Hudeidi: The Somali ‘king of oud’ who was felled by coronavirus

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Ahmed Ismail Hussein Hudeidi

Ahmed Ismail Hussein Hudeidi, a founding father of modern Somali music, died in London after contracting coronavirus at the age of 91. The BBC’s Mary Harper was a friend of his.

Whenever Hudeidi played his oud, it was impossible to keep still.

Bodies swayed, hands clapped and fingers snapped. His music was transporting and somehow possessed your whole being.

But there was even more to Hudeidi, or the “king of oud” as he was popularly known, than his sublime music.

He was a life force; warm, generous, humble and funny.

Bus driver as student

From the moment I met him, I felt I was part of his family.

I was not the only one. He welcomed everybody to his London home, preparing strong Yemeni coffee and offering a bed to anyone who needed it.

It was an informal music school, with people coming from all over the world to learn from the maestro.

One student was a Somali woman in her 60s who had never before been allowed to learn music. Another was a bus driver.

Ahmed Ismail Hussein Hudeidi


Whenever I saw the police band playing drums I would run after them, imagining I was beating those instruments. I would get carried away

Hudeidi was born in the Somali port city of Berbera in 1928. He grew up across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen and was attracted to music from a young age.

“Whenever I saw the police band playing drums, I would run after them, imagining I was beating those instruments. I would get carried away, losing the sense of time, until a member of the family would find me and take me home,” he once said.

When Hudeidi was 14 years old, his father took him to a party in Aden. An oud was being played and Hudeidi fell in love.

He described his affection for the rounded wooden instrument as an illness; whenever he saw one, he just had to pick it up and play.


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What is an oud?

  • Stringed instrumentoften described as similar to the European lute

  • Its historystretches back thousands of years

  • Centralto a lot of Arab music

  • Made of woodtypically with 11 strings, five are paired together

Source:, Salon Joussour