Peace, love and oud

Greg Kupetz

Iraqi man shares music, experiences

Rahim AIHaj, from Baghdad, Iraq, plays compositions on his oud for a recital last night in Ludwig Recital Hall in the Music and Speech Building. The oud is a middle Eastern lute.

Credit: Andrew popik

There are many ways to deliver a message, but few deliver their message without words. That is the method Rahim AlHaj uses. He describes everything from swaying palm trees to the murder of his cousin without a single lyric.

“Everything in this world, everything in this planet, is inspiring,” musician and composer AlHaj said in an interview.

The instrument AlHaj uses to express his ideas is the oud (pronounced “ood”), an 11-string Iraqi lute played like a guitar. The oud itself is roughly 5,000 years old, first played by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia. AlHaj called the instrument the grandfather of all string instruments, and he used it to convey three ideas to his audience: peace, love and compassion.

About 100 people listened closely in Carl F. W. Ludwig Recital Hall in the Music and Speech Center last night while he played and explained his compositions. It was his second performance in Northeast Ohio.

“Where there is conflict, there is an issue to talk about,” AlHaj said. “Musicians speak on that issue.”

After a brief introduction AlHaj began his first song, “The Second Baghdad.” The song is meant to express the destruction inflicted upon Baghdad since he left Iraq.

“I would hope that it would change people’s opinion on the war, give a different perspective,” said Brent Dugan, freshman exploratory major, after AlHaj’s Stark campus performance Sunday. “Americans are dying, but I don’t think people are really thinking about the effect that the war is having.”

He played several more songs with the topics ranging from the dreams of Iraqi children to the effects of war on Iraq’s palm trees. An estimated 2 million palm trees were destroyed during the Iran-Iraq War, AlHaj said.

“War is not the answer in any case,” AlHaj said. “The power of peace is bigger than the power of war.”

After being forced out of Iraq as a result of activism against the Iran-Iraq War and Saddam Hussein in 1991, he eventually moved to the United States in 2000.

AlHaj said he stayed in the United States because he wants to bridge Eastern and Western culture, saying it is important to raise awareness about cultural differences.

“Before Saddam himself, we had fantastic democracy in Iraq,” AlHaj said.

In reference to the conflict in Iraq, AlHaj said before last night’s show, he felt that establishing democracy is worthwhile, but forcing it upon the people goes against the concept of democracy.

“I support the election, because it’s a great step for the Iraqi people,” AlHaj said. “Democracy is important, but you can’t enforce it.”

AlHaj was born in Iraq, where he began playing the oud at a young age. He later attended the Institute of Music in Baghdad, where he graduated with a degree in composition. Since, AlHaj has done more than 150 shows around the world and hundreds more within the United States.

AlHaj released his first album in the United States in July of 2002, titled The Second Baghdad, followed by another release titled Iraqi Music in a Time of War. Those who missed AlHaj’s performance may be able to catch him in May, when his Oud Solo Concert is expected to stop in Cleveland. He is also expected to release a third album this year, titled Friendship.

Contact on-campus entertainment reporter Greg Kupetz at [email protected].