Why Adnan Joubran wants to bring more respect to the oud

The Palestinian musician performs as part of London’s Shubbak Festival

Palestine's Adnan Joubran says there are various ways to play the oud. Courtesy MARSM
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Adnan Joubran's Shubbak Festival performance is a long time coming.

His two shows in London's Jazz Cafe, on Wednesday and Thursday, are not only his first live performances in 15 months, but also a chance to debut tracks from his solo album, Borders Behind.

Released in 2014, fans of the Palestinian oudist haven't gotten a chance to hear the works live because of his commitments with Le Trio Joubran. The celebrated instrumental group, which includes siblings Samir and Wissam Joubran, was in full flow at the time and touring relentlessly, releasing 2018's critically acclaimed album The Long March and recording with superstars Coldplay as part of their Everyday Life album, released in 2019.

With the pandemic halting Le Trio Joubran’s touring plans at present, Adnan says the time is right to reintroduce his own work.

“It will be an exceptional show for me because this is the first time I've really played live since the pandemic and I am performing with new musicians,” he says.

“While that will be a challenge, it is ultimately important for me to stretch out and show people my own colours when it comes to how I approach the oud.”

Breaking away from tradition

That statement of intent shouldn’t worry Le Trio Joubran fans.

Adnan says the group remains active and is already working on its next project, a compilation of remixed tracks.

More than scratching a creative itch, Adnan says Borders Behind and the upcoming performances are a chance to redefine how we compose and listen to the oud.

“I don’t think we are getting the full picture when it comes to the capabilities of this beautiful instrument,” he says.

“A lot of oud compositions right now are done in the classic way which is based on a standard structure, repetitive phrases and on time with rhythm.”

Borders Behind is an evocative challenge to that theory.

Different grooves, from Indian raga to Spanish flamenco, are explored and in tracks like Never Been There and La Danse Del La Veueve, Adnan's playing resembles a trumpeter in its urgency and use of space.

It is an approach he describes as similar to the Arabic free-form poetry Shi'r Al Hurr.

When it comes to the oud I was self-taught and when people come to me, even my brothers, to say this is how it should be done then I just say 'thank you, I don't want to be an oud player anymore'

It also stems from a rebellious streak first exhibited as a child.

“When it comes to the oud I was self-taught and when people come to me, even my brothers, to say this is how it should be done then I just say ‘thank you, I don’t want to be an oud player anymore,’” Adnan recalls.

“If learning the oud is simply learning what the teacher and previous generations are doing, then I believe it stops us from being creative.”

He adds he is not against oud conservatories: “I believe that the tradition can also accommodate new ways and methods of being creative.”

He points to US guitarist Carlos Santana as an example of striking that balance.

“If you look at his career, you will notice what Santana does is introduce the guitar to different genres,” Adnan says. “This is not only what we need to do with the oud, but it’s what the instrument deserves.

“Why? Because the oud is the father of the guitar so it deserves more respect.”

The rebel in the family

In that sense, he is satisfied with the achievements of Le Trio Joubran.

Over their 17-year career, the siblings introduced the oud to international audiences through five albums, international festival appearances and that aforementioned collaboration with Coldplay, as well as ambient music pioneer Brian Eno and Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo and Gabriela.

Adnan disagrees, however, with the notion he was solely the driving force behind these eclectic pairings.

“Le Trio Joubran’s music represents all three of our different identities,” he says.

“For example my brother Samir studied the oud classically and went to the Mohammed Abdel Wahab conservatory in Egypt. And I guess I am more of the rebel who was trying to find my own way. Le Trio Joubran is like a painting that’s made up of all our different colours.”

With his Shubbak Festival concerts and more shows planned for later in the year, Adnan is content, for now, with having the whole canvass to himself.

Adnan Joubran performs at Jazz Cafe, London on Wednesday, July 30 (sold out) and Thursday, July 1. Tickets £16.50 ($24) from www.shubbak.co.uk