to communicate is one of peace, love, acceptance and diversity. I write music that taps into the heart space. Sometimes I write more political songs, but it still captures the heart space in a way. I think the message, “We’re all one, we’re all the same” in essence is true, but in the details not as much. We may need the same basic things in our lives, but what we like differs, what we create differs; we live in different places, we speak different languages, we have different skin colours. What we need is acceptance. If we actually see each other, see each other’s beauty, in whatever shape, form and colour it comes, it makes the world what it is: a wonderful, diverse place.

I’m passionate about diversity and I write music to celebrate that. I love to see everyone’s beauty come to the table. My lifetime exploration will be creating and communicating this passion through the fusion of instruments. By playing the oud with Indian instruments, African instruments, electric guitars, a piano or a full-on drum kit, I can create that feeling of diversity and beauty. In a way, we keep the ancient, but we also push it forward into the future, making connections and music that inspires us to love each other for who we are.

I want more things that inspire me to...

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