Iraq / USA: Interview with exiled oud player

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Iraq / USA:
Interview with exiled oud player

Rahim AlHaj is a former political prisoner of Saddam Hussein who escaped Iraq, relocated to the US in 2000, and made a new home in New Mexico.

“How does Iraqi music change when the musician doesn’t live in Iraq anymore?” asks Tom Chandler in his article about the Iraqi oudist and composer Rahim AlHaj, which was published in the American newspaper East Bay Express on 5 November 2008.

Rahim AlHaj studied under the legendary Munir Bashir, who is referred to as one of the greatest oud players of the 20th century. Rahim AlHaj released an album of his own compositions for solo oud, ‘Home Again’, based on the experience of visiting Iraq after the second US-Iraq war. This was after he has been living 13 years in exile. He found out about his father’s death, and visited the site of the Baghdad Institute of Music, which had been bombed into oblivion.

One newspaper described Rahim AlHaj as a ‘Prophet with an Oud’ because of his message of peace and humanism. Tom Chandler writes that it becomes clear that with Rahim AlHaj that the message and the music are inseparable.

“I am now here to tell the truth, about women and kids… In my country, they have no voice,” he told Tom Chandler.




Rahim AlHaj

Photographed by Douglas Kent Hall


Click on map to read more about Iraq on freemuse.org
Between 2004 and 2006, around 50 musicians in Iraq have been killed, according to the head of the country’s artists union

Read the article:

East Bay Express – 5 November 2008:

‘Here to Tell the Truth – Iraqi oudist and composer Rahim AlHaj spreads peace and compassion’

Rahim Alhaj’s official website:
rahimalhaj.com

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Related reading on freemuse.org

Local TV taken off air for playing 200-year-old Kurdish song
From AFP (Associated French Press)

A 200-year-old Kurdish song caused the closure last week of a television station operating in southeastern Turkey, home to the country’s Kurdish population. Gun-TV was taken off air on Friday for one month after broadcasting the song.
The decision made by Turkey’s Council of Radio and Television, is seen by its owner and other local media as another example of continuing repression of media freedoms in the region. “The pretext is ridiculous,” Gun-TV’s owner Nevzat Bingol said. “The incriminating song is 200 years old and has been broadcast on national television but we are reproached for even acknowledging that Kurds live in this region.”
Another dozen radio and television stations in the region also face the same penalty. Bingol, who is to appeal against the decision, said he was not surprised by the order as it is the 17th time he has been shut down. The ruling comes despite Turkey’s Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit recently declaring he is to propose the introduction of Kurdish-language programs. Ecevit said he would present his proposal to the country’s army-dominated National Security Council.

Turkish is the only language allowed on national television but the EU has constantly pressed Ankara to allow Kurdish-language television for its large Kurdish minority as part of reforms needed to join the union. The Turkish press has reported that the minister responsible for the media was preparing a daily one-hour Kurdish-language news program to be broadcast on one of the five public television channels. But local journalists in the region remain sceptical.
“Under the Ottoman administration, there was never a Kurdish-language newspaper here, and I fear there won’t be one for a long time,” said Naci Sapan, the president of the association of journalists in Turkey’s southeast. Some 29 newspapers, weeklies and monthly publications in the Kurdish language or who are seen to be supportive of the Kurdish cause are banned in the Kurdish provinces. However, they are available in the rest of Turkey, according to the Association of Human Rights.

Another two independent newspapers in the province of Diyarbakir are also struggling to ensure they stay on the right side of authorities, as are two local TV channels, including Gun-TV.
“It is clear that I’m in the firing line because I openly support the lifting of the state of emergency, so I am persecuted for expressing my opinions,” Bingol said.
With programs constantly facing censorship and with no right to broadcast in Kurdish, the two channels restrict themselves to broadcasting mainly cultural programs. “We live behind an iron curtain with daily psychological torture,” Bingol said.