Friday, May 20, 2005

Aoud, Pipe and Drum

Last night we went to an aoud concert. This is a beautiful Middle Eastern musical instrument, a string instrument like a guitar, but with about twenty strings (maybe less, I was trying to count the tension knobs as they played). It has a very deep round belly. Music aficionados are by now wincing at my lack of correct terminology. They have the option of skipping this bit.

See it here.

The concert was in a very basic hall with chairs on the sort of structure more used in sports stadiums. It didn’t help that it was tucked under the busiest bridge in Zamalek which meant that it vibrated all the time from traffic, with occasional louder and more intrusive sounds.

There was a very small audience at first, but it doubled by the end of the evening. The players simply walked, in, picked up their instruments, and started. No fanfare or announcements.

There were three musicians, a taller, slightly older man, George Kazazian, who played the aoud (that first letter is supposed to be the equivalent of the ayn – one of the more unpronounceable of the Arabic alphabets, and a bit like twisting and a around your throat before letting it out). A younger man who played the drum, and another who looked young enough to be in is teens, who played a bamboo pipe.

I love this style of music. It was gentle, very clever, and almost conversational in the way the instruments worked with each other. The drummer rarely had a break, and most of the drumming was done at the edge of the top of the drum, and flicking to the centre occasionally. He often had a hand on the centre, and moved this around to change the sound he was getting. He did an occasional solo and it was amazing how many sounds he could get from a small and apparently simple instrument.

The bamboo pipe was just as impressive. It was very simple, no special mouthpiece or reed, just a long narrow section of bamboo with about eight segments, and holes at the lower end, both above and below. He had his mouth to the instrument most of the time, and I couldn’t work out if he came in at a signal I didn’t see, or if he made up his own mind where to come in. His softer notes had a sobbing, ‘crying in the wind’ quality, and he would use these often as sounds that floated through the music of the drum and aoud. Occasionally he would play more and louder, and keep his eye on the aoud player. Then the nod was obvious, and his would be the main instrument, with others simply playing repetitive passages as background.

There was no doubt that the aoud was the master, both as man and instrument. It sounds a little like a Spanish guitar, and the rather free form way of playing seemed very unrehearsed. Sometimes the music was demanding, sometimes so intermittent that you wondered if he could be falling asleep, as the intervals between notes became longer and more thoughtful.

The three together were just wonderful and I sat a lot with my eyes closed to let them mix in my head without the distraction of sight. They were having fun too, and there were times when you could see them laughing at each other, as the drummer set a frantic pace for the others, or the aoud player pulled the pipe into what sounded like a duel of two instruments.

We asked for CDs. He didn’t have any with him. I would have loved one, and will watch for the group again.


Blogger Kt said...

Probably 16 strings (generally between 10 and 16).
Don't you love the different scale to Western music? They actually get twice as many notes in the same space - dividing things into quarter-tones, whereas we don't get any closer than a half-tone.
Really tricky to sing if you haven't grown up with it!
(Oh - and they're called "pegs" - wink.)

12:33 am  

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