Oud-making is now a losing proposition
Ali Khalifeh, a lute-maker, checks the instruments at a shop in the Syrian capital Damascus .
Lute-makers have emigrated in large numbers
Published: Tue 8 Aug 2017, 9:12 PM
damascus - Antoun Tawil, one of Syria's last traditional lute makers, waits in vain in his Damascus workshop for orders of the oud, an instrument his country was once renowned for producing.
While the conflict that has ravaged Syria over the past six years has devastated many of its historic crafts, the production of the oud, the oriental lute, has been particularly hard hit.
Lute-makers have emigrated in large numbers, and the Damascene wood used to build the instruments has also become rare.
"There were around 20 workshops before the crisis, between Damascus, Aleppo and Hama... Now there are no more than six," four of them in Damascus, said Tawil. The slender 57-year-old is one of them. In his tiny nine-square-metre shop in Tekkiyeh Sulamaniyeh, an Ottoman complex made up of a mosque and a crafts market, Tawil contemplates the ouds hung around him.
Some are richly decorated, delicately inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ivory. Named after the Arabic word meaning a piece of wood, the oud is a key instrument in Middle Eastern music.
It is related to the guitar, the Russian balalika and the Greek bouzouki, and the instrument is characterised by its short neck and large, full body that gives the instrument a pear shape.
All six craftsmen that used to work in Tawil's two workshops have fled Syria. "Before the crisis, we opened at 5am in the morning and worked all day long because there was so much demand," he said wistfully.
In a single month, Tawil used to sell a dozen ouds, , including Europe and Canada. "Nowadays, a month goes by without selling anything." With the Syrian pound's devaluation, prices have also plummeted."I used to sell an oud for 5,000 Syrian pounds ($100). Today, I sell them for 35,000 ($70)."
Still, he talks passionately about the Syrian - specifically Damascene - oud, which he describes as both the most exquisite but also the most durable of Arab lutes.