Tickets: Free and open to the public
The Virginia Folklife Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Court Square Theater present a concert with virtuoso oud musician and composer, Rahim AlHaj at Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg. Mr. AlHaj, born in Baghdad, Iraq, began playing the oud—a stringed instrument dating back at least 5,000 years—at age nine. After studying at the Institute of Music in Baghdad under Munir Bashir, one of the most renowned oud players in the world. In 1991, after the first Gulf War, AlHaj was forced to leave Iraq due to his activism against the Saddam Hussein regime and lived in Jordan and Syria before moving to the United States in 2000 as a political refugee. He has lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, ever since, becoming a U.S. citizen in 2008. AlHaj held jobs as a dishwasher and night watchman, before renting a hall at the University of New Mexico for a solo performance. The positive reaction to his music ignited his career again and he began performing throughout the country and internationally.
A small city in the rural Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg is surprisingly diverse, and has recently embraced many refugee and immigrant populations. There are particularly large Iraqi and Kurdish populations, with Arabic now being the second most spoken language in the public schools. In addition to the May 18 concert, AlHaj will participate in cultural exchange activities with local Iraqi musicians, as well as several bluegrass musicians from the region. These will include a Thursday afternoon public musical jam at Al Sultan, a restaurant frequented by the Iraqi community. While in Harrisonburg, Rahim will visit several public schools, including Spotswood Elementary and Thomas Harrison and Skyline Middle Schools. The Harrisonburg events are offered in collaboration with Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak, authors of Never Will I Write About Damascus, featured at the 2017 Virginia Festival of the Book. Huck and Kubasak work extensively with the Iraqi and Islamic communities in Harrisonburg.
Rahim’s music delicately combines traditional Iraqi maqams, the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music, 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 performed around the globe (including Europe, China, India, and Russia) and is considered one of the preeminent oud players in the world. He has won many accolades and awards including two Grammy nominations, and 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. His album Home Again (UR Music, 2008), is a tour de force of touching and evocative original compositions portraying his trip to Iraq after thirteen years in exile. In 2015 Rahim was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor for a traditional artist in the United States.