By Intisar Alyamani
The X Factor Arabia judge, Lebanese super star, and one of the best known female singers in the Arab world, Elissa, described Syrian singer Aboud Harb as having the best male voice she had ever heard. This was in 2013 when Harb was a contestant on the show.
Harb who is also a musician, looks beyond the flower beds as he sits on a bench in London’s Holland Park, piecing together a tune in his mind. It only becomes apparent it is a piece of music, when he begins humming and strumming his fingers to an imaginary oud.
On another occasion, mid sentence, he closes his eyes, begins tapping a tune with his fingers on a dining table as the music in his mind flows to his fingertips. No one would dare argue, in that moment, that the table was not a piano!
During our interview on a particular hot summer’s day in London, Harb did not have his oud with him. However, it is not unusual for him to sit in a empty place in the park and tune his instrument quietly.
“Definitely on a dry day. Any instrument is not going to take well to the rain! So most of the time I practice indoors,” he said as he smiled, amused by his own comment.
For him, the world is music and music notes are the language of his world.
He is able to read music sheets and he explained that this is one of the reasons he has a sensitive ear to what music works best for his voice.
“I am working on a song at the moment. I have the perfect lyrics and I want to make sure the rhythm and tempo is right,” explained Harb.
The lyrics were written by one of his friends and based on a true love story.
“It is a very emotional song. Songs like these reach the hearts of listeners because everybody can relate to the feeling of love. People do not get tired of listening to love songs as they would never get bored of food. It is essential for the soul,” explained the musician.
Similar to 1990s singer Fadl Shacker, Harb’s voice and emotional depth are evident in his facial expressions. His voice is tender yet strong as he lives each word of the lyric he sings. If it is to be described in metaphoric terms, it is like a strong gale blowing the clouds away to reveal the sunlight. It is not a rumble or tremor but, nevertheless, reaches the heart and mind of the sensitive listener of Arabic music and song especially those from the Levant and the Arabian Gulf.
Like many of his peers, Harb is influenced by celebrated Arab artists such as Mohamed Abdou, the late, great Umm Kulthum, Wadih El Safi, Abdel Halim Hafez and the Lebanese icon Fayrouz. He considers them to be the bedrock that has lead to the success of contemporary Arabic music and song. Furthermore, he played with the Lebanon El Salam orchestra and is inspired by classical Arabic poetry.
His performances move listeners to their deepest thoughts or up on their feet to dance their homeland’s dabkeh.
“I believe each and every musician in this field has his or her individual style and niche audience. If someone else gains, it does not mean I lose. There is a time and place for everyone.”
From a young age, this musician knew what he wanted. He wanted to sing, write songs and play the oud. He graduated from music school in Syria and developed his career in the UK capital. He sings for audiences in London at various venues and is much sought after by Arab events’ organisers for his ability to emotionally move audiences with his voice. He is also committed to making time for creating his own songs.
“It is so satisfying for me to be able to make people happy with my performances. It really does connect the Arab community here and maintains our heritage. At the same time, I aim to continue composing my own songs,” stated Harb.
He discusses the issue of competition in the music industry with passion and he has his own view on the subject.
“There is nothing wrong with competition, it keeps things interesting but it gets out of hand sometimes whereby musicians are very protective of their territory and are reluctant to cooperate for the good of each other’s careers.
“I believe each and every musician in this field has his or her individual style and niche audience. If someone else gains, it does not mean I lose, it just means there is a time and place for everyone. We can all be givers,” he continued.
Harb welcomes the opportunity to work with different music producers, although he is selective on this issue.
“With any partnership, harmony and mutual understanding is key. It is the foundation for creativity and success for both sides,” he noted.
“Building rapport with an audience is not easy. I can tell within seconds whether an audience has accepted me or not. It is my responsibility to reach out to them in the best way I can.
“Practice and experience has helped me reach my listeners and I feel blessed on this journey,” concluded Harb.
As for his oud playing, Harb treasures this instrument. For him, the etiquette for oud playing is for an audience who appreciates this genre. An audience quiet and still enough to receive its sound through their senses. This seems to be the perfect ambience for the sound of Harb’s golden oud.