Khyam Allami


23rd Feb 2012


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There can be no doubt that the ‘ud, the lute popular across the Arab world, has had a profound influence on musical styles in Europe, Asia and Africa. But for its proud place in the shared musical heritage of the world, modern ‘ud, regrettably, is largely ignored outside of the Middle East. With the release of newcomer Khyam Allami’s Resonance/Dissonance, could things be changing? We certainly hope so… 

Not so long ago, it was hard find the ‘ud in European music shops outside of such bargain-bin regulars as Arabic Chillout, Arabian Lounge, 100% Pure Arabica, or any of the thousand and one variations thereof.  

Sad to think, then, that such an expressive instrument should be relegated to backing tedious easy-listening bilge, but fortunately, a young British-Iraqi maestro is changing things for the better with his album of contemporary ‘ud composition, Resonance/Dissonance, released on his own imprint, Nawa Recordings. 

Born in Syria to Iraqi parents, young Khyam was a precocious talent from an early age, starting his musical education with the violin at just eight years.  A move with his family to London prompted him to switch instruments, taking up the drums and bass guitar and he earned his musical stripes jobbing in bands across the capital.  

It was, exceptionally, at the ripe old age of 23 that Mr Allami turned his attentions to the ‘ud, but listening to Resonance/Dissonance you could be forgiven for thinking that he has been playing for far longer. Taking up the ‘ud inspired Khyam to travel to the Middle East to study with great ‘ud players, and he learned with masters in Cairo and Istanbul, picking up a variety of styles and schools in his travels.

Resonance/Dissonance, which was composed, recorded and produced after Allami returned from his wanderings, shows the full extent of his very great talent, not to mention the variety of his influences. Although Allami is faithful to traditional ‘ud compositions, Resonance/Dissonance is made up of the author’s original works that swing from one mood to another; by turns melancholic, upbeat and reflective, Allami’s debut shows puts the ‘ud back in the spotlight and is a joy to listen to.

The album itself is beautifully packaged, and comes with a bonus DVD of Allami performing Resonance/Dissonance in full, joined by percussionist Vasilis Sarikis on some tracks, and giving a new take on the album tracks. You can watch a clip from the DVD below:

It is, Sugar Street Review thinks, hard to think of a more original and exciting contemporary Arabic composer at the moment, and we look forward to see what Khyam Allami gets up to in the very near future.

Khyam Allami will be touring the UK in April 2012 as part of Double Duo. For more information about dates, take a look at

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  1. Wilson Cotton
    Posted 24th Feb 2012 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    His recent concert at the National Portrait Gallery, standing room only and filling the next room, was a triumph. He is a remarkably talented musician playing a wonderfully expressive instrument.

    For those who want to hear more contemporary ud music, I recommend Anouar Brahem on the ECM label. Voyage du Sahar is a work of real beauty.

    • Posted 24th Feb 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the tip Wilson, we will definitely check out Anouar! Wish I could have been at the National Portrait Gallery for Khyam’s concert but looking forward to catching him later this year.

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