x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Young master of the Arab strings

Rashid bin Hussain developed a love for the oud, the Arabic instrument similar to a lute, at 13. Just four years later, the talented teenager has become the first Emirati to join the Youth Orchestra of the Middle East, rousing crowds with his solo performances.

"I cannot read music. I find that difficult because, for starters, the annotations are in Italian. I just learnt to play by ear," says Rashid bin Hussain, an Emirati oud player. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // Rashid bin Hussain learnt to play later in life than most musicians.

He was already 13 when he became interested in the oud, the Arabic stringed instrument similar to the lute.

Four years later, the Grade 12 pupil from Rashid School for Boys is the first Emirati musician to be selected for the Youth Orchestra of the Middle East (Yome).

"I cannot read music. I find that difficult because, for starters, the annotations are in Italian. I just learnt to play by ear," said Rashid. "It's not that different to learning a second language - the younger you are, the easier it is for you to learn."

It took Rashid eight months to learn how to play the instrument after his interest was piqued by listening to old Arabic recordings.

"Learning to play any instrument in the beginning is very difficult and many quit during the first stages because of that," said Waseem Faris, an Iraqi composer who mentors Rashid. "But he was very enthusiastic and after he took part in the youth orchestra with a large group it motivated him even more as it gave him prominence."

Mr Faris said the music scene was not particularly popular among young people.

"It's rare to find a youngster playing the oud, but that is slowly changing," he said. "Learning music requires the right environment, the availability of instruments … and it's based on knowledge that requires a curriculum."

In many Emirati families, being a musician is not viewed as a decent occupation.

"Some people say music is haram," explained Rashid. "They don't want to be involved with it.

"I see music as an art, to be honest. And as long as it is an art, I cannot find this shameful to my family or to the UAE.

"My parents don't mind but most parents won't allow their children to play any music and that is a shame. If they have talent and they are willing to learn, why shouldn't they?"

Rashid's mother, Amna Al Abbar, said: "I don't mind him playing music at all. A lot of his siblings and other family members play music. It runs in his blood - he inherited it.

"As a mother, I don't want to stop him or take away his hobby, so I support him, especially because it doesn't affect his behaviour and he is a smart boy."

Rashid was first inspired by Emirati oud players but he decided to carve his own niche in the field.

"I was influenced by players like Mehad Hamad, for sure," said Rashid. "But when people starting saying I was good at it, I started thinking, what would set me apart among all the other players?

"I started playing western music on the oud, mixing Arabic and western culture together."

Rashid has roused audiences with his solo performance of the score from The Godfather.

He played at the TedxYouth Jumeirah event in January, at Dubai Men's College and with Yome at a concert in Abu Dhabi last year.

"At first you get nervous performing but when I start playing I just go with the flow and get comfortable with the crowd, especially when they react positively," said Rashid.

His next performance is on March 31 at TedxAjman.

"I want to thank my school and Mr Faris for giving me the opportunity to learn the oud. In the UAE, you can't find many schools or teachers who would teach you how to play the oud and they provided me with the knowledge and the talent.

"Mr Faris inspired me and without him I wouldn't be where I am today."




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