Pulling on his heartstrings: Naseer Shamma says the Oud was his destiny
Sitting by a river near his hometown in Al Kut, Iraq, at the age of 11, Naseer Shamma could only see himself playing the oud every time he tried to envision his future. “I knew then that the oud was my destiny.”
More than 35 year later, World renowned oud player and composer Naseer Shamma said he has watched music styles vary across the years, and was happy to witness the rebirth of cultural instruments in the past few years.
The oud is a pear-shaped stringed instrument commonly used in Arabic music.
Shamma spoke to Gulf News after performing at the World Music Festival in Sharjah about the re-emerging interesting in playing old Arabic instruments, such as the oud, in the global music scene.
“With instruments like the oud, there are always new sounds and techniques. I’m known as an Iraqi oud musician and my style is classic contemporary but I have expanded my compositions to include new styles by playing with other global musicians and orchestras.”
With the aim of preserving the old cultural Arabic style of music, Shamma decided to open his own music school, The Arab Oud House, in Egypt’s capital city Cairo in 1998. The school teaches instruments such as the oud, the qanoon (a string instrument), the Arabic flute known as the Ney, and a stringed instrument called the Saz.
“I started with one school, and now I have opened two more schools because it’s attracting people of all ages. I see the passion and talent in the youth that I work with,” he said.
With the success of the first school, Shamma decided to continue promoting Arab culture through music by opening another school in Abu Dhabi in 2008, followed by another branch in Alexandria, Egypt, in 2011.
Spending six to eight hours of his day using a pick and his fingers to strum the strings of his oud, Shamma said his love for the instrument was innate. “As a child, my dream was to play the oud instrument I saw in pictures — nobody showed me the instrument before — I was just drawn to it.”
With his strong interest in the oud becoming apparent from an early age, Shamma became an oud teacher at his school three months after he first got his hands on the instrument.
Teaching five students when he was just 12, the young musician continued to develop and share his talent throughout high school.
“I completed a six year music programme in two years, and spend the rest of the four years teaching oud to other students,” he said.
Continuing to challenge himself to come up with new techniques, the oud master said he is still flooded with new ideas of playing the instrument every time he practices with his students.
“The message I want to send to parents in the Arab world is that it is very important to teach music to children at a very young age,” he said, adding that it keeps the culture alive.