“I’m a musician with a mission,” explains Albuquerque-based oud player and composer Rahim AlHaj, who is SITE Santa Fe’s special guest in a solo performance on August 9.
Born in Baghdad, Iraq and a resident of New Mexico since 2000, AlHaj uses his masterful musical skills to communicate a message.
“I am obsessive and compulsive about social justice,” says AlHaj, who was forced to leave Iraq in 1991 after the first Gulf War due to his activism against the Saddam Hussein regime.
“There are many stories behind my music.”
Some of the original pieces that AlHaj performs at SITE Santa Fe have been inspired by letters written by Iraqi women and children about their experiences in war. His commitment to sharing issues related to social justice has reached audience members throughout New Mexico and around the world.
“I remember how one woman, who was crying after one of my concerts, came up to me and put a scarf around my neck,” says AlHaj, who in recent months has performed in venues in Australia, Canada, Europe and the Middle East. “She said ‘thank you for hearing me.’ Other comments I’ve heard after performances are about how I have helped people’s eyes and hearts to open to pain they didn’t know about.”
An oud player from the age of nine who studied with oud virtuoso Munir Bashir (1930-1997) and with Salim Abdul Kareem at the Institute of Music in Baghdad, AlHaj won many awards during his university studies and graduated in 1990 with a degree in composition.
Three years ago he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.
AlHaj has put together 12 albums to date, with the most recent one, “One Sky,” released last March. Many musicians representing a wide range of musical genres have collaborated with AlHaj on his albums and in concert.
Partial to New Mexico, which he calls “”his beloved home,” AlHaj has made a point of working with many of the state’s best known musicians, including Albuquerque violinist David Felberg and Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal.
“I have wonderful musician friends in New Mexico,” he says. “I love performing here.”