by Mahmoud Fouly
CAIRO, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Dozens of workers in several adjacent workshops on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital Cairo were working on producing different parts of oud, an ancient Arabian lute-like music instrument, to be assembled together and polished for sale to musicians in Egypt and abroad.
The workshops together form the largest oud making workshop in Egypt, which belongs to veteran oud maker Khaled Azooz, who refers to them as a complete factory exporting ouds to 12 Arab and Western countries.
"I started with a small workshop about five years ago, then it gradually expanded until I have now 50 workers in my factory that I believe is the largest in Egypt and the region," Azooz told Xinhua at his nearby office in a separate building in El-Marg district northeastern Cairo, bordering Qalioubiya province.
Azooz, who inherited oud making from his father and grandfather, said that other workshops in Egypt are smaller and they only import different parts of ouds and assemble them.
"But my factory is the only one that makes the oud from A to Z, starting from importing the wood, designing the oud shapes, carrying out their wooden structures, assembling them, polishing the final products, and tailoring their bags too," the oud maker said, adding that he started learning the profession since he was a child.
He plans to establish a large several-story oud making factory in the same neighborhood in the near future.
The large workshop exports ouds to Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Jordan and Sudan, and to Western states including the United States, Canada, Germany and Sweden.
"Saudi Arabia is the largest oud consumer in the world. It imports between 700 and 800 ouds monthly from Egyptian oud makers," Azooz pointed out, noting that his workshop produces from 600 to 700 instruments per month.
The workshop is home to around 50 workers, including 10 Sudanese, who had different roles in oud making, such as graphic designing, carpentry, assembly, ornamentation and polishing.
Azooz's 18-year-old son, a high school student, works with him in running the workshops. Some of the workers are his relatives too.
"I treat all of them like brothers and sisters. We're all like family here," the owner said.
At one of the workshops, 21-year-old Egyptian young man Ahmed Mohamed was using a metal scraper to clean the pear-shaped back of an oud while his Sudanese colleague Ibrahim Mohamed Abbas, 53, was cleaning the belly of another oud with a flat sander machine.
"I have been working here for four years. I moved to carpentry to learn something new after I excelled polishing, because I love the profession and want to become an experienced oud maker," the young man told Xinhua.
Meanwhile, Abbas said that he joined Azooz's workshops three months ago right after his arrival from Sudan, expressing happiness with the respectful treatment he receives from his Egyptian employer and colleagues.
"I like the friendly work environment here very much. This workshop is an embodiment of friendship and brotherhood between the peoples of Egypt and Sudan," said the Sudanese man.
Azooz imports different types of wood from Sudan and India and most of the strings from Germany and France.
He is proud to be the official oud provider to the Arabic Oud House, an oud learning school founded in Cairo in 1998 by Iraqi musician Naseer Shamma in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.
"What's new is that I began making small-sized ouds that will be available soon for the children of the Arabic Oud House starting from the age of 7," Azooz said.
The Arabic Oud House now has branches in Iraq, UAE and Sudan, and will open branches soon in the United States, Germany and Spain, in cooperation with cultural institutions in these countries, according to Islam Taha, supervisor of the Arabic Oud House in Cairo.
"Azooz is our official provider because he is the largest oud producer in the region and can provide us with the large number of instruments we need with the quality and specifications we desire," Taha said.
"Azooz also imports fine wood for high-quality oud making and he also provides unique after-sale services and free maintenance," the Arabic Oud House supervisor told Xinhua.