Driss El Maloumi

15 Aug 2018

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) hosts the “Oud Poet” Driss Maloumi for three evenings on July 23, 24 and 25, 2018 at Ithra Theater. Driss Maloumi, UNESCO Award- winning, preforms for the first time in the Kingdom and seeks to create a unique experience that opens horizons of freedom and openness. The following interview explores Driss El Maloumi’s experience and journey with the oud.

How did you manage to fit the oud with Western musical instruments?

I am one of those who believe that a musical instrument speaks only what the musician dictates. There is no space for deception between the two. Communication and dialogue between musical instruments is a practice as old as mankind. In general, musical instruments elude monopoly and disown musical negligence.
The main culprit in a musical act that is lacking in writing, composing or playing is the musician himself, not the instrument. If not, then how can one explain the successful introduction of the violin into all the different human cultures? How can one explain the survival of the guitar, the drums, the clarinet, or the piano amid the tide of musical variety? Bringing instruments together seems natural to me. I enforce no arbitrary allocation in my compositions. I write and play ideas, not sounds. Therefore, choosing instruments is dictated by the theme.
When it comes to the theme, I give the platform to my inner voice regardless of the instrument I use to translate or play it. I am proud that my oud played together with various musical instruments from around the world. I consider this diversity an addition to, rather than a subtraction from, my culture and identity. There is a beautiful harmony and coexistence between musical instruments. The composer has to successfully protect them in his/her compositions.

What impact did introducing the oud into Western music have on the audience?

Music is a work of beauty that champions moments of elevating the sum of emotions and passions. Involving the oud in unusual musical compositions is nothing new. The oud has mostly succeeded in attracting a wide audience throughout the world – some discovering the oud for the first time; some already familiar with it and discovering a new side to this instrument and its immense malleability in terms of writing and compositions; and some gaining more faith and certainty that this instrument is on equal footing with any other great instruments.
In my experience, there is a sizeable international audience that searches for and anticipates moments of a shared collective attention to the greatness and sublimity of this instrument. There is also an audience that has changed their idea about the oud and discovered a whole new side to it outside the usual and common concept of it.
In a nutshell, when my oud plays side by side with different and various musical instruments, it proves to everyone its ability to converse, negotiate, debate and persuade without any shortcoming on its part. The introduction of the oud into the alternate musical scene has had more than a positive impact on the tastes of the receivers.
We understand that the oud you are playing is made of wood that has come from different parts of the world. Tell us about it.
I travel extensively around the world with my oud, my musical works and my ideas. It is only natural that my oud will embody my vision on the whole and through the components and parts that make it. I have many oud instruments, but the one I use to introduce my work “Makan”, which is the theme of my current concerts, is one made of parts I collected from different areas dictated by measurements, the nature of the sound, tunes and reverberations. My relations with instrument manufacturers around the world have helped me, but my oud was made by Moroccan hands. It was made by the late Abdullah Murid, may his soul rest in peace, as we discussed together the measurements, the wood type and the strings. He would ask me to bring wood from a certain country or another. It has thus become an instrument that narrates travels, discussions and stories from around the world.

How was the experience of sharing the stage with the world’s most renowned musicians?

Since my early works, I have been looking for a positive link with my heritage, culture, identity and creativity. It is not easy to expose your oud to the challenges of debate, dialogue and discussion. I thank my oud greatly for enduring the hardships of travel and the bitter-sweet days it shares with me. It allowed me the pleasures of sharing the stage with renowned international names such as internationally-acclaimed Spanish conductor Jordi Savall, Indian slide guitarist Debashish Battacharya, Spanish quartet EntreQuatre, African kora star player Ballaké Sissoko from Mali, Italian trumpet player Paolo Fresu who is famous in the Jazz scene, French lute player Pierre Hamon, famous bassist Claude Tchamitchian from Armenia, famous percussionist Prabhu Edouard from India, French accordionist Thierry Roques, French conductor and film score composer Armand Amar, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra (NPA), and famous Italian percussionist Carlo Rizzo as well as some of the most famous Arabic names: Shirbel Ruhana, Muslim Rahal, Wa’d Buhasun and Umar Bashir.
Some may think that the prizes and awards given to us and our experience are the most important things; others may think that nominations for the Ziryab Skills award, best artist or even the French Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters and other nominations might ease the way. However, it is my belief that people’s appreciation and the audience’s respect are far stronger and more impactful.

Do you think the oud’s renaissance comes from North Africa or the Levant?

I think that the collaboration of all artists, players and composers is what ought to bring a true renaissance for this great instrument that has been shining for centuries.
Personally, I feel proud when I hear a variety of sounds from the oud from the east, from the Gulf, and from Morocco. It truly speaks of the versatility of this instrument. When I listen to the oud of Abbadi Al-Jawhar for example, I hear the resonance of its origins. When I listen to the Iraqi or Kuwaiti oud, I am thrilled and invigorated by them. Each has its own presence and resonance.
I do not need to play like Al-Sumbati or Farid Al-Atrash. It is actually better to move between the ouds of the Arab world – which is our source of pride and wealth – in a way that respects the individuality of each area. We should create wider spaces to meet and get to know each other. The oud derives its richness and versatility from the Arab world; Herein lies the true renaissance of this great instrument. To answer your question of whether the renaissance of the oud comes from North Africa or the Levant, I say both.
What do you think about the music scene in Saudi Arabia and the changes that have occurred in it?
The Arab music scene in general is dominated by vocalists and singers. Human voice prevails in this scene. It is a concept that runs deep in our musical history, be it in the Levant, Morocco, or Saudi Arabia.
Throughout history, Saudi Arabia has introduced to us extremely important voices and a wealth of vocal varieties from the coastal to the Bedouin and desert voices, among others. I cannot claim to know all there is about them. There is the art of the lute, the tanburah and the majrur. The Kingdom has also given us landmarks in the history of singers, such as the late Talal Madah, as well as one of the most important oud players: Abbadi Al-Jawhar.
As with all the parts of the modern Arab world, it is expected that an alternate or parallel kind of singing imitating the hip hop, or the rap or what we can call the alternate singing, would rise. I would like to emphasize the role they play as well.

As the “Oud Poet,” how do you view the relationship between music and poetry?

Poetry is the generous well of subtlety, strength, joy, sorrow, meditation, thrill, hope and all the other emotions of being alive. For me, I think that the shortest way between the artist and his/her creative instrument is poetry, philosophy, and drawing. However, poetry has a special place. Poetry and music share a necessary charm. I need to have the heart of a poet to be able to recite the poem of oud. We, my oud and I, search feverishly for a lost poem. As the poem goes: “Friends, do not let life pass you by; for on this earth there is something worth living.”