Naseer Shamma’s first CD recording is a classic example of Iraqi oud playing. The tracks are extended improvisational pieces, each based on a particular maqam. Shamma plays a traditional six-string oud on this recording. The title Ishraq is an Arabic word that indicates the sending forth of the sun’s first rays at dawn.
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Ard Al-Sawad, which can be translated as either the dark or the fertile land, is the name the Arabs gave to Iraq when they conquered the country in 651 A.D. It is said that the name comes from the fact that it was dusk when the Arab armies first arrived, and thus their first glimpse of the land was coloured by the shadows of the thousands of palm trees that they saw. A different account has it that the name is derived from the famous fertility of the Iraqi soil.
He was born in 1963 in Kut, a village on the Tigris River. He began studying the oud at the age of 12 in Baghdad, following in the footsteps of Jamil and Munir Bashir. When he was 11-years old, Shamma saw an oud for the first time, in the hands of a stylish music teacher. Although Shamma’s father, a shop owner, was religiously conservative, he did not object to his son’s artistic ambitions. In 1985, Shamma played his own compositions at his first concert, attended by several renowned Iraqi artists. At the time, he worked closely with “the emir of the oud,” the late Iraqi master Munir Bashir. But Shamma wanted to blaze his own path. Master Munir invented the technique of contemplation with oud, but Shamma wanted his music to carry content, an idea or image that is shocking. He received his diploma from the Baghdad Academy of Music in 1987. He began to teach oud after three years at the academy, as well as continuing his own studies. Shamma has composed music for films, plays and television. Between 1993 and 1998 he taught oud the Higher Institute of Music in Tunisia, and in 1999 he took the post of Director of the Arab Centre for the Oud in Cairo. He performs on the oud in a manner which combines traditional methods with his own modern compositions. Naseer Shamma has also created an eight-string oud or lute following the manuscript of the 9th-century music theorist Al-Farabi. This new design (eight instead of six strings) expanded the musical range of the oud and gave it a distinct tonality. His innovations also include a new method of playing the oud with only one hand, which he invented so that children and soldiers injured during the Gulf War could play and enjoy the oud.