x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Happy marriage of music and dance

A couple based in Vancouver are bringing the oud to a whole new audience. Mao Murakami and Navid Goldrick explain how a trip to Turkey changed their lives for good.

Navid Goldrick and Mao Murakami are putting oud and belly dance together. Courtesy Brendan Lally
Navid Goldrick and Mao Murakami are putting oud and belly dance together. Courtesy Brendan Lally

Backpacking trips are usually teenage rites of passage rather than turning points in adult lives. But when Mao Murakami and Navid Goldrick swapped Vancouver for Turkey last year, something magical happened. Murakami had been belly dancing for a few years, studying the form with instructors and gradually honing her skills. Goldrick had made a name for himself in Vancouver as an oud player and composer of some talent, but was, as he admits now, a bit avant-garde for his own good.

But as they travelled through Turkey, the pair noticed something fascinating. “What I saw there was the possibility for Middle Eastern music to be entertaining, as well as meditative and traditional,” says Goldrick. Murakami nods in agreement. “Going there totally changed how we thought about our art. We saw some really awesome performances with belly dancers and live musicians, and realised we had to create something for ourselves, not least because Middle Eastern music in North America is often prohibitively serious.”

And the result, first of all, was Oud for Guitarists, a refreshingly simple oudwebsite with downloadable video tutorials from Gold­rick. The idea is to broaden the horizons of people who play the guitar – and they’re finding an audience in North America, not a place where the oud is widely available.

“You can’t go into a guitar shop and try before you buy,” Goldrick says. “But it is easier than when I first wanted to get into it 15 years ago. Now you can buy them online – of course, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get, but there are several luthiers in the US building these instruments now and are really passionate about them.”

But Oud for Guitarists, says Murakami, was just the first step to making this art form more accessible. The next was to form a duo to perform across Vancouver, Goldrick playing his compositions alongside Murakami’s dance.

“It makes perfect sense to do this here as there is a very supportive Middle Eastern community,” says Murakami. “I’m really uncomfortable with this idea of belly dancing as a form where men stuff dollar bills in your belt as you dance around a restaurant. I know it’s much more than that, it has a history, a culture, a folklore. For me, it’s an important means of expression and the oud is vital to it. As an instrument, it’s really earthy and soulful. There’s a lot of emotion and passion in it.”

In fact, as Goldrick points out, there is already a passionate combination of guitar and dance: flamenco. There’s no reason why belly dancing and oud can’t make similar waves across the world.

“You know, there are of course challenges in trying to create a positive image of Middle Eastern culture in North America,” he says. “But I firmly believe that a lot of people would find Middle Eastern music beautiful if they knew more about it. And our role is to make that happen. You have to have a bit of fun with this instrument, too.”

All of which is confirmed by the wonderfully irreverent “10 Reasons to Learn Oud Now” page on the website – the second reason reminds potential recruits that “there are way more belly dancers than oud players. So get cracking.”

“I’m glad you like that one,” says Murakami, laughing. “We enjoyed coming up with them. And in the end, it’s just another way of making this wonderful art form accessible.”

• Visit www.majnuunmusicanddance.com for more information

artslife@thenational.ae