Vibe for the oud – Culture – Al-Ahram Weekly

Michael Onsy’s Halet Oud project – which could be translated as Mood for Oud – focuses on the artist’s instrument, the oud, through which he expresses his thoughts and emotions in unique creative gestures supported by other instrumentalists. More recently, on July 21, the public was able to discover the magic of Onsy during a concert which took place at the Goethe Institut in Dokky. It was the last night of this season’s Shubbak El-Fann, Goethe’s program which aims to give Egyptian artists from all walks of life a platform to present their work, be it music, dance, visual art, film or otherwise.

The Mood of Oud concert took advantage of the space, a garden where the public had the chance to relax on beanbags in front of the stage. The performance featured Onsy on oud, Feras Nouh on keyboards, Cherif Ramez on bass and Hany Bedair on percussion. Onsy says her music has a relaxing scent, which made the atmosphere in the garden perfect for her.

“Mood for Oud is not a band. For me, it’s a project, an idea based on my approach to the oud and to life,” says Onsy. Through his original compositions, performed by the ensemble, he addresses a range of emotions and states of mind; it delves into the human condition and into all sorts of situations that arise in life; he talks about choice, divine intervention, perseverance and other themes.

The oud player’s journey with this instrument began in 2005 when he got his first oud as a gift from his father. “One day I told my father that I would like to have an oud – for me it was more of a joke than a serious request. Then I was surprised to see him buy one for me. Once I grabbed my oud, I immediately fell in love with it.

Onsy began looking for ways to develop his skills, listening to recordings of Iraqi oud virtuoso Naseer Shamma and others. He enrolled in Beit El Oud (or Oud House) in Cairo, founded by Shamma, although initially not fully committed to the academic path. However, as he continued to develop, the urge to study properly kept growing. “At the beginning of 2015, I decided to take my oud studies seriously. I became an engaged student and graduated from Oud House with excellence at the end of 2017.”

A series of concerts and tours followed, during which he performed with different troupes, many of them led by Shamma. At the same time, Onsy begins to compose his own music until in 2019 his trajectory converges towards Mood for Oud. The project involves three main musicians in addition to Onsy: Fady Ezzat on percussion, Emad Sidhom on bass and Feras Nouh on keyboard. But the concept also leaves things open to other musicians. “At Goethe, we played as a quartet, Cherif Ramez and Hany Bedeir joining us for the evening. Over the past three years, several great musicians have crossed paths with Mood of Oud.

That evening, the musicians performed six of Onsy’s 14 latest compositions, each with its own theme. “Promise”, for example, is Onsy’s commitment to himself to be a better person. “By You I Live” discusses his relationship with God, while “Dream” talks about everyone’s dream of achieving something or other and how it could go from an image to reality. ‘New Beginning’ deals with how things start, ‘Don’t Give Up’ tackles negative thoughts and ‘Life’ – which Onsy composed for her three-year-old son – establishes a reservoir of memories.

With oud, bass guitar, percussion and keyboards, these themes were universally expressed to reach the audience. Each piece was preceded by a few words to put listeners in the right frame of mind. Onsy’s subjects are personal and subjective but, expressed in music, they become not only universal but open to interpretation. Such openness and intimacy is probably Onsy’s advantage in the highly competitive music environment. His work bridges East and West and crosses generations. There is something for everyone.

“The oud is a very rich instrument, emphasizes Onsy. “Being a fretless instrument, it has unlimited musical capabilities. Although it is often identified with oriental music, the oud fuses easily with many genres, crossing the borders of traditional Turkish, Iranian and Egyptian expressions and moving towards modern formations, jazz bands and others. He explains that since the instrument’s fingerboard is not limited to semitones, its range of tones is endless, easily incorporating quarter tones and allowing the performer to play with intervals as well. Derived from the lute, its illustrious ancestor, the Arabic oud has been absorbed by many cultures, and has become “the king, the sultan or the emir of musical instruments”. No wonder, since its warm sound attracts listeners and composers alike, adding crucial understudy to many compositions or delighting the ear with its soloing abilities.

But Mood for Oud is also much younger, with the bass guitar as one of its mainstays. In fact, while probing musical possibilities, Onsy often incorporates other instruments, making Mood for Oud a multi-dimensional experience. “Our first concert, in 2019, was at the Room Arts Space and Café. We were a trio: oud, bass guitar and percussion. I then added a keyboard and other instruments depending on the concert”, specifies Onsy. In the more than 15 concerts Mood for Oud has given in Cairo and Alexandria over the past five years, the highest number of musicians on stage was nine. Although, on one occasion, the ensemble was joined by a singer performing two titles, Mood for Oud relies mainly on Onsy’s instrumental compositions, sometimes supplemented by songs taken from the classical repertoire – such as pieces sung by Umm Kalthoum – but arranged on the compositions of Onsy. purposes.

In Egyptian music, maintaining a purely instrumental project is far from easy, but Onsy has managed to sustain the project, attracting enough audiences to consider releasing an album, “the first of a two-volume CD” envisions he. As Onsy clarifies, he is already planning to take this step, looking for opportunities and support. But until that happens, listeners can enjoy live music. Mood for Oud’s next concert will be at El Sawy Culturewheel on Monday August 8th.


*A version of this article appeared in the August 4, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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