Sherine Tohamy is a music teacher, songwriter and performer of the classical Arabic instrument - The Oud. Born and raised in Egypt, Sherine has succeeded In a traditionally male-dominated area by successfully becoming a full-time musician and instrumentalist. Her talent resonates not just through her live performance and songwriting but also through her effortless blend of different genres of music via a traditional instrument
Her recent performance at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) included both originals and covers. We were stumped by her emotional rendition of the classic Disney tune - A Whole New World and some very Djangoeque swing tunes towards the end of her set.
We sat down with Sherine after the concert for a quick chat where we discussed her journey and views on traditional arabic music.
Talk us through writing original pieces. I understand you teach The Oud as well, How do you pass this down?
I graduated in 2002 from Bait El Oud, Cairo Opera House and since then I’ve taught at NYUAD for three years. I currently teach at 'Bait El Oud' in Abu Dhabi.
During my career as a musician I’ve had many concerts - this gave me a musical bank which then lead me to make and write my own music.
Instrumentalists with virtuosic abilities aren't so common in this region. What are your thoughts on this?
That is because it takes a lot of effort to do this. To have good technical ability with my instrument I practice for many hours everyday. Sure I teach, but I still practice daily. Also performing concerts with different types of musicians has strengthened my background and experience. All this has contributed to my level of playing the instrument.
How did you breakout as a female Oud player in a male-dominated area?
It wasn’t easy, especially in our Arab world where most of the Oud players are men. For them it was very strange to witness a lady playing the Oud on stage. That was at the beginning of my career but when they attended my concerts they saw no difference between male and female. All they saw was a musician playing the Oud, so the reaction in practice is different to the reaction in theory.
What advice do you have for people who are apprehensive of becoming instrumentalists because they’re women?
I encourage young girls to come and learn the Oud. I’m actually teaching many girls at the moment, I have a lot of female students.
Were there any female instructors when you were learning?
No! My instructor was Mr. Naseer Shamma, the famous Iraqi musician.
...So you’re being the change we want to see in the world!
I’m trying to. In 2011 I started an all-female band, we all play different instruments and are of different nationalities. The band plays a fusion of Western and Arabic music
Arabic pop music is currently moving towards the Western direction and away from the traditional style, what are your thoughts on the future of Classical Arabic music?
In my concerts I try to present our traditional music with a new vision - a bit more of a modern one. I do not play the Oud in a traditional way, I actually can’t play it the same way it was played a hundred years ago if I want to sound modern.
Therefore I add onto traditional music and present it in a way that people can understand and enjoy. We have so many young people in our audience, you have to speak their language but at the same keep our traditional music alive. In other words, keep the purity and deliver it with that same spirit.
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About the Writer
Faariss Khalil is a British musician who currently lives in Dubai. As a former turntablist from Bristol his experience of growing up in a thriving music scene has fuelled his passion to uncover new music in the UAE