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The Oud, An Illustrated History by Rachel Beckles Willson

On April 25th at 7 PM, the institute will host an exclusive event that celebrates the publication of “The Oud: An Illustrated History” by Rachel Beckles Willson. This is a multifaceted event featuring a book launch, a conversation on music’s cultural impact, and a concert that bridges history with contemporary artistry. The event will feature a talk by Rachel Beckles Willson and Martin Stokes, who will share their perspectives on music’s role in shaping our world. The evening will conclude with a concert by Rachel Beckles Willson and Umut Ekiz.  
 
The Oud: An Illustrated History by Rachel Beckles Willson is a beautifully crafted work that offers readers an illustrated journey through the oud’s storied past. The narrative begins with the poignant myth of Lamak, a descendant of Cain, who, in his grief, created the first oud from his son’s remains, weaving a tale of music and mourning that gave birth to this iconic instrument.  


The book delves into the oud’s evolution, its significance in various musical cultures, and its spread beyond its traditional boundaries to new regions and audiences. It is a story that encompasses the craftsmanship of the instrument, the diversity of its players, and its place in literature and storytelling. Rachel Beckles Willson’s scholarship brings to life the oud’s rich history and its vibrant present, making it accessible to both seasoned musicians and newcomers alike.  
The evening will begin with a conversation featuring Martin Stokes and Rachel Beckles Willson, who will explore the oud’s cultural influences and its role in connecting cultures. The discussion will provide a backdrop to the musical performance that follows, where Rachel Beckles Willson and Umut Ekiz will treat attendees with their renditions on the oud, demonstrating its timeless allure.  
 
About the Book:  


According to a literary tradition of Iraq, the origin of the oud lies in the grief of Lamak, a descendent of Cain, son of Adam. When his 5-year-old son died, Lamak hung the boy’s limp body on a tree, and as time passed, he resolved to build a musical instrument from the remaining bones. He then played it, wept, and sang the first lament; his daughter Sila became an instrument maker. So the oud is a beautiful pear-shaped box, with neck and strings, that makes music, but it can also be a link to the world of storytelling that brings new voices into life.  


Today the oud is one of the most important instruments in music cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, and while associated mainly with the Arab world, it is also played in Iran, Türkiye and Greece. More recently it has spread into East Africa, numerous countries of Europe, Australia, the Americas, China and Japan.  
This book explores the oud’s history and increasingly global lives today. It explores its varied construction over time and place, delves into its place in literature, and reveals its widespread repertoire and immensely diverse players.  
 
“Rachel Beckles Willson’s comprehensive history draws upon folklore, design, and politics… The book is lavishly illustrated with ancient and contemporary images that help tell the story of this fascinating instrument.”  


Booklist  
 
“Extensively researched history with musical appeal… The text is enriched with illustrations, showing the oud’s variety and the cultural tapestry it weaves.”  
The National  
 
“Generously illustrated and embedded with QR codes… a rich cultural history and a thoughtful analysis of the shifting global dynamics that gave the oud its reach.” Publishers Weekly  
 
The event is an invitation to experience the convergence of history, music, and narrative—a chance to understand the oud not just as an instrument but as a living legacy that continues to inspire and connect people across the world. 
 


 

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