Rahim AlHaj plays the oud, a lute-like instrument. AlHaj first played the oud in second grade, astonishing his teacher with his affinity for the instrument.
Photo courtesy of NMT PAS

 

Yo Yo Ma hasn’t been here but Awadagin Pratt has been. So have other luminaries who have graced the stage at New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center courtesy of its Performing Arts Series. Now, Socorroans can add another prodigy to the list, playing an instrument perhaps you’ve never heard (and never heard of) before.

The Rahim AlHaj Trio is set to play on Friday, Jan. 21 at 7:30 p.m. As part of the Presidential Chamber Music Series, the concert is free with funds for the show provided by NM Tech’s President Dr. Stephen G. Wells.

Rahim AlHaj plays the oud, a lute-like instrument. Born in Baghdad, Iraq, the musician and songwriter combines traditional music with contemporary styling and influence. Using this ancient instrument, AlHaj seeks to translate into music the suffering, joy, anxiety and determination that he has experienced and witnessed in his lifelong struggle against injustice – as an Iraqi, a political refugee, and today as an American citizen.

AlHaj first played the oud in second grade, where his teacher was so astonished at his affinity to the instrument, that he gave Rahim the instrument. By the age of 13, he was already making a name for himself as a musician and composer. After high school, AlHaj applied and was granted one of five positions to the Institute of Music. At the same time, he became aware of injustices in the Iraqi society and he became active in the underground revolutionary movement. In fact, AlHaj gave the movement its anthem, setting to music a poem written by a friend. He was imprisoned twice, incarcerated for two years and tortured in an attempt to extract information about the movement.

After that he graduated from the university in 1990 and by 1991 in the midst of the Gulf War, AlHaj was forced to flee Iraq for fear of his life. Using false papers procured with the help of his mother, who raised the extravagant funds required by selling her possessions, he escaped to Jordan. From there, he moved to Syria but after eight years, found his life again at risk.

In 2000, speaking no English AlHaj relocated to the U.S.A. as a political refugee. Starting his new life in Albuquerque, where he still lives, AlHaj at first found low paying jobs. But determined to focus on his music, AlHaj rented a hall on the University of New Mexico for a solo performance. The concert ignited an overwhelming response, and he was soon finding receptive audiences across the United States and internationally, playing to full houses in some of the world’s most prestigious halls.

He has won numerous awards including two Grammy nominations for Best Traditional World Music, a 2001 Award for work for peace from Veterans for Peace and a 2009 U.S. Artists Award.

“Rahim’s music is the most eloquent expression of his desire for peace. I cannot imagine a better ambassador… He exemplifies the better nature in all of us. I admire him very, very much,” said reviewer Marty Ronish.

“I am deeply moved by his artistry and his passion. Rahim’s music touches me profoundly, and I believe that it goes a long way to soften the differences and anger in the world, and to offer all of us hope,” says Ali MacGraw.

For the Socorro concert, AlHaj will be joined by Sourena Sefati playing Iranian santour and

Javier Saume Mazzei on percussion.  The Trio will be performing selections from the album One Sky, released in 2018 for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.  One Sky is the debut album for the Rahim AlHaj Trio, featuring in addition to AlHaj the supreme talents of Iranian santour player Sourena Sefati and Palestinian-American percussionist Issa Malluf. The record is a deeply immersive sonic experience as the three world-renowned musicians weave transfixing textures and melodies that transport listeners to a world of tranquility and beauty.

The santour is a hammered dulcimer which Sefati began playing at the age of 11. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Tehran, winning the award for best composer of Iranian music at Art University in 2006. He moved to the United States in 2014, and teaches Iranian music in Albuquerque.

Though Issa Malluf was the percussionist on the One Sky recording, for Socorro’s concert Javier Saume Mazzei will be on percussion. A native of Caracas, Venezuela, he began playing percussion at the age of 8. He holds a B.A. in Music from Roosevelt University where he studied classical percussion with Ed Harrison, drum set with Phil Grateau and Paul Wertico and latin percussion with Ruben Alvarez. He has performed with Rhonda Richmond, Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley, and Cassandra Wilson and the Symphony Orchestra “Sistema de Orquestas Juveniles de Venezuela.” He has performed internationally in concerts, master classes, and residencies in Beijing, China, and at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and Carnegie Hall in New York. Javier recently relocated to New Mexico and has been playing concerts with the Rahim AlHaj Trio.

For more information about this concert and other Performing Arts Series events, visit their website nmt.edu/pas or call 575-835-5688 or email pas@nmt.edu

Gwen Roath for NMT PAS