Last week, a few fortunate Cairenes received an early Christmas gift. Diwan bookstores organized two consecutive events to celebrate the relaunch of Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma’s albums “Ard Al Sawad (Land of Darkness) and “Ishraq (Sunrise) and “Rahil Al Qamar (Departure of the Moon), allowing his fans the chance to get up close and personal with the luminary composer.
“He is unique; he re-introduced classic oud playing, said Ziad Bahaaeddin, one of Diwan’s owners. “His big project ‘Beit El Oud’ is not just a school but a method of preserving what could be lost, renewing it and modernizing it so this form of art becomes available and not just something that belongs in a museum.
Despite his enormous popularity across the region, most of Shamma’s albums were produced outside the Arab world.
“Arab producers are not concerned about music, they only focus on songs, thinking that sells more, Shamma explained. “In fact, music sells for a longer term, while songs are seasonal and only sell for a few months. My album ‘Baghdad’s Lute,’ for example, has held the highest price in the Institute of the Arab World in Paris since 1994. It sells for ? 23 while other CDs are now sold for ? 5.
Before he introduced his new song “Bein Al Forat wa Al Nile (Between the Euphrates and the Nile), Shamma discussed the close connection between Egypt and Iraq, saying both countries were home to civilizations more than 5,000 years old, which “have provided the means and thoughts of today’s life.
“Mr Naseer is a veteran artist. He always communicates new ideas, such as today’s idea of Egypt and Iraq’s joint history. It’s more than just attending an event, there is a cultural, social and educational benefit to it, commented Siham El Seraty, one of the attendees at the event.
Throughout the past eight years, Shamma’s sold-out concerts have developed into a creative stage to invoke new ideas or introduce novel experiments that have left the audience invigorated, attracting one of the largest cult followings in Egypt’s music scene.
A master of the instrument he eloquently plays, Shamma has followed the manuscript of music theorist Ibn Farabi to structure an eight-string oud, spreading out the instrument’s musical range. He also embraced a new method of playing oud with one hand.
And his passion for the oud is contagious; his audiences are usually trapped with fondness and a flagrant enthusiasm for his performances. But he doesn’t give himself due credit for conserving the oud and attracting a younger audience through his excitment; instead he emphasizes that the instrument itself remains a major attraction. “The oud was able to preserve itself from 2350 BC, as a number one instrument, Shamma said.
The Cairo-based Iraqi artist, however, thinks highly of Egypt and is passionate about the country. “Any artwork bears fruit in Egypt. As it has the tradition and the icons who helped people develop a collective taste, Shamma said.
The biggest testament to Shamma’s accomplishment is “Beit Al Oud Al Arabi . Founded by Shamma in 1998 at Beit Al Harrawy, the place became a platform for oriental music and a starting point for a range of musicians. “Beit El Oud is a real house, a family that has students from all over the world and not just an academy, said Abtesam Shabayek, a former graduate and a tutor at Beit El Oud.
Under his supervision, several talents were discovered and many masterpieces were produced.
“I have always respected how Mr Shamma values the song and adores his choice of words, said Ali Al Ward, a new singer who will be collaborating soon with Shamma.
Shamma has also formed Al-Oyoun ensemble with the aim of introducing a new form of Arabic Orchestra (Al-Takht) based fundamentally on improvisation.
On the humanitarian side, the musician donated a sum of money for 2,200 Iraqi children deprived of education. “As a nation, our lives need to be balanced. We need social security so that the human being can think of beauty. Beauty doesn’t exits except in a fulfilled environment, he said.
Next year an album is slated for release including several compositions that have debuted in previous concerts to great acclaim such as “Al Ard (The Land).
For the past five years, Shamma has been celebrating the New Year with his audience and this year is no exception. Tomorrow night at 10 pm, Shamma will perform at the Sawy Cultural Wheel, ending the year with another performance that will surely dazzle his fans.