There are many ways you can incorporate Oud into Western music. I have seen a few different ways of doing this. Some ways are more effective than others. I have played the Oud in the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra and experienced first hand some of the ways Western composers incorporate the Oud into their music as well. If there are some genres that you have seen that are not mentioned here please write a comment about it and post a link to it as well. Here are some that I have heard and seen.
Jazz & Avant Garde
Oud has been used by many Jazz soloists in their ensembles. Oud is mainly a melodic instrument so it is difficult to imagine the Oud taking the place of a rhythm guitar. This would probably be ineffective. But it is an excellent solo instrument. Because it is fretless, it offers some microtonal possibilities that are very attractive to Jazz and Avant Garde musicians, even contemporary composers.
Avant Garde music that is heavily composed and arranged is usually very challenging to execute on the Oud unless the composer has extensive knowledge of the instrument and it’s repertoire. There have been times when in the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra where I had to interpret the music and improvise because the music written was virtually impossible to execute on the Oud. It was easier to create the desired effect just by improvising in the style desired.
Most original Jazz music can be played on the Oud, but there are some key signatures that might be difficult or inappropriate to play on the Oud. However, the freedom of Jazz is mirrored in Oud music in its ability to incorporate maqams and quartertones as well allow for improvisation within a mode. There are a few musicians who have done this successfully. Here are couple people who I know of playing Jazz and Avant Garde Middle Eastern fusion.
Electronic music is another easy way to incorporate the melodies of the Oud. Musically, Electronic music can be very simple and straightforward and usually stays in one key and doesn’t use a lot of chords, this is a great place for Oud to add texture and grooving melodies. Oud can easily follow the main melody line, add repetitive riffs, or be featured as a solo instrument. I really like this duo. They feature the Oud as both the main focus of the music and allow it to have extensive solos while keeping it rooted in the sound and vibe of the Middle East.
DuOud (I love these guys)
Orchestral and Contemporary Classical
Larger ensembles are good places where the Oud can add color to music. An ensemble can back up an Oud very comfortably while it plays single note melody lines, and solos. A great example that features the Oud as a solo instrument is Simon Shaheen’s Fantasie For Oud and String Quartet on his album Blue Flame. I have also heard Oud in an Orchestra featuring Western and traditional Persian instruments.
In my experience playing in the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra the Oud was featured along side a Western ensemble and an Ethnic ensemble of instruments of Middle Eastern and East Asian origin. Sometimes the Oud was called for playing a solo in a mode within a longer piece of music, other times it was playing ensemble music, and at other times it was even called to play some two note chords. One of the issues when playing the Oud in a large orchestra or ensemble is that it runs the risk of becoming lost in the other instruments. Unless it is amplified well it will not add colour or texture to an ensemble because it will simply not be heard or mix well. Arabs have a lot of experience with this as they have been pairing the Oud beside Western style orchestras for a long time. Sometimes you will find several Oud players in such ensembles. It is a challenge because Violin sections are incredibly loud even if they only comprise of three to five players. It is important for this imbalance to be accounted for when playing this kind of music. Check out these ensembles.
Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (I am the one playing the Santour (hammered dulcimer) with the long hair, I had to play Oud and Santour on this one.)
There is no doubt that Flamenco music has some affinities historically and musically with Flamenco music. The history itself is another matter entirely. Go read up on the historical figure Ziryab. Musically, Flamenco uses some modes that are easy for the Oud to play, if not reminiscent of Arabic and Persian music. Nonetheless, modern Flamenco music is very difficult to play on the Oud. Not to be discouraged, it can be done. When playing with a guitarist, it is important to establish what role the Oud will play and how to can fulfill that role. The biggest limitation for the Oud in Flamenco music is its difficulty playing chords effectively. Any honest attempt of playing chords on the Oud is an inefficient use of your practice time. The Oud is not played like that today. Personally, I don’t see much use for the Oud in Flamenco music because the Guitar simply plays Flamenco better than the Oud. But if you want to try to play Flamenco successfully on the Oud, first learn Flamenco music really well on the Guitar itself, then learn Oud really well, and see what you can do. Simon Shaheen has some very Flamenco-ish pieces on his album Blue Flame. Check out these musicians as well.
Ali Ghamsari: An excellent young Persian Tar player whose compositions and melodies are sometimes influenced by Flamenco. (My favorite example of fusion between Flamenco and Persian I’ve heard)
Amir John Haddad, Oud Guitar Duo (the best Flamenco Oud fusion I’ve seen to date)
In my opinion, fusion music is a funny term. It usually comes out one sided, either sounding more Arabic or more Flamenco. So you should know what your goal is when pursuing fusion as well.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I also hope it inspired you in your musical endeavors. If you have something to share that is related to world music fusion especially with the Oud please do share in the comments section below!