Rahim AlHaj - Little Earth
Artistry and exile often run together, and exile has always had a way of making music “world.” During the Iraq-Iran war, conservatory trained oud master Rahim AlHaj set “Why?” - the poetic lament of a friend - to music, and earned himself a couple of years in one of Saddam’s prisons before being expelled, minus his instruments. Now based in Albuquerque, where like all itinerant artists AlHaj soon made new alliances, he tours and records widely, and has garnered multiple Grammy nominations. Little Earth is a two-disc encounter between AlHaj and an unlikely gathering of friends, including guitarist Bill Frisell, accordion ace Guy Klucevsek, percussionist Glen Velez and numerous others.
The oud finds particular resonance with a variety of stringed instrument, as on “River,” an extended AlHaj duet with Liu Fang on the p’ip’a, a fretted Chinese lute; “Rocio,” with Roshan Jamal Bhartiya on sitar; “The Other Time,” with Malian kora player Yacouba Sissoko; the melded classical string traditions of the Middle East and Europe on “Going Home,” with the Little Earth Orchestra; or the audible early music, baroque and Latin American influences of “Fly Away,” with the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet.
The vocal pairings are particularly compelling, as on “Missing You/Mae Querida,” wherein