Sudanese oud virtuoso Awad Ahmoudi, born in central Sudan, is part of a tradition that has been interwoven with poetic production in Sudan for more than a century:
By Lemya Shammat
To teach oneself how to play oud is an uphill task in any case, a challenge that takes willpower, energy, and time. For a visually impaired child, it is yet more difficult. Yet Sudanese musician Awad Ahmoudi, a notable oud virtuoso, met those challenges and more. Ahmoudi has been a major influence in the realm of the instrument, which in turn influences poetry and poetic form. Often called “the golden-fingered,” he has developed a style that’s unique to him.
Self-taught oud star
Born in Al-Hilalya, east of Gezira State in 1966, Ahmoudi grew up in an agrarian environment. His loving and supportive family sent him to the capital to pursue his education at Al-Noor Institute for the Visually Impaired, where he excelled as a student, reputedly mastering the one-year braille course in two weeks.
From a very young age, Ahmoudi found himself gravitating toward music and seemed to find solace in its liberating and restorative power. He says he would lose himself for hours in listening to the music and songs aired through the national radio and the other international channels and enjoying the great colorful complexity of cultural flavors and diversity music brings.
In Khartoum, he discovered an oud belonging to his uncle, who was a member of the “Khartoum South” band. That was a turning point in his life and career. He promptly set out to learn how to play the instrument. Later in life, he vividly remembered how he used to examine the oud by touch, trying to mentally visualize the stringed instrument so he could have an image of the instrument and how the sound was produced, and thus further teach himself how to play it. His special way of holding the feather when playing oud eventually became his trademark. In 1986, he used his hard-earned savings to buy his first professional oud during a trip with the Union of the Visually Impaired to Cairo.
A thriving artistic scene influenced Ahmoudi to master the oud and to aspire to the level of such great oud masters as Burai Mohamed Dafé Allah, Bashir Abbas, Mohamed Al-Amin and Al-Jabbri. He managed, in a short span of time, to develop impeccable technique and a unique style that set him apart as an oud master.
Throughout his career, he continued to dig through an expansive archive to take inspiration from the legacy of the great older musicians and to learn from their styles and classical motifs. His constant curiosity about the dialectic between the past and present is best expressed in his innovative reimagining of classic pieces and fondly remembered songs. Moreover, he is always able to amuse the audience with his brilliant reflections, erudite discussions of Sudanese music, humor and biting wit which spark delight.
Ahmoudi also joins in performances where poetry is combined with music, such as in the events at the House of Poetry where musical pieces are presented with the poetic recital.
The oud: A recent migrant
The oud was first introduced to Sudan in the late 19th century, during the Anglo-Egyptian campaign against Mahdists. It gradually found its way to local musicians and singers and started to share stages with national orchestras and bands. In the last century, the oud has greatly contributed to the reformulation of the relationship between poetry and music. Many poems written in colloquial and formal language have been musically composed for the oud. The implications of this change are reflected in the social, cultural life, musical thinking, as well as in artistic development in general.
Playing oud in the pentatonic scale has attracted the attention of reputed musicians from around the globe. The renowned oud master Naseer Shamma established a branch of The House of Oud in Khartoum in January 2020, in cooperation with DAL Group and with the help of young Sudanese oud players like Mujahid Khalid and Abdo Ibrahim, who won scholarships to study the instrument after winning a competition held in Khartoum Festival in 2013.
The richness of Ahmoudi’s masterful command and idiosyncratic performance lies in its nuance and subtle power. His dexterity and ability to meticulously perfect oud and deliver something different offer him chances to play with major orchestras and to perform solo. He mesmerizes audience with his refreshing, enveloping, and soul-nurturing performance that bounds up to tug at heartstrings.
In addition to his active and distinctive participation in multiple radio and TV programs, he has passionately participated in international events and festivals such as the Dubai Shopping Festival in 1999 with the great artist Mohamed Wardi. In the same year, taking advantage of his participation in the Festival of the Arab World Institute in Paris, he toured a number of European cities.
Music continues to act in a miraculous way for Ahmoudi as he uses his talent to lend a hand, break stereotypes about people with disabilities, and help in carving space for and empowering marginalized voices. The challenges he endured to make his voice heard push him to work hard for the visibility of the disabled community in the public sphere, as well as striving to eliminate circumstances that could stifle the creativity of the disabled community.
A renewed interest in the instrument
Recent years have witnessed a renewed interest in oud playing. Ahmoudi’s nuanced techniques and tender qualities play a role in kindling curiosity and zest for learning oud and help to prompt a wave of youth interested to learn music and master oud. He remains devotedly committed to contributing to the effort of enabling a new generation, with blossoming gifts, to merge.
Ahmoudi impressively contributes to the landscape of Sudanese music in which he exercises a profound influence and leaves a lasting impression. His surprisingly rich and textured performance renders him one of the most celebrated iconic oud maestros.
Lemya Shammat is an essayist, short story writer, and critic. She has a PhD in English language and linguistics from the University of Khartoum and is an assistant professor at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. A member of the Sudanese Writers Union, Shammat has published a book on literary criticism and discourse analysis as well as a collection of short-short stories. She also translates between English and Arabic.