When Music is the Passion

Salma Kilany: Egyptian Oud Player Who Aspires to Conquer the Music World
Salma Kilany playing on her Oud. (Supplied)

The unique sounds of Arabian music and the talent of its artists like Om Khulthum, Abd Al-Wahab, Abd Al-Halim, and composers like Mohamed al Qasabgi and Riad Al Sunbati have blazed a train of amazing melody that the world enjoys to this day. Indeed, many of us have met non-Arabs who have shared their love of the songs of Om Khulthum and praised her music and outstanding voice. Thus Arab music transcends the borders of geography, language and culture.

Talking about the new generation of artists in Egypt, we meet Salma Kilany, 29, an Oud player who is working now as a music instructor. Kilany is a big fan of Egyptian classical music, and she hopes one day she can leave a mark that people remember her for.

She studied Arabic at Cairo University and taught Arabic after graduation. But at a specific moment in her life, she decided that she will leave teaching and pursue her passion for music and become an Oud soloist. Let's know together Salma's story and the shift that happened in her life.

Kilany finished her study at Dar Al-Ulum - Cairo University in 2014 and then started teaching Arabic, but during her study she recognized something.

"While studying Arabic, I realized that there are sciences in the Arabic language related considerably to music. From here, I felt that I want to know more about the music world, especially playing on the Oud," Kilany said to Majalla.

Of Arabic origin, the Oud is "the king of instruments" and one of the oldest stringed instruments, as it dates back to the Akkadian period (2350 BC). It is the closest musical instrument to the human soul, and since then it has been closely associated with Arab culture and traditions. It is assumed that the name al-oud is derived from the Arabic for "the wood".

Salma kilany standing and holding her Oud. (Supplied)


After she finished studying, her mother brought her an Oud, but she did not start to learn immediately because she did not know where exactly she should go to learn.

"I started searching online and tried to find courses and read about this musical instrument. One day, I was at the club where it has a small choir, and I used to sing in it because I have a nice voice too. An Oud player and singer there advised me to go to the Arab Oud House, and he taught me the basics of the instrument.

“But by chance, when searching I found a famous Egyptian oud player, the first oud player to graduate from the Arab Oud House who is the artist Sherine Tohamy," Kilany told Majalla.

"This encouraged me to continue in my track in learning music because I saw that someone can study another thing different from his or her major at university," Kilany added.

Sherine Tohamy is also a music instructor at the Arab Oud House in Abu Dhabi. What caught Salma's attention is that the artist Sherine Tohamy is so professional in playing Oud without any accompanying musical instruments, and also that her study was not music.

Learning a musical instrument like the oud is not easy, especially when you start at a late age, plus there are not many who excel in this instrument, but anything can be achieved with persistence.

"When I was young, I used to listen to the famous Egyptian composer Mohamed El Qasabgi. He always caught my attention by playing on the Oud behind the artist Umm Kulthum, and how the Oud accompanies her voice with many beautiful voices coming out of it as it is the king of all musical instruments," Kilany explained.

Kilany started to take a real step by the end of 2014. She went to the Arabic Oud House in Cairo to learn more about this stringed musical instrument. "My mother was a great supporter for me through learning journey, and she helped me a lot both financially or psychologically to develop and grow. She believed in me," Kilany stated.

Salma elaborated, “Oriental music differs from Western music in many things, for example, we have some instruments like the oriental Takht which includes instruments such as Qanun, Riqq, Arabic Violon, Flute, oud and others. Each instrument has a very important role in the orchestra. We cannot find these instruments in western music.

Arabic maqam is the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music, which is mainly melodic. These maqamat differ from the ones used in the West. For example, in oriental music, there is the maqam of Bayati which is similar to a natural minor scale, with the primary exception of a half-flat second degree, and it does not exist in western music. But we share some of the maqamat with the west like the Maqam of Nahawand and Ajam.

We saw that clearly in the Egyptian Golden Parade when the orchestra used instruments such as the Rebab, the Nay and the flute - the usage of these Arabic musical instruments besides the percussion instruments gave the whole scene a different taste.

"Our Arabic music and our musical instruments are very close to our culture and history, and this what makes it unique," she added.

Salma Kilany playing on her Oud. (Supplied)


"I used to listen to artists such as Farid al-Atrash and Riad Al Sunbati. When I watch a movie for Farid, for example, I wanted to pause at the part he was playing on the Oud and just listen to it," Salma explained.

Listening to different musicians enhances Salma's skill in playing on Oud. Kilany also studied at the Arab Music Institute at the Egyptian Opera House with the musician Hazem Shaheen, and she participated with him in a concert in the Cairo Opera House. She also learned from artists inside and outside Egypt such as Naseer Shamma, Hazem Shaheen, Simon Shaheen, George Michel, and others.

"I participated in the first forum for the Oud in the United Arab Emirates which was a very significant experience for me because it was the first concert I did on a real stage and, it strengthened my will to continue and learn and, it also increased my confidence," Kilany said.

"Now I am working on a project with an institution whose name is Tafatifi. The project I work on with them provides an opportunity to teach the Oud instrument to all people, especially in the regions where people cannot reach a place to learn in Egypt. We started recording video tutorials for teaching playing on Oud, and I am proud of this experience," she added.

Tafatifi is an integrated music project. It is a music social network on the Internet that provides the opportunity for all who want to learn music through the lessons offered by the most famous and most important artists in the music scene in Egypt.

Music can change your mood totally, and this is what happened with Salma and also what inspired her. Most of us when we're in a state of depression, and listen to a piece of music, whether western or eastern music, our mood can change completely!

"I hope that I will create that effect in the hearts of others through the music because this is what happened when I heard great musicians.” Kilany said.