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Arts and Entertainment

MSU Political Science Department Sponsors Concert by Kurdish Musician

(Photo: Randy Stewart)

The oud (pronounced "ood") is one of the more ancient musical instruments still actively utilized around the world.  You'll have a rare local opportunity to hear the oud played by a virtuoso on the instrument today (Friday Sept.22) at 5:00pm in Missouri State University's Craig Hall Coger Theater.

Mr. Najat Abdullah is a professional oud player by training and has performed in numerous traditional Kurdish folk music ensembles.  He is also a long-time active member of the Kurdistan Organization for the Arts. Mr. Abdullah serves as a Director of Culture and Community Affairs with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Mission in Washington, DC.

Every semester Dr. David Romano, the Strong Chair in Middle Eastern Studies in the Political Science department at Missouri State University, brings a guest speaker to campus.  "Usually, it's all politics, but this time we've got music as well," says Dr. Romano, who brought Mr. Abdullah to the KSMU studios this morning.

Mr. Abdullah does numerous presentations around the United States every year, "promoting," he says, "our (Kurdish) identity through culture by organizing film festivals, by organizing concerts, art exhibitions. Today I'm here with my oud for a solo concert."

He notes that there is a "lot of different research" concerning the origins of the oud, which is a pear-shaped lute-like instrument with a short neck. Mr. Abdullah's oud has 12 strings arranged in pairs.  His belief, based on current research, is that the oud's origins date to about 3000 years ago during the Sumerian period. His own instrument is a modern one, about 15 years old.  "(The oud) used to be five strings, and this century, actually, they added strings which gives you more flexibility, an (additional) octave.  Back in the day there were no microphones, there were no speakers, so they thought about ways to (better) project the sound" and came up with the double-string arrangement.

While the oud is usually considered a Middle Eastern instrument, Abdullah says it's now become a "worldwide instrument.  Not only Turks, Arabs and Kurds use it today--Armenia, they use it very well, and Azerbaijan.  There are some countries in Africa. So musicians now are trying to find out (about the oud), and there's a lot of interest in art institutes around the world to put it on their programs."

The oud is what Najat Abdullah calls a "quarter-tone" instrument: "it's not just a 'sharp' or 'flat'" instrument, he says.  It's designed to play notes in between the notes of the usual Western harmonic system.

Mr. Abdullah played two selections on the oud in our studio, which can be heard in the audio file above. I told him the first one had a decided D-minor tonality to it, which he confirmed--he said he was trying to play something with a rather more recognizably Western sound.  he illustrated something of the more exotic quarter-tone variety in the second piece.

In addition to the concert in Coger Theatre today, Mr. Abdullah spoke about and played his oud for Evangel University students on Thursday. "We really enjoyed it, and they learned--actually, I learned from them as well.  It's so nice when you see young students have a desire for different cultures and they're trying to learn more about other cultures."  He says he'll be "more than happy" to take questions from the audience during his MSU concert.

For information on the concert, call Dr. David Romano's office at 836-6957, or find information on the Missouri State University Political Science blog page here.