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Naseer Shamma: the man ensuring the oud has a future

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

Naseer Shamma is not content with just performing new works at his next concert. The pioneering Iraqi musician is set to premiere a whole host of new instruments at his show on Sunday in Barcelona.

As part of a commission from the Abu Dhabi Festival, Shamma will lead an orchestra of oudists for a performance at Barcelona’s famed The Gran Teatre del Liceu showing the depth and dexterity of the instrument.

For the occasion, Shamma will use up to five new variations of the oud, marking the end of a decade-long process of working with manufacturers across the region to achieve the perfect sound. “My work has always been about evolving the oud and multiplying it to form a complete musical family,” he tells The National.

“This whole work spanned 10 years, or a little bit more, but the results are very significant. We are in the process now of launching a new orchestra. It will be similar to other symphony orchestras, but with a distinctive sound that combines high proficiency and an Arabic identity.”

At the centre of this new sound are the five new oud instruments Naseer helped create. “The instruments are unprecedented,” he says. “They come with high specifications; there is the renowned traditional oud and then the new ones [play across different registers], and they are Oud Lin, Oud La, Oud Lo, and Oud Double Base.”

While each instrument is designed to achieve a certain pitch and emotional resonance, the manner in which they’re expressed entirely depends on the player. This personalisation is one of the key things that Shamma teaches his students at his famed Bait Al Oud music conservatories in Abu Dhabi and Cairo. The relationship between an oud and a musician, is a deeply personal one.

“Philosophy divides the human into the brain, the heart, the blood and the body,” he says. “The philosophy behind oud-making is also based on these components. The oud wears the fragrance of its holder, embodying his character. The renowned and brilliant oud player ought not to lend his oud to anyone, because the oud must crown the personality and the breath of its holder.

“Each instrument, when held by its player, produces a distinct sound that cannot be produced by another player. This shows the affinity between the player and the oud.”

And it is that bond that ultimately touches the audience. With the 55-year-old musician regularly on the road, having performed countless tours of Europe and North America, Shamma has seen how culture is a powerful force for understanding.

“The music, the culture and the arts are the best ways to introduce the person no matter what his culture is,” he says. “When a performer impresses an audience, this indicates that he has drawn the attention of people into his culture, his civilization and his instrument. The audience’s impressions are formed during a musical performance that will generate a respect for a whole nation.”

But nothing beats a regional gig. Shamma’s shows in the UAE are deep and contemplative affairs that have often moved audiences to tears. He says the Barcelona show will form the beginning of a new project that he will perform in the UAE next year: “We will do an Arabic and international tour having the theme ‘2030 BC’. It is going to be in Abu Dhabi and around the world.”

Also on the agenda is the Abu Dhabi Festival Awards. A trip to Poland is on the cards on November 23, where Grammy Award-winning composer Krzysztof Penderecki will be recognised for the cultural significance of his works and contribution to classical music.

Additional reporting by Liza Ayach

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Source: The National



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