Rahim AlHaj: Tiny Desk Concert Though wordless, the Baghdad-born oud player's music tells powerful stories about the blessedness and fragility of life.

Tiny Desk

Rahim AlHaj

Ancestor to the lute and the guitar, the oud ‎is an ancient stringed instrument commonly played throughout the Middle East, North Africa and countries like Greece and Turkey. The oud has charmed audiences for more than 5,000 years, and the tradition continues with this reverent performance by one of the world's best players, Rahim AlHaj.

Born in Baghdad, AlHaj possesses a life story as powerful as his music. He learned to play the oud at age 9, and later graduated with honors and a degree in music composition from the Institute of Music in Baghdad. He also earned a degree in Arabic literature from Mustunsiriya University in Baghdad. Active in the underground revolutionary movement, AlHaj wrote protest songs opposing Saddam Hussein's repressive regime. He was imprisoned twice, once for a year and a half, and was regularly beaten by his captors. In 1991, AlHaj was forced to leave Iraq because of his political activism, and ultimately found a home in New Mexico.

Today, he composes traditional and contemporary pieces for a variety of ensembles — solo oud, string quartets and symphony orchestras. He performs around the world and has even collaborated with Kronos Quartet and R.E.M. AlHaj stopped by the Tiny Desk while in Washington, D.C., to receive a well-deserved NEA National Heritage Fellowship.

The set starts with a solo performance, followed by three songs in which he's accompanied by Palestinian-American percussionist Issa Malluf. Malluf plays the daf, a large circular drum with a hardwood frame, and a stretched and shaved goat skin that produces a gently melodic tonality. The dumbek is a goblet-shaped drum with a tight head made of goatskin, heated by a lamp that keeps the skin taut in order to produce a consistent tone.

Though wordless, AlHaj's music tells powerful stories about the blessedness and fragility of life. The first song is intended to serve as a voice for millions of displaced and murdered Iraqi children whose cries will never be heard. Small but powerful, the oud reveals their stories of joy and pain while conveying a deep understanding of their sad history and hopeful future.

Little Earth is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List

  • "Dream"
  • "Warm Voice"
  • "Friendship"
  • "Flying Bird"

Credits

Producers: Suraya Mohamed, Morgan Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Walker, Nick Michael, Julia Reihs; Production Assistant: Kate Drozynski; Photo by Julia Reihs/NPR

For more Tiny Desk Concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Theodore performs a Tiny Desk Concert on March 27, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Theodore

The music of Theodore is dark and transformative, with the kind of spare elegance you can hear in Sigur Rós or Pink Floyd.

Gary Clark Jr. performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 1, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Gary Clark Jr.

These three songs, from Clark's incendiary new album This Land, roar with the assurance and force of a showman at the top of his game.

Karine Polwart Trio performs a Tiny Desk Concert on March 22, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Karine Polwart Trio

Scottish singer, songwriter and essayist Karine Polwart seldom comes stateside, eschewing air travel to reduce her carbon footprint. But on a rare, recent visit, she stopped in D.C. for a Tiny Desk.

Georgia Anne Muldrow performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 26, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Georgia Anne Muldrow

The R&B singer from Los Angeles is all about showing and spreading love.

Courtney Marie Andrews performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 2, 2019 (NPR). NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Courtney Marie Andrews

It was a day when sunlight drenched the office and the songs of heart from Courtney Marie Andrews felt right at home.

Weezer performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 27, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Weezer

Performing unplugged, the band forgoes its usual meticulousness in favor of a shaggy, entirely acoustic mix of new songs and '90s-era deep cuts.

Andrea Cruz performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Feb. 4, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Andrea Cruz

The singer from Puerto Rico is part of a movement on the island that emphasizes largely acoustic instruments and a folk-based approach to interpreting life before and after the hurricane of 2017.

&More performs a Tiny Desk Concert on March 4, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

&More (Chill Moody & Donn T)

Philadelphia Rapper Chill Moody and singer Donn T, along with their crew known as &More, were one of the standout entrants in last year's Tiny Desk Contest. They bring a message of hope and love.

Back To Top