Rachel Neiman
November 3, 2013

The International Oud Festival 2013 opened last night in Jerusalem, marking the 14th anniversary of this unique celebration. The week-long Oud Festival focuses on… well… the oud — a musical instrument known throughout the Middle East as the “king of instruments”.

According to the Festival organizers, the oud is “an outstanding symbol of the illustrious Arab musical culture that influenced a variety of musical traditions throughout the region… the instrument that unites and links the various musical cultures and traditions in the Middle East, the Mediterranean Sea Region and the Indian-Sub Continent”.

Most of the performances during the festival, are original productions that present Jewish interpretations of ancient traditions and contemporary mores, and the links between Arabic and classical Persian music and Jewish poetry.

As in previous years, it presents original productions and special performances  including the Katerina Papadopoulou Ensemble with traditional Greek music; and Turkish folk music singer Sabahat Akkiraz. There will also be a tribute to composer Muhammad al-Qasabgi and to legendary diva, the first lady of Arab song, Oum Kalthoum (also Umm Kulthoum).

The organizers write, “Oum Kalthoum, ‘the Voice of Egypt,’ [was] the foremost female vocalist of 20th century Arab music. For the 50 years of her musical activity she recorded some 300 songs and became famous thanks to her involvement in the selection and composition of the works she performed. Her personal vocal style emphasized the subtleties of authentic Egyptian style in works from both the neo-classical and folk repertoires.”

A photo from the British Mandate period shows Kalthoum’s likeness above the entrance to Jaffa’s famed Alhambra Theater where she performed in 1937. (The building today houses Israel’s Scientology Center).  

Her popularity extended throughout the Middle East, including in Israel among the Arabic-speaking populations, both Jewish and Muslim. Over the years, many Israeli singers have reinterpreted her works. This year, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat inaugurated Oum Kalthoum Street in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

The International Oud Festival takes place from 31 October to 9 November at the Confederation House, Beit Shmuel and the Jerusalem Theater, Jerusalem. For more information, visit the Confederation House website.


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