- Kuwait Times Extra
Every day when the clock strikes midnight, Ahmed Abduljalil goes downstairs to his workshop in the quiet residential area of Rumathiya. He plays his classical music collection, grabs a log of rosewood and starts carving the Middle East’s most melodic instrument – the oud. “I can only create surrounded by the tranquility of the night,” he says, sitting in his workshop where piles of various tools and wood types lay around.
Abduljalil, a mechanic by profession and a music lover by heart, picked up oud-making 20 years ago. To this day, however, he says that experimenting is one of the main traits of his art. “In order to create a masterpiece, you need to be in a certain creative mood… Classical music inspires me,” he says, and starts narrating the story of how oud-making first became a hobby for him and then grew into a passion. “If something is a hobby, you will be more creative practicing it than if it is your full-time job,” he says.
A self-taught oud-maker
The certain state-of-mind seems to take centre stage for the middle-aged Kuwaiti artist when it comes to oud-making. Sometimes an oud (from the Arabic word for wood) takes him a week to complete and at other times the completion of the musical instrument stretches to one or two months. “It depends on my mood. Before I make the oud I have to feel it,” Abduljalil says, explaining that the creative process for him starts when the musician chooses a certain design. “The design depends on people’s taste,” the self-taught oud-maker explained, elaborating that he, himself, recreates the features of the Abdo Nahat design.
Perfect workmanship and elaborate design are the key characteristics of Abduljalil’s ouds, which he crafts with a ready mould to which he attaches 3-mm thick rosewood strips until completing the pear-shaped bottom of the instrument.
According to Abduljalil, an odd number of wood pieces are essential to make a good oud. That is why he has chosen to make ouds with 25 strips. His step-by-step process of turning wood into an oud is straight-forward: After he glues the ribs from the inside, Abduljalil scrubs the oud. The elaborate technique of polishing the oud is completed when French polish is applied atop with cotton. The oud is then ready for the intricate inlaid design, which Abduljalil does first with a pencil and later with a small knife. Such design, he explains, is the trademark of the Abdo Nahat oud-makers. After he completes the soundboard, Abduljalil says he combines it with the oud’s pear-shaped body. The last item of the oud is the soundboard, which provides the different quality and frequency of the sound.
In general, the weight, age and material of the oud will determine the quality of the sound. “The older an oud gets, the better sound it makes,” Abduljalil says. Using the analogy about the age of shoes and the oud, in relation to the quality of the sound, he says: “If the oud is old and nobody played on it, the quality of the sound is not as good. Similarly, if you don’t wear old shoes, they will be painful to wear later on.”
Abduljalil is the family’s sole instrument maker. That is why he now teaches his craftsman’s skills and love for making the lute-like instrument to an Indian boy working in his house. “He is good with his hands and has talent,” he said, introducing his apprentice. “Contrary to the claims of oud makers that our craft is hard, I would like to say that oud-making is not such difficult work,” he says with a smile, and shows the so-called Ahmed’s oud name tag inside the oud he has just completed. Pointing at a small note in the belly of the wood, which could be seen through the instrument’s rosette, he says: “Each oud has the date it was made, name of the oud-maker and his phone number pasted inside.”
Holding an oud he had made, he sits on a sofa in his diwaniya and before he starts to play he says: “If you play the oud yourself, you find it easier to recognize the sound with precision. I always try to improve the sound…I love oud-making because I do something unique.”
By Velina Nacheva
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