The story behind the Oud

One of the oldest instruments known to man, the Oud is living proof that even the most ancient of objects can be brought to life by a modern touch 

Within its strings, it contains the musical tradition of an entire region. 

The Oud is one of the oldest musical instruments known to man, and many believe it to be the ancestor of the modern guitar. However, the legacy of the Oud, unlike that of many other ancient traditions, continues till today. The earliest proof of the existence of an instrument like the Oud can be found in an excavated cylindrical seal from the Uruk Period in Mesopotamia, which dates back almost 5000 years.

Since then, the Oud has been revered as the ‘King of Instruments,’ telling the stories of its time through its melodious music. Even today, the beautiful sounds of the Oud have the power to transport the listener to another time. 

Oud
The Oud has been found in a 5000-year old cylindrical seal from the Uruk Period in Mesopotamia

History is full of stories about the Oud. According to Abu Nasr Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Al Farabi, the 10th century Islamic scholar and philosopher, the Oud was invented by Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam. Legend has it that, overcome by grief at the death of his son, Lamech hung his body from a tree. The first ever Oud was thus inspired by the shape of the skeleton on the tree. 

While the legend behind its origin is somewhat morbid, the Oud does hold an exalted place in Arab history. Its importance is perhaps best brought out by the words of Marwadi, the 9th century jurist from Baghdad, who said that that the music of the Oud could even treat illnesses!
The idea persisted even until the 19th-century, when the writer Muhammad Shihab al-Din described the Oud as an instrument that "places the temperament in equilibrium" and "calms and revives hearts".

Over time, variations of the Oud were found all across the Middle East, from the classical Arabic Oud of Iraq to the Turkish variation called Kopuz. In the Gulf countries too, the Oud has a special place as the only instrument that accompanies the Sawt, a special kind of folk music in Kuwait and Bahrain.

In the UAE, this instrument has been given a new lease of life with the setting up of the Bait al Oud in Abu Dhabi. Founded by Nasser Shamma, one of the world’s leading Oud maestros, this Centre, in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage, works to train and develop a new generation of Oud musicians. It’s not yet been a decade since the centre was set up, but famous graduates are already making their mark globally. Not just that, the current generation of Oud musicians are evolving their own style of music, using the classical instrument to perform the Blues, Jazz and even Western Classics.