Arabic: ‘al-¢ūd

Excerpt 1: Nubian Oud music
Excerpt 2: Nubian Oud music

The Oud is a highly ornate instrument made of wood, with six double strings, with a pear-shaped body and a non-fretted neck.

Traditionally, the Oud was plucked with an eagle feather or a pick made from the horn of a water buffalo. Originating in Pharaonic Egypt, where it was known as Nefer, it was adopted by Persian invaders and its name changed to Barbet.

From Persia it moved north into Russia, then east into China and Japan, to respectively become the Balalaika, Pipa, and Biwa. In the fifth century, it traveled westward to the Arabian Peninsula with the Persians who helped rebuild the Ka’ba in Mecca.

In Arabia, it was given the name Oud, which in Arabic means wood and is the root from whence the European word “lute” is derived. The Bedouins used the Oud to accompany the poetry recitations for which they were justly renowned. With the Islamic expansion, the Oud reached many diverse lands and cultures which had come under Islamic rule.

During the Abbasid Caliphate, at the court of Harun Al-Rashid in Baghdad, the Oud was further refined by the great Iraqi musician Zeriab.

Jealousy and intrigue on the part of Ishag-al-Mawsili, his teacher and the royal court musician, drove Zeriab to seek refuge in Andalusia. When he arrived in Spain, the cities of Cordoba, Seville and Granada were centers of great cultural, artistic, and religious activity.

These centers, under the inspiration and influence of the Sufis, were to have a tremendous impact on medieval Europe. Once settled at the court in Cordoba, Zeriab set about introducing the concepts of new music, drawn from Greek, Persian, and Arab elements, that were to influence deeply the foundations of European classical music.

The Oud was introduced into western Europe by the Knights Templar returning from the Holy Land and by the Troubadours (from the Arabic root T-r-b, meaning lutanist) from Provence.

Having reached the troubadours from Muslim Spain, this instrument was to play a crucial role in the establishment of the Romantic Courts. The poetry, music, and ideals that ensued from this great endeavor became the infrastructure upon which the Renaissance was built. Brought into the British Isles, the Oud was transformed in the Elizabethan period into the western European lute.

Today, the Oud still remains very popular in the Middle East, where it is regarded as the queen of instruments.


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