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Oud time

This oud player lives for music, steers clear of politics

Wassim Odeh has performed with Arabs and Jews his entire life, and believes ‘good music speaks to everyone’

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Oud player Wassim Odeh, who will perform November 19, 2021, at the Jerusalem Oud Festival produced by the Jerusalem Confederation House. (Courtesy Hisam Abu Ayoub)
Oud player Wassim Odeh, who will perform November 19, 2021, at the Jerusalem Oud Festival produced by the Jerusalem Confederation House. (Courtesy Hisam Abu Ayoub)

Oud player Wassim Odeh has played at the annual Oud Festival more than once, but this year will still be a first of sorts — as he is appearing with his own band, swapping out a guitar and saxophone in favor of an accordion, violin, cello, percussion and, of course, the oud.

“I wanted to perform with a band that’s unique but also safeguards Eastern and Arabic music,” said Odeh. “So we gave up the guitar and saxophone this time.”

Odeh and his band will perform “Nazareth Nights” on Friday, November 19, at 12 p.m., a concert of Odeh’s own music, part of his new, third album.

“I never planned to write music,” said Odeh. “An idea comes and I go with it. Sometimes, I write music that’s very modern and I add other elements like flamenco. Sometimes, it’s more classical Arabic music, but music has to birth naturally.”

Odeh has been playing oud since he was a teenager, having studied music at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. He earned his PhD in music at Bar Ilan University, and heads the Arabic music department at Maqamat School of Eastern Music in Safed. Odeh also conducts the Arab Music Orchestra of Nazareth, where he lives.

Playing in the Oud Festival is an important part of Odeh’s performing year, in part because it is a Jerusalem Confederation House event with an international reputation.

The festival is also a natural extension of Odeh’s own musical life, of Israelis and Arabs making music together for audiences who come to hear the performances created by the diverse group of musicians.

“I believe that good music speaks to everyone, without reference to religion or nationality,” said Odeh.

“That’s what I’ve been doing all my life,” said Odeh. “I live in Nazareth, and all my friends, Arabs and Jews, we’ve always played together. It’s very natural for me and that’s how it should be.”

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