Egyptians found new passion in pear-shaped musical instrument ‘Oud’ amid pandemic

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“I play four instruments, but the oud is definitely my favorite,” says the 27-year-old Sudanese engineer, leaning over the pear-shaped body of his instrument.

The oud, a string instrument popular in the Middle East with origins dating back thousands of years, is a key component of classical Arabic music.

Its tuning and practice is based on a complex system of oriental melodic modes known as maqamat.

Long an accompanying instrument, it has slowly emerged from the shadows since the end of the 19th century.

Mohammed arrived from Khartoum in September to learn oud at the Kipa Music School in Giza, west of the Egyptian capital.

While he could have studied elsewhere, he said he chose Egypt because it was renowned for its oud players like Mohammed al-Qasabgi, who composed and performed some of the diva’s greatest hits. Egyptian Umm Kulthum.

The oud “is an instrument that has its own feelings and is able to translate everything into you,” he said.

Sudan’s coronavirus lockdown measures have helped him focus on practice, he added.

Kipa opened earlier this year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and has drawn music lovers from all walks of life, according to founder Romani Armis.

Students can learn instruments such as guitar, violin and percussion, he said, but the oud was the most popular, with 25 registrations.

Although the oud has long been dominated by men, teacher Hagar Aboul Kassem said her students included several young women.

Classes are also held online and group classes at the school are limited to two students per classroom, Armis said.

“Playing music has helped the students channel their worries to overcome” this difficult time, he said.

“Unprecedented interest”

In the Al-Marg district, north of Cairo, Khaled Azzouz, a veteran of oud making, was busy around his workshop.

“The problem with oud is that it requires long hours of practice and people usually don’t have the time,” he said.

Azzouz runs the largest oud workshop in Egypt, producing 750 instruments per month.

Sometimes neighborhood children earn pocket money doing odd jobs in the workshop, such as removing staples from unfinished oud bodies, Azzouz said.

It supplies the Cairo branch of Beit al-Oud, a specialized school located in the Arab world, and exports to 12 countries, from Sweden and the United States to Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

Azzouz, who has been making musical instruments for 25 years, said he saw “unprecedented interest” in oud during the global health crisis.

But he said a pandemic-related disruption earlier this year in timber imports – including rosewood from India and ebony, mahogany and beech from elsewhere – had slowed the pace of growth. production.

“We make the oud from A to Z… but Egypt does not have forests, so all the wood here is imported,” he said.

Egypt has officially recorded around 125,000 cases of Covid-19 and more than 7,000 deaths.

Azzouz said one benefit of the virus restrictions was that they helped people find time to train.

“With the coronavirus everyone is bored at home,” he said.

“People contact me online for orders.”

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