Rahim AlHaj: Letters from iraq

Sunday, May 21, 2017 @ 7:00PM

Ibrahim Theater @ International House Philadelphia  (3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia

Rahim AlHaj has long sought through his music to give voice to those most vulnerable, those without a way to be heard, who are victims of circumstance—unintended or otherwise. 

Now AlHaj presents his most powerful work yet. Letters From Iraq (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2017) is a poignant telling through music of war, its aftermath and its consequences. Each piece presents a unique scenario, and together they weave a complete tale of devastation, pain, redemption and, ultimately, hope. Live, these compositions are performed with string quintet and Arabic percussion, surrounding AlHaj’s masterful oud playing.

Before the show, join the Intercultural Journeys family at 6 p.m. in the East Alcove of International House Philadelphia for a pre-show exhibit featuring the works of artist and architect Mayyadah Alhumssi. Mayyadah's paintings  introduce the beauty and complexity of Iraq to her new city, and provide continuity and connections for other Iraqi refugees here through the preservation of valued stories and cultural symbols. The exhibition is free and open to the public, and light refreshments will be served. 

Photo by Douglas Kent Hall. 

Virtuoso performer and composer Rahim AlHaj was born in Baghdad, Iraq and began playing oud (short-necked Arabian lute) at age nine. He went on to study under Munir Bashir, considered by many to be the greatest oud player of the 20th century, and Salim Abdul Kareem, at the Institute of Music in Baghdad, Iraq. AlHaj received various awards at the Conservatory and graduated in 1990 with a diploma in composition. In 1991, after the first Gulf War, AlHaj was forced to leave Iraq due to his activism against the Baath regime, and arrived in the U.S. in 2000 as a political refugee. Rahim AlHaj was naturalized as a US citizen on August 15, 2008. 

AlHaj has performed around the globe and is considered one of the world’s finest oud players. He has recorded and performed with many other master musicians of varied backgrounds and styles including guitarist Bill Frisell, accordionist Guy Klucevsek, sarod player Amjad Ali Khan and indierockers REM. He has composed for solo oud, string quartet, string quintet, chamber ensembles, symphony and more. Delicately combining traditional Iraqi maqams with contemporary styling and influence, his pieces establish new concepts without altering the foundation of the traditional “Iraqi School of Oud”. His compositions evoke the experience of exile and of new beginnings in his adopted country. AlHaj has released nine albums since 2002, two of which received GRAMMY® nominations. His latest, Infinite Hope (2015), was recorded in collaboration with Amjad Ali Khan, a follow up to their 2008 GRAMMY-nominated Ancient Sounds. In 2009 AlHaj was honored with a United States Artists Ford Fellowship Award and in 2015 the National Endowment for The Arts National Heritage Fellowship. Rahim AlHaj continues to perform around the world and speak out against oppression in his ongoing mission to “give voice to the voiceless”.