“One of the top oud players in the world” - San Francisco Chronicle
“Unique combination of traditional and innovative performance techniques. Alhaj’s spontaneous inventions are constantly fascinating.” - Los Angeles Times
NEA 2015 National Heritage Fellowship Award Recipient
Rahim AlHaj, 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, Russia, Australia and New Zealand) 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 twelve CDs. His latest album, One Sky (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), released in April 2018 is a call for friendship and features Iranian santour maestro Sourena Sefati. Letters From Irag (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), is a powerful musical meditation on consequences in a postwar reality featuring oud, percussion and string quintet. Infinite Hope (2015) with Indian sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, is a follow up to their 2010 Grammy-nominated collaboration Ancient Sounds, while Journey (2014), is a retrospective of Rahim’s music up to the 2014, 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. Other releases include Under The Rose (2009) with Ottmar Liebert, Jon Gagan and Barrett Martin, with all net proceeds benefitting Direct Aid Iraq; Home Again (2008), 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 (2007) nominated for a Grammy in 2008 and earlier recordings include Friendship: Oud and Sadaqa String Quartet (2005), The Second Baghdad (2002) and the live CD Iraqi Music in a Time of War (2003).
Created from the text of actual letters expressing the emotions of Iraqis living in their war-torn country, "Letters from Iraq" is a poignant telling through music of war, its aftermath and its consequences. These stories become more than an aural presentation.