BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - In his small workshop in the Iraqi city of Basra, Thabit al-Basri carefully bends a slim piece of wood over a flame before placing it over the pear-shaped oud in the making.
The 72-year-old craftsman is putting together the traditional string-instrument, popular in Middle Eastern music, a process that can take around a month.
His finished product usually fetches $1,000 and is highly sought-after. Basri counts Arab singers and royalty among his clients as well as customers further away in Europe.
“Artists always visit me ... Sometimes I see one of the ouds I made in the hands of a big artist,” he said.
“Maybe he got it as a present or some prince, businessman or a sheikh might send one of his representatives to buy one from me and give it as a gift to an international artist.”
Among those he says he has seen with his ouds are Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu as well as the late Lebanese composer Rahbani brothers.
Once doing business from a shop in Basra — the largest city in southern Iraq — Basri now makes his ouds at his home workshop, mainly for security.
He has opened his craft to the web, creating an online forum where he answers questions from younger oud makers and connects with customers over Facebook.
“Internet is a blessing, it has made the world know about us and given us fame,” he said. “People started to call me from around the world. Recently I sent an oud to Germany and before that to Egypt and Spain.”
Basri’s smooth, polished ouds can be personalised with decorations.
“The minimum price ... is $1,000 because it takes one month to make a single oud,” he said. “Sometimes the buyer might pay even $2,500 if he admires your work, art and instrument.”
Reporting by Mohammed Kadhim Atti; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alison Williams