Musician Ponders Changes In Iraq Instrument Evokes Reverence In Fans 2009: 9a Virtuoso

Musician Ponders Changes in Iraq Instrument Evokes Reverence in Fans

May 9–A virtuoso on a traditional Iraqi instrument tonight will fill the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts with an ancient sound.
Rahim Alhaj is an Iraqi exile considered to be one of the world’s masters on the oud, an 11-stringed instrument that can be traced back to the Sumerian kingdom. The 5,000-year-old oud is the “grandfather” of modern string instruments, including the banjo, guitar, lute and Indian sitar. With the appearance of a sliced pear and a short, bent neck, the oud remains one of the most popular instruments across the Arab world. Its sounds are ubiquitous in movies and on television, and its devoted fans rave about being transported to other worlds while in the thrall of a concert. “It’s more than just sitting and being entertained,” said Rihab Sawah, a faculty member at Moberly Area Community College who helped organize tonight’s concert. “It touches the soul on the most fundamental of levels.” “I was one of the loud ones, and it put me in a lot of trouble,” Alhaj said in a phone interview from his New Mexico home. “When you live under a dictatorship, you will face hard harm and consequence.” He fled the country in 1991 and ended up in Syria, where he met his future wife, a journalist. The two have since relocated to Albuquerque, where Alhaj teaches at the University of New Mexico. Over the years, Alhaj has watched helplessly as the once vibrant Baghdad arts scene has been decimated. Musicians and visual artists fled the country because of war, sanctions and, now, sectarian violence.
“There is not really a music scene in Iraq right now,” he said. “Actually, it’s starting to come back, but very slowly.”

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