Consumer Guide Album
Rahim AlHaj: Iraqi Music in a Time of War [Voxlox, 2003]
Last February, mild-mannered Iraqi matinee idol Kazem al-Sahir played a sparsely populated Beacon. His 17-piece orchestra was exotically anodyne to me, painfully nostalgic to the attendant Iraqis. But either way it was steeped in denial. Recorded April 5 at Manhattan's Sufi Books, with Baghdad under attack, this solo oud recital is the opposite. The conservatory-trained AlHaj is a Saddam torture victim who escaped in 1991. Yet he is appalled by the destruction of his homeland. And yet again he betrays no rage: however uninspired as "concepts," the "compassion, love, and peace" he preaches are courageous as music. With little knowledge of oud or taste for classical guitar, I'm struck by how unexotic he seems--how his sound, melodicism, and note values bridge East and West while remaining Iraqi. I'm impressed by how modest virtuosity can be in a classical tradition that honors simplicity. And I'm drawn in by the historical context, which implicates me in that tradition.