7 Oud Players You Need to Listen to Now

Want to learn more about the Oud? We’ve pulled together a list of 7 premier Oud Players who each provided a major impact and influence in the development of the instrument.

Here at TAQS.IM, we’re huge fans of the Oud – a fretless pear-shaped instrument that’s similar to a lute and known as “the grandfather of the guitar”.  We love the dynamics and flexibility it affords players – not being restricted to frets can be liberating and offers so much in terms of tone and sound that you simply can’t get anywhere else! Especially when it’s in non-Middle Eastern contexts. We’ve compiled a list of 7 notable oud players you need to listen to if you’re just getting to know the instrument.

1. George Mgrdichian (1935 – 2006)

George Mgrdichian, originally a clarinetist, was the first player credited with bringing the oud into classical music venues like Carnegie Hall.  Born in Philadelphia. Mgrdichian earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Juilliard, and in 1967 made his New York City recital debut at Town Hall. This led to an invitation to perform with the New York Philharmonic, apparently the first time the oud ever shared a stage with a symphony orchestra. Mgrdichian performed at Alice Tully Hall, Wolf Trap, the Kennedy Center, and other major venues in America and abroad. In addition to these concert performances, he was a mainstay in the New York club scene and was known to jam with figures like Bob Dylan, as well as Ravi Shankar and Dave Brubeck. His recordings were some of the first that used oud in non-traditional genres such as Jazz. A great example of that is his recording on “Now Sounds of the Middle East” of Dave Brubeck’s Take 5.

2. John Berberian

John Berberian, originally a violinist, broke sound barriers in the 60’s with his infusion of rock music and middle eastern music before “world music” was fashionable. John is known for a series of successful Armenian and Middle Eastern recordings and has recorded with such major companies as: MGM, RCA, Roulette, Verve and Mainstream Records. His recordings best capture the soul and spirit of the 1960’s Middle Eastern Music club scene in the states. John has performed extensively in North America. In this video below he can be seen performing an Armenian song with Greek legendary artist George Dalaras.

 

3. Yurdal Tokcan

Yurdal Tokcan is one of the foremost Oud Players in the world today. Yurdal primarily performs as a soloist and has often represented Turkey in international festivals and celebrations. His style combines traditional interpretation with innovative techniques, and he is also known for work on the fretless guitar. Definitely a must listen!

 

4. Farid El Atrache (October 19, 1917 – December 26, 1974)

Egyptian-Syrian composer, singer, oud player and actor Farid El Atrache is often times referred to as the “King of the Oud.” This master’s career spanned over 40 years and recorded over 500 songs. His style features a robust, traditional Arab style of oud playing that many aspire to replicate even today. Recommended listening to get an idea of what this style encapsulates.

 

5. Simon Shaheen

Simon Shaheen is a well known and regarded Palestinian-American oud and violin virtuoso and Arabic music lecturer. Shaheen is a contemporary master with impeccable technique and a busy performance schedule. Check out his playing!

 

6. Ara Dinkjian

Ara Dinkjian is a world-renowned oud player and composer whose songs have been listened to the world over. His hit song “Dinata, Dinata” was performed at the closing ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and his music has been recorded and lyricized by various global artists in different languages. He was the founder of the instrumental quartet Night Ark, and is currently a member of The Secret Trio. Dinkjian can be viewed a bit differently from some of the other players in this list as he is a prolific songwriter/composer.

 

7. Naseer Shamma

Naseer Shamma is a world-renowned Iraqi Kurdish musician, oud player and poet. He is also the founder of the Arabic Oud House in Cairo, Egypt. Shamma, as a Kurd, also offers a bit of a different sound and technique when compared to the other names.

 

There’s so many amazing players out there

There are so many amazing oud players out there. Though this is a good reference, some additional oud players to check out are Dhafer Youssef, John Bilezikjian, Richard Hagopian, Haig Yazdjian and scores of others.

 

Comments (17)

  • Hank Levin Reply

    Indeed, a splendid selection of fine oudis. However, it cannot be complete without mentioning Necati Çelik, whom many regard as the finest oud player in the world, and teacher of Yurdal Tokcan. He specializes in Ottoman Classical music (both secular and religious), and I know or no other who comes close. He was the coordinator of the Istanbul Oud Festival a few years back, which featured several of the oudis on this page. A student of Cinuçin Tanrikorur, permanent member of the Ministry of Culture Ensemble, Necati played for years in the ensemble of grand master Necdet Yaşar, the “Segovia” of Turkish classical music.

    November 29, 2018 at 10:32 pm
    • taqsim
      taqsim Reply

      Thanks Hank. Necati Çelik is a tremendous player! Such emotion and control in his playing. This list was by all means just a sampling – and surely does not include everyone worthy of mention. In fact, we plan on doing features here and there on different players as we move forward with the project. We really appreciate the time you took to visit our site and hope you will continue to drop in!

