Iraqi ‘ud, Marion
Ismail Alyassiri plays the ’ud (lute), a pear-shaped, unfretted, 11-stringed instrument found throughout the Middle East. Ismail plays and sings traditional Iraqi rural tunes that focus on unrequited love, much as American country music songs do, and also composes his own tunes.
The ’ud’s name is derived from the Arabic for “wood.” The instrument’s short, fretless neck contributes to its unique sound, allowing for sliding tones along the 5 pairs of strings and the bass drone. The ’ud also a bent head, where the tuning pegs are located, and a rounded back constructed of bowed ribs of wood. The deep bowl of the back allows to instrument to resonate. The European lute is a descendent of the ’ud.
Originally from Nasiriyah, southeast of Bagdad, Ismail Alyassiri grew up in the countryside, fishing and knitting seine nets with his father, a fisherman in Iraq. As a child and young man, Ismail often heard neighbors and family members sing traditional Iraqi country songs, though he himself preferred more urban music. In 1991, shortly after the first Gulf War, Ismail and his family fled Iraq for Saudi Arabia. After years in a refugee camp there, the Al Yassiri family came to Cedar Rapids, IA in 1995.
While in the Saudi Arabian refugee camp, Ismail and his cousins, Salah and Haider, were able to study with the protégé of Iraq’s most revered ’ud maker. Haider became proficient enough to make his own instruments, and after the family settled in Iowa, Ismail helped Haider by doing the lathe work to create tuning pegs for the ’ud. Unfortunately, even though he knows how to do so, Ismail has neither the time nor the equipment to make ’uds himself.
Playing the ’ud was was another matter, however, and in the early 2000s, Ismail, along with Salah and Haider, formed Arabian Tone, which performed traditional and popular Iraqi music at the 2000 Iowa Culture & Language Conference and the 2001 Festival of Iowa Folklife. In April 2009, he performed for the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art’s Middle Eastern Day and in August that year for the Midwest Folklife Festival in Bishop Hill, IL. . In 2009, Alyassiri was awarded an Iowa Arts Council mini-grant to travel to Iraq and learn from a highly respected performer and teacher there.
“Salma Ya Salama,” the song that Ismail sings and plays during the Iowa Roots interview, is his mother’s favorite song. He assured his mother that he remembered it: “Yes I do mom, how can I forget the soothing song, and voice that used to ease my stress. I always remember you, with this song, and I play it every time I want to see you.” Although Egyptian artist Sayed Darwish composed the tune and Badee Khairy wrote the lyrics in 1919, Iraqis made it their own in the 1950s. The song is well-known throughout the Middle East and Europe, where it was translated into French after it was re-released in 1977 (wiki entry).
Contact: Ismail Alyassiri, Marion, IA, 319-521-0351, firstname.lastname@example.org