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Rahim AlHaj Performing “Letter 4. The Last Time We Will Fly Birds”

Recorded live on KEXP.

May 9, 2017

Rahim AlHaj, a virtuoso oud musician and composer, was born in Baghdad, Iraq and began playing the oud (the grandfather of all stringed instruments) at age nine. Early on, it was evident that he had a remarkable talent for playing the oud. Mr. Alhaj studied under the renowned Munir Bashir, considered by many to be the greatest oud player ever, and Salim Abdul Kareem, at the Institute of Music in Baghdad, Iraq. Mr. AlHaj won various awards at the Conservatory and graduated in 1990 with a diploma in composition. He holds a degree in Arabic Literature from Mustunsariya University in Baghdad. In 1991, after the first Gulf War, Mr. AlHaj was forced to leave Iraq due to his activism against the Saddam Hussein regime and began his life in Jordan and Syria. He moved to the US in 2000 as a political refugee and has resided in Albuquerque, NM ever since. In 2015 Rahim was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor for traditional arts in the USA.

Rahim has performed around the globe (including Europe, China, India, and Russia) and is considered one of the finest oud players in the world. He has won many accolades and awards including two Grammy nominations. Rahim has recorded and performed with other master musicians of varied backgrounds and styles including genre-busting American guitarist Bill Frisell, modern accordion innovator Guy Klucevsek, Indian sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan and indy-rock pioneers REM. He has composed pieces for solo oud, string quartet, symphony and beyond. Rahim’s music delicately combines traditional Iraqi maqams with contemporary styling and influence. His compositions evoke the experience of exile from his homeland and of new beginnings in his adopted country. His pieces establish new concepts without altering the foundation of the traditional “Iraqi School of Oud”.

Rahim has released ten CDs. Journey (2014), is a retrospective of his music up to the present, including a new track. Little Earth was released in 2010 to remarkable reviews. The two-CD project features Rahim’s original composition in collaboration with the likes of Frisell, Klucevsek, Peter Buck (REM), Maria De Barros, Liu Fang, Robert Mirabal, Hossein Omoumi, Santa Fe Guitar Quartet, Yacouba Sissoko, Stephen Kent, and many more including Little Earth Orchestra. Ancient Sounds (UR Music, 2009), is a duet recording with Indian sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, which was nominated for a 2010 Grammy in the Best Traditional World Music Recording category. In 2009 he also released a special recording Under The Rose with Ottmar Liebert, Jon Gagan and Barrett Martin, with all net proceeds benefitting Direct Aid Iraq. Home Again (UR Music, 2008), is a tour de force of touching and evocative original compositions portraying his trip to Iraq after 13 years in exile. When the Soul is Settled: Music of Iraq (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2007) was also nominated for a Grammy in 2008. His earlier recordings include Friendship: Oud and Sadaqa String Quartet (2005), a unique East and West musical collaboration, The Second Baghdad (2002) and the live CD Iraqi Music in a Time of War (2003). Rahim is featured in the 2009 documentary film on Smithsonian Folkways. Capping off an artistically fruitful 2009, Rahim was awarded the prestigious US Artist Ford Fellowship Grant. Rahim’s latest release is Infinite Hope (2015) with Amjad Ali Khan, a follow up to their 2010 Grammy-nominated collaboration. Rahim will also release a new recording on Smithsonian Folkways in late 2016/early 2017.

See his performance of “Letter 4. The Last Time We Will Fly Birds” recorded live at KEXP on March 17, 2017.

Rachel Pearson (violin)
Victoria Parker (violin)
Heather Bentley (viola)
Rajan Krishnaswami (cello)
Stephen Schermer (bass)

Host: Darek Mazzone
Audio Engineer: Kevin Suggs
Cameras: Jim Beckmann, Alaia D'Alessandro & Justin Wilmore
Editor: Jim Beckmann


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