Members of Takht Al Emirati in rehearsal at Beit Al Oud Abu Dhabi before flying out to the UK to perform in Womad, UK. Womad ran from July 23 to 25. Image Credit: ALEX WESTCOTT/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The main lobby of the Bait Al Oud is silent. Upstairs, budding musicans are practising their latest pieces while the more experienced ones rehearse for upcoming events. However, when several members of Takht Al Emirati began an impromptu performance in the lobby, the entire institute came alive with the sounds of Arabia.

Band Manager and oud soloist Ali Obaid said: "When the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage [Adach] began to set up the group, some of us already knew each other as professional musicians while others are students of Bait Al Oud".

"We can truly say that we represent the entire UAE because we are all from different emirates… Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and even Ras Al Khaimah," he added, smiling.

Takht means an ensemble made up of four main melodic instruments — the oud, nay, qanun, and violin, plus the riq, a percussion instrument.

"Since we were revealed at the World of Music, Art and Dance [Womad] Abu Dhabi a few months ago, we have performed in countries as far away Korea," Obaid said.

"Among our most recent concerts was Womad in the UK [on July 24]… I think one of the reasons why we are successful is something that many are not used to hearing Emirati music, especially the way we present it," he said.

Even though Takht Al Emirati aims to remain true to its heritage by playing mainly Emirati music, the musicians said they were also willing to experiment a bit.

The group members practise and fine tune their pieces at the Bait Al Oud, an institute set up by Adach to teach and raise awareness about the significance of the oud in Arabic culture.

Modern touch

"What's different about us is that we play a wide variety of instruments, ranging from those used originally in a takht, such as the oud, to not so traditional ones, such as a saxophone… Also, even though 80 per cent of our music is Emirati, we try to give it a modern touch without making it lose its traditional essence," Obaid said.

The group currently has 12 members ranging from 23 to 36 years, but they said they hoped to expanded their numbers up to at least 25, so they could be considered as an orchestra.

They also said they planned to release an album in the near future that would include at least four original compositions.

"We hope that one day we will be called the Orchestra Emirati instead of Takht Al Emirati… One reason is that when we grow, we can then perform a wider repertoire," Obaid said.

"Plus, a takht refers to a small group of musicians and an orchestra is definitely not small.

"Also, even though we already perform a wide variety of pieces, including those that I had written…. as an orchestra, there will be a greater chance to show the work of Emirati composers."

Obaid said one of the musicians' hallmarks was their insistence to not include singers, except in rare circumstances.

"For me, singing has lost its lustre… nowadays; many so-called singers aren't very good and instead rely on other means to gain recognition," Obaid said.

"There aren't many anymore who can be considered as truly professional singers but one can't get away with ‘miming' playing an instrument."

And although the group had achieved moderate success so far, Obaid said they refused to let anything divert them from their commitment and goals.

Website: To learn more about Takht Al Emirati visit

Instruments used by Takht Al Emirati

- Oud: The oud is one of the most popular instruments in Arabic music. Its name derives from the Arabic for "a thin strip of wood", and this refers to strips of wood used to make its rounded body. The neck of the oud, which is short in comparison to the body, has no frets and contributes to its unique sound. The most common string combination is five pairs of strings tuned in unison and a single bass string, although up to 13 strings may be used.

- Violin: The European violin (also called kaman/kamanjah in Arabic) was adopted into Arab music during the second half of the 19th century, replacing an indigenous two-string fiddle that was prevalent in Egypt, also called kamanjah. Although various tunings are used, the traditional Arab tuning is in fourths and fifths (G3, D4, G4, D5.)

- Qanun: The qanun is a descendant of the old Egyptian harp. It has played an integral part in Arabic music since the 10th century. The form of the qanun consists of a trapezoid-shaped flat board over which 81 strings are stretched in groups of three with 24 treble chords consisting of three chords to each note.

- Riq: The riq (called daff) is a small tambourine traditionally covered with goat skin, stretched over a wooden frame inlaid with mother of pearl.

Source: The Arabic Maqam World http://www.maqamworld.com/index.html

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