      Cheers and all the best,
      The Taqs.im team

      December 5, 2018 at 1:22 am
  • Dan Liechty Reply

    I am a very newcomer to the oud and am using it for music much closer to American ‘folk/acoustic’ music than to the more traditional middle-eastern oud music. That said, I so much appreciate the introductions to these players (5 of whom I hadn’t known previously) and for the videos, from which I have already learned some new techniques and harmonies. Even recognizing that I am probably seen/dismissed by many as an ‘oud heretic’ at best, I just want to thank you all for allowing me to hang around the edges of the true oud player community and soak up what I can. PS: I use a D-A-D-G-C-F tuning. It is close enough to guitar that I can understand it intuitively, but different enough to keep me on my toes and prevent me from simply playing as if it were a guitar without frets. My instrument is a Godin Multioud, which I play mostly unplugged, but sometime plugged in group settings. I had a more trad instrument but couldn’t quite master the stringing/tuning process for friction heads.

    November 29, 2018 at 11:48 pm
    • taqsim
      taqsim Reply

      Dan – thanks for your comment. When we put this project together – our goal was to give anyone, from any background, the chance to learn and explore the oud. So reading your comment was very inspiring. Glad to hear you are already getting something out of seeing and hearing from these players 🙂 We are familiar with the Godin – it is a good “in between” for transitioning from guitar to oud in some ways. As far as your tuning – that is somewhat similar to what we would probably broadly identify as “High Arab” or “Lebanese” tuning (aside from your Low D). Keep checking out our website/social media as we are going to be putting out tons of new content – including more instructional videos – over the course of the next few weeks/months.

      Best,
      Taqs.im team

      December 5, 2018 at 1:30 am
    • Harry K Reply

      Dan, don’t worry you aren’t a heretic. The oud is such a versatile instrument, that it’s great to hear people using it in different styles of music. We use the violin in middle eastern music. So are we violin heretics? I am very traditionalist when it comes to what I play. (Armenian/Turkish folk) But that’s me; that’s what I want to play. You should play what you want and bring our your soul in the music. That’s the whole point of music in my opinion. I enjoy listening to various styles, maybe some I like better than others, and maybe some I can play and some I can’t but I still enjoy variety. I would love to hear folk/acoustic American music with oud.

      And there is precedent for using it in a folk/acoustic way. Much of George Mgrdichian’s work can be looked at as a folk/acoustic approach to the oud, only that having an Armenian background and being an active member of the Armenian-American community, most of his repertoire was from Armenia/Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. But his style was in my mind not really traditional. Udi Hrant commented that George didn’t know “jampannere” (in Armenian, the roads/paths…in other words the makams or their melodic progression). George retorted that he played what he wanted to play. That’s what America is all about isn’t it?

      December 8, 2018 at 1:03 am
  • Derbeh Reply

    I am at once reminded of John Bilezekjian, an incredible oudist who used to live in the Los Angeles area. An amazing talent, and knew by heart any Arabic, Armenian, Greek or Turkish song I ever mentioned to him. Great voice also, but his skill at the Oud was unparalleled. Gone too soo. Memory eternal.

    November 30, 2018 at 12:16 am
    • taqsim
      taqsim Reply

      Derbeh – John Bilezikjian was a true master and versatile player for the ages. Andrew from our team studied with him for some time, and also recently performed in Los Angeles with John’s son George (a talented percussionist). May he rest in peace.

      We will have more content rolling out soon – hope you enjoy it!

      Best wishes,
      Taqs.im team

      December 5, 2018 at 1:32 am
  • Raki Reply

    I would also add oudist Chick Ganimian. https://youtu.be/a5Xh7BZjF40

    December 1, 2018 at 7:57 pm
    • George Halligan Reply

      Chick was my friend and hero , probably the greatest oud player in America , shame that he died of alcoholism !

      December 1, 2018 at 10:03 pm
      • taqsim
        taqsim Reply

        George – he will be missed… we still enjoy listening to his recordings!

        Best,
        Taqs.im team

        December 5, 2018 at 1:37 am
      • Harry K Reply

        Based on everything I’ve heard about Chick or listened to of his music, the man was like a character out of the movies. Everyone who ever knew Chick tells me Chick stories. No other Armenian musician in the States has such an aura. The man felt the music so much…

        December 8, 2018 at 12:48 am
    • taqsim
      taqsim Reply

      Hi Raki – Chick was a true legend who was a big part of the 8th Avenue scene in NYC back in the day! Great call! Such an avant garde talent whose innovations truly left their mark… thanks for the comment!

      Best,
      Taqs.im team

      December 5, 2018 at 1:35 am
  • George Halligan Reply

    Would like to add Mazin Hamdan ,one of the greatest Lebanese oudists.

    December 1, 2018 at 10:06 pm
    • taqsim
      taqsim Reply

      Thanks for the mention George!

      Best,
      Taqs.im team

      December 5, 2018 at 1:39 am
  • Navid Reply

    Great post. I learned about George Mgrdichian and Chick Ghanimian from this. Nice to get the Armenian perspective on Ouds out into the world! Thank you!

    December 4, 2018 at 10:41 am
    • taqsim
      taqsim Reply

      Hi Navid – of course! It is our pleasure to share all this information. Please do stay in touch and check us out again over the coming weeks 🙂

      Best,
      Taqs.im team

      December 5, 2018 at 1:41 am
  • Mustafa Stefan Dill Reply

    I think a must to include in this list is Munir Bachir who not only reinvented and advanced the Iraqi school of oud playing, but made such important contributions to the design of The oud itself. To put Nasser Shamma on the list rather than his mentor and influencer seems an odd editorial choice.I believe Bashir has more historical impact and significance than Shamma in this context.

    December 8, 2018 at 7:15 pm

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