Book Size: 9" x 9"

Pages: 256

Format: Hardback

ISBN: 9781623717520

Imprint: Interlink Books

Illustrations: Illustrated

Release date: Fall 2023


The Oud

An Illustrated History


$ 40

“Willson is equal parts musician and scholar, which positions her perfectly to tell the complex story of the oud … Willson’s comprehensive history draws upon folklore, design, and politics … In addition to tracing its movement across continents and its changing role in society, Willson explores in detail the construction, tuning, and fretting of the oud and maps its changing shape and sound up to the current moment. The book is lavishly illustrated with ancient and contemporary images that help tell the story of this fascinating instrument.”
— Booklist

“Extensively researched history with musical appeal, Rachel Beckles Willson’s illustrated book is an ode to the decorated instrument’s past …The topics covered include how the instrument was built, the materials used for its construction, the variations in the types of ouds, its changing repertoires and the lives of past and present virtuosos, such as the Iraqi musician Munir Bashir and Syrian-Egyptian film star Farid El Atrash. The text is enriched with illustrations, such as ancient Gandharan friezes, a drawing of various types of ouds by Napoleon’s team in Egypt and more generally ouds of various shapes and sizes. The Oud: An Illustrated History will appeal not only to aficionados of chordophones—instruments that use vibrating strings to make sound—but anyone with curiosity about the culture and history of the Middle East.”
— The National
“In this engaging work, Beckles Willson … offers the complex story of the oud, a short-necked, unfretted lute that has been a mainstay in Middle Eastern and North African music for soloists and in musical ensembles for centuries. Paired with photos, illustrations and other graphics, the book chronicles the evolution of the instrument … Beckles Willson’s multifaceted exploration of the instrument, details everything from oud construction to its most legendary players. Readers can even hear their distinctive styles through the included QR codes, bringing the world of ouds to life.”
— AramcoWorld

About this book

A beautifully-written illustrated history of one of the most important instruments in music cultures of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to a literary tradition of Iraq, the origin of the oud lies in the grief of Lamak, a descendent of Cain, son of Adam. When his 5-year-old son died, Lamak hung the boy’s limp body on a tree, and as time passed, he resolved to build a musical instrument from the remaining bones. He then played it, wept, and sang the first lament; his daughter Sila became an instrument maker. So the oud is a beautiful pear-shaped box, with neck and strings, that makes music, but it can also be a link to the world of storytelling that brings new voices into life.

Today the oud is one of the most important instruments in music cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, and while associated mainly with the Arab world, it is also played in Iran, Turkey and Greece. More recently it has spread into East Africa, numerous countries of Europe, Australia, the Americas, China and Japan.

This book explores the oud’s history and increasingly global lives today. It explores its varied construction over time and place, delves into its place in literature, and reveals its widespread repertoire and immensely diverse players. 


About the author

Rachel Beckles Willson is an award-winning writer and Professor of Intercultural Performing Arts at Codarts University of the Arts in Rotterdam, and the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts at Leiden University, Netherlands. She is an internationally sought-after scholar, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. Her articles on the oud led her to win the Frances Densmore Prize of the American Musical Instrument Society in 2021.


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