Taksim 'Ala al-'Ud (Improvisation on the 'Ud)


from "The Music of Arab Detroit: A Musical Mecca in the Midwest." by Anne K. Rasmussen, pg. 109-136
Edited by Kip Lornell and Anne K. Rasmussen

1955, Announcement: “Istiwanat ish-Shark, Taqasim ‘ala al-‘ud l’al-Ustaz Jalil Azouz!” (Al-Chark Records, Improvisation on the ‘Ud by Professor Jalil Azouz).

Jalil Azouz (also Azzouz) began his professional career as a versatile instrumentalist and composer at the radio station al-Shark al-Adna in Jerusalem, Palestine. Along with singers Sana and Amer Khadaj, Azouz traveled to North America in 1947 to entertain the growing Arab immigrant community, and ended up staying on for the rest of his life due, in part, to the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war and its outcome. Azouz eventually made his way to Detroit, Michigan where he was an invaluable artistic leader for more than 50 years, serving as a key performer, private teacher, and public educator. This solo taqasim (also taksim) or improvisation in the maqam Nahawand, (the musical mode that sounds like a minor scale) demonstrates the lucidity of Jalil Azouz’s ‘ud playing was well as his inventive musicianship.

The performance was recorded by the label Istiwanat Al-Chark (Orient Records) owned by Albert Rashid, one of the most important figures in the early years of the ethnic music industry in the United States. Rashid was a trail-blazer in the transnational transfer of mass media between the old world and the new. Although not completely alone in his endeavor to provide cultural goods for Arab immigrant communities, Rashid’s efforts were perhaps the most earnest and enduring. Beginning in 1934, Albert Rashid, whose family still owns and operates Rashid Sales Company in Brooklyn, New York, imported musical films from Egypt, arranged for public showings, and then recorded, with permission, the hit songs from the films and sold them as 78 r.p.m. discs on his record label, Al-Chark. During a conversation in 1987, Rashid explained the process to Anne Rasmussen:

“We managed to book a certain place, like the Brooklyn Academy of Music or the Detroit Institute of the Arts, or we would show them (the films) out in Los Angeles, or San Francisco, then from there they’d go to Texas. Move them around. We had a limited number of places to show them, but we did show them in places where they had a population of Arabic speaking people. We bought the rights to the films and then from the films, we bought the rights to the music, which we recorded on records” (personal communication, Albert Rashid, 1987).

During World War II, when commercial traffic between the United States and the Middle East was at a standstill, Rashid brought blank record discs over to Cairo, Egypt to make recordings with musicians for the Arab American market. He also recorded numerous Arab American musicians on the Al-Chark (Orient) label both on 78 r.p.m., and later on, 33 r.p.m. discs.

To learn about early Arab American musicians and the “ethnic” recording industry of the first part of the 20th century check out the compact disc, The Music of Arab Americans: A Retrospective Collection (Rounder 1122).

A man sits on a hearth in a family room and plays the 'ud.
This snapshot of Jalil Azzouz was taken at his home in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1990s. Mr. Azzouz was very active as a performer and educator for his entire career. Photo by Anne Rasmussen.

Permission Information: Used by permission of Rashid Sales Company