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Ahmed Alshaiba: Five acclaimed songs by the late Yemeni oud player

Alshaiba died in a car accident in New York in late September, leaving behind a legacy as one of the region's most exciting talents
Alshaiba's videos on YouTube garnered hundreds of thousands of views (Instagram)

It's not every day that you hear tracks like Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal or Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You played on the oud, a guitar-like stringed instrument popular in the Arab world.

For years, Yemeni-American musician Ahmed Alshaiba produced renditions of some of popular culture's most recognisable sounds on the instrument.

His music was a seamless blend of a classical Arabic sound with the familiar rhythm of western pop music.

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The 32-year-old had built up a following of 800,000 subscribers on YouTube before his death following a car accident in New York in late September.

Some of his videos received millions of views, and his untimely death has been mourned widely among Yemenis and fans of Middle Eastern music.

The self-taught Alshaiba was raised in Yemen but moved to the US in 2012, hoping to showcase to the world the beauty of the oud. 

Alshaiba's latest album Malahide was released in August this year, containing 10 pieces using the oud. 

With tributes still pouring in for the late musician, Middle East Eye looks at five of Ahmed Alshaiba's most popular covers:

1. Aicha by Cheb Khaled 

The oud version of Cheb Khaled's classic Aicha  has close to nine million views at the time of publication.

Combining electric and acoustic guitar, alongside other instruments, it is Alshaiba's oud that takes centre stage, bringing the Algerian singer's most famous track alive in a way few covers have managed to do. 

Published on YouTube in November 2017, the rendition is one of the most popular video on Alshaiba's channel.

2. Shape of You by Ed Sheeran

Another popular rendition by Alshaiba was his cover of singer Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You, which has been viewed more than 6,000,000 times at the time of publishing. 

Published in 2017, Alshaiba's cover maintains the rhythm of Sheeran's original but is so distinct in its sound that it can be mistaken for an original at points.

3. Despacito by Daddy Yankee ft. Justin Bieber

Alshaiba had fans in both the Middle East and North Africa, but also a significant listener base from around the world.

They came to his YouTube channel drawn by his ability to marry Arab sounds with drastically different genres, as demonstrated by his cover of Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee's track Despacito.

In addition to his loyal following online, Alshaiba also took part in a number of concerts, playing in several Middle Eastern states, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. 

4. Hello by Adele

Alshaiba's cover of Adele’s Hello was published in 2015 and has picked up close to 4.5 million views at the time of publication.

“This song has touched everyone’s heart, and I’m one of them, so I made this oud cover for you to enjoy, as I enjoyed the making of this video,” he wrote in the caption for the video, which was typically well received by his fans.

"He makes his oud speak, cry and lament with the touch of his fingers," wrote a fan underneath the video.

5. All of Me by John Legend 

In collaboration with Lebanese pianist Maan Hamadeh, Alshaiba released his cover of John Legend's All of Me in 2016 and the video has picked up close to 5.5 million views since.

Alshaiba first started posting his videos to YouTube 12 years ago, with content related to traditional Yemeni "zaffa" music, which is played at weddings, appearing alongside covers.

In one video, titled My Trip to Yemen, Alshaiba speaks  about how Yemeni culture and traditions have impacted his musical style.

In addition to his YouTube following, more than 50,000 people followed Alshaiba on Instagram.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected since its publication: Ahmed Alshaiba's rendition of Aicha is his second most popular video and his cover of Shape of You has 6,000,000 views and not 600,000 as previously stated.

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