“Musician Beckles Willson (Orientalism and Musical Mission) scrupulously traces the history of the oud—a short-necked, fretless stringed musical instrument—from its first written mention in ancient Persia to the present day. An instrument long associated with bereavement (an early fable holds that a grieving father constructed it from his deceased son’s bones and sinews, “played it, wept, and sang the first lament”), ouds of the past accommodated between four and seven double courses of strings, were often custom-designed for their owners, and were crafted from wood, while modern versions can also be partly fashioned of carbon fiber and have commanded prices up to more than a half-million dollars. Through history, the instrument followed shifting fault lines between East and West: ubiquitous in many Abbasid courts, and played in particular by thousands of women at festive gatherings, the oud was brought by Arab people to southern Europe between the ninth and 13th centuries. From there, it spread northward, and eventually became the lute. In the 20th century, following the Ottoman Empire’s dissolution and the Armenian Genocide, refugees carried the instrument around the world. Generously illustrated and embedded with QR codes that link to YouTube videos of oud players in action, this is both a rich cultural history and a thoughtful analysis of the shifting global dynamics that gave the oud its reach. Music lovers will be captivated.”
Publisher’s Weekly, 17 October:
My much-awaited my book, The Oud: An Illustrated History,, has just been published by Interlink Books. This volume has been a decade in the making. I collaborated with oud players, oud collectors, museum curators and luthiers to present the oud’s history in the context of its visual beauty, with numerous pictures of its elegant pear-shaped body, intricate rosettes and ravishing ornamental veneers. The volume thus showcases stunning illustrations and photographs of the oud’s varying forms and styles over time.
The oud‘s alluring sounds (which you will hear by following QR codes) have captivated travellers, scholars, and musicians in far corners of the world, from the bustling streets of Baghdad to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. It is now a global instrument. Illustrations of players from the past and the present testify the oud’s ability to transcend geographical boundaries and foster cultural exchange. The multiple and entangled histories presented in The Oud: An Illustrated History allow readers to immerse themselves in the world of the oud as never before.