Amal Waqar: “We need more visibility”

Oud player, composer and activist Amal Waqar talks to us about Arab identity, the coloration between jazz and khaleeji music and how the oud found her.

Photo: Firas Al-Raisi of Luminosity Productions from Muscat, Oman

by Maán Jalal

Entertainment 27 January 2019

Many Arabs living in diaspora (some for generations) may not appreciate classical or contemporary Arab music and instruments. Some of them might not view the Arab sound as modern, interesting or revolutionary.

Newsflash: that’s complete BS.

Thanks to Instagram, it’s easier than ever to find interesting musicians and artists creating, recreating, mixing and performing songs we know (and didn’t know) using instruments we know but didn’t realize were much, much cooler than we thought.

Amal Waqar is an oud player that we can’t stop listening to on Instagram. Born and raised in Muscat, Oman to an Indo-Omani father and a Colombian-American mother, Amal started playing oud at fifteen. She’s gained a fair bit of attention for her skills in Oman and today, I’m a student at Berklee College of Music, in Boston, Massachusetts.

We had a chat with Amal about her musical inspirations, navigating her way with a musical instrument that’s traditionally been seen as belonging more to men and introduce you to this insane talent.

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A post shared by Amal Waqar 🕊 أمل وقار (@amalwaqar) on

What initially attracted you to playing the oud? I’m a firm believer that the oud found me. Throughout my life, I’ve been attracted to a wide variety of instruments – violin, piano, bass clarinet, guitar, etc. But it seemed like everything aligned and I ended up playing oud. One of the reasons I love oud so much is because it’s highly rhythmic. In some traditions the oud plays very demanding rhythmic patterns and grooves. It’s a deeply vibrant instrument. It’s common for us to see men playing the oud more than women – did this perception create obstacles for you while you were learning it? Of course it did! The music industry in general is already a challenging place for people who are not straight cis-men. Navigating and negotiating my place, as a female oud player and composer, is part of my personal and artistic journey. I hope this journey will contribute to the growing dialogue of Middle Eastern women in the public sphere. We need more visibility. Who were your Arab musical influences growing up? I remember loving the old classics that were played on the local radio during my childhood, like Salim Rashid al-Suri, Mohammed Abdu, and Talal Madah. However, my family mostly listened to Western music when I was growing up. My mother is a huge fan of Western popular music from the late 70s to the 90s. I remember developing a love for music through my mother by seeing the joy it brought her.

Amal Performing at the Katara Cultural Village








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A post shared by Amal Waqar 🕊 أمل وقار (@amalwaqar) on

Saying Arab as a general term is easy, but we know that our communities are much more diverse than simply Arab”, Amal Waqar

How would you describe your current musical aesthetic or your musical sound?
I’m still a very young player, I’ve only really been playing for about six or seven years, so this is still the incubational phase. At this point in my learning process, I’m taking in sounds, ideas, and resources from many different areas: traditional khaleeji music, classical Arabic music, Greek and Turkish traditions, jazz, Western classical music, my teachers, and my peers. Being a musician is a commitment to a life-long learning curve and constant growth. How that eventually manifests as I mature will be very interesting.

What is your compositional method?
It benefits me to use a variety of processes that are both organic and organized. Balance is always key. Something I like to do, as a meditative practice, is record myself improvising at random times, then sample the material weeks or months later and use it to compose.

How important is the Arab tradition of music influencing your current music style?
The longer I play, the more fascinated I become with understanding traditional styles from the Middle East and North Africa. The oud developed and evolved to play that specific music, so its soul resonates the deepest in those environments.

How important do you think it is for people to know about older Arab composers and classical Arab songs?
Having a relationship with our heritage is extremely important. The tendency to link old-school aesthetics with old-school mentalities is a common issue even though it doesn’t have to be that way. Living generations have all the resources and skills to research our cultures independently and decide how to reconcile any differences we may feel exists. Listen to the music your parents and grandparents listened to. Learn about cultural history. Revisit old locations in your city. Reflect on traditional values and morals. Then figure out what makes sense today and throw out the rest. Consciousness of our heritage in the face of modernity will allow us to propel forward more than we can imagine. 

Is music a good way to enforce a sense of Arab pride?
Saying “Arab” as a general term is easy, but we know that our communities are much more diverse than simply “Arab”. Instead, by celebrating the variety of music in our communities, we are respecting and celebrating the diversity of people, too. Music has the power to inspire and engage audiences across cultures, languages, and histories. By sharing our music we can share some beauty from our experiences.

Amal Prepping

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A post shared by Amal Waqar 🕊 أمل وقار (@amalwaqar) on

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