Waiting for the playing lesson to start at a center for music education in Giza (west of Cairo), Maysara Mohamed sits bending over his back and plays a Sudanese melody that carries him away from the hustle and bustle of the Covid-19 epidemic that is filling the world.
This engineer, who is fond of music, came from Khartoum to Cairo last September, especially in order to master playing the oud at this institute, which was opened in the height of the emerging Corona virus crisis.
Mohamed says that his training course was originally scheduled for last February, “but with Corona, everything stopped, and I was able to stay in Cairo for a longer period in order to devote all my time to oud.”
The oud takes over
The school provides training on 7 instruments, but the Oud is the instrument that is of the greatest interest undisputedly, according to the founder of the institute Romani Armis.
This lover of music – who plays the oud – explains that the center includes “15 students for each musical instrument, but we have about 25 students for oud lessons, including those who study online.”
The oud teacher, Hajar Abu Al-Qasim, confirms that the majority of the pupils are beginners, and she is proud that there are 4 girls learning to play this instrument, of which men make up the majority of its players.
The oud – which was invented thousands of years ago – occupies a central position in traditional Arabic music based on maqamat, and for a long time it remained a companion instrument, but it gradually emerged from the shadows since the end of the nineteenth century.
Agarwood manufacturing workshop
Oud maker Khaled Azouz – who has been working in the field for 25 years – notes “great enthusiasm” for learning oud since the virus began spreading, with “an unprecedented increase in demand,” as he told AFP.
Azouz runs the largest workshop for the manufacture of the oud in Egypt in Al-Marj neighborhood (north of Cairo), and it employs 32 people. The workshop provides instruments for the Egyptian branch of “Beit Al Oud”, which is a school for teaching playing and has several branches in the Arab world.
His workshop produces 750 ouds a month that are exported to 12 countries, from Sweden to Tunisia, through the United States and Saudi Arabia, which have become their biggest customers since 2017, and Azouz says that “the problem with the oud is that it should be trained to play it 3 or 4 hours a day.”
A machine that translates feelings
People do not usually find a long time, but since Corona appeared, they became bored in their homes, so they started to contact Azouz via the Internet to request the oud.
Egypt has officially recorded more than 125,000 cases of the new Corona virus, including about 7100 deaths, and the country has lifted most of the restrictions imposed in the first months of the spread of the epidemic.
Although Armis considers opening a center for teaching music in the time of Corona a “success”, the virus had some effects on the manufacture of the oud.
Azzouz explains that “the suspension of shipping had an impact on the import of wood needed for the manufacture of the oud during the months extending from March to last July, which led to a reduction in production.”
“We manufacture the oud from A to Z, but Egypt does not have forests, so all the wood here is imported from India, China, Africa and North America,” he says.
For his part, Sudanese Maysara Muhammad confirms that he was always attracted to Cairo “like a magnet,” noting that all the musicians who emerged were in Egypt or Iraq, such as Muhammad al-Qasabji and Riad al-Sunbati, two famous Egyptian composers and musicians whose names were associated with Umm Kulthum’s songs.
“I play 4 instruments, but the Oud is my favorite because it is an instrument that we embrace and translate the feelings within a person,” he continues.
At the institute, it was decided that the number of students who train in each room should not exceed two students for health reasons, and Armis is keen to permanently ventilate the place.
Therefore, Armis asserts, “The students come feeling safe, and rid of their worries through music,” and he proudly adds, “We have resisted” in the face of the epidemic.