From left, Rahim AlHaj, Osman Ahmed and Nate Leath tune up before jamming at Al Sultan restaurant.
(Pat Jarrett/VFH Staff)
Published May 31, 2017
The Virginia Folklife Program hosted Rahim AlHaj for a two-day residency in Harrisonburg, Virginia. A small city in the rural Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg is surprisingly diverse, and has recently embraced many regugee and immigrant populations. There are particularly large Iraqi and Kurdish populations, with Arabic now being the second most spoken language in the public schools. Rahim performed to a packed house at the historic Court Square Theater, and met and jammed with local Iraqi musicians, as well as bluegrass masters Nate Leath and Jared Pool. Rahim spoke and performed for students at the diverse student bodies of Spotswood Elementary and Thomas Harrison and Skyline Middle Schools. We’d like to thank our friends Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak, authors of Never Will I Write About Damascus, to help organize the events and connect us with the Iraqi and Kurdish communities in Harrisonburg, as well as the Al Sultan restaurant and the Vine and Fig Community for hosting these special events.
We recently caught up with Virginia Folklife artists Susan Gaeta and Gina Sobel over Zoom to talk about life as musicians during COVID-19, how they discovered Sephardic music (a diverse genre of Jewish folk music), and their mentor Flory Jagoda, who celebrates her 97th birthday later this month.