April 4, 2009

THE MELANCHOLY MANDOLIN:

He Plays Arab Music, Makes and Fixes Ouds (NINA ROBERTS, 3/30/09, WSJ)

'We Arabs export two major things, oil and ouds," says a laughing Najib Shaheen, this city's most respected oud maker, restorer and dealer. The oud is a stringed Arab instrument that, after it was brought to Andalusian Spain in the eighth century, spawned the European lute, guitar and mandolin.

Today's ouds are usually walnut or rosewood, and have a pear-shaped shell, a short neck with no frets -- allowing the musician a broader tonal range -- and typically one single bass and five double strings. When expertly plucked, the oud emits an earthy sound with a hint of melancholy, eliciting an emotional response similar to that of the cello. Played in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey for centuries, it continues to be integral to Arabic orchestras and ensembles. It's also used as a composing tool.

"I am most interested in the acoustic aspects of oud making," says Mr. Shaheen, a 62-year-old with salt-and-pepper hair and a matching mustache. In his booming, authoritative voice, cascading with rolling R's and articulated consonants, he explains that the oud's soundboard comprises seven "braces," pieces of unvarnished spruce wood. The thickness, placement and age of the wood all contribute to each oud's particular sound. They are attached underneath the instrument's face. "There are rules where they should be placed, but it's really up to you, the feel of it. What you don't want is a hollow sound with echo."

MORE:
-FEATURED ARTIST: Rahim AlHaj (Smithsonian Global Sound)
Anouar Brahem and the Art of the Oud: Anouar Brahem Brings Ancient Instrument to the Modern World (Liane Hansen, November 17, 2002, Weekend Edition)
Le Trio Joubran: Brothers of the Oud (Banning Eyre, April 29, 2008, All Things Considered)
Rahim Al Haj's Odyssey with the Oud (All Things Considered, December 23, 2006)
Abou-Khalil Takes the Oud Down a Jazzy Path (David Was, April 28, 2006, Day to Day)
Marcel Khalife, 'Dylan of the Middle East' (Neda Ulaby, October 23, 2004, Weekend Edition)



Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2009 7:02 AM
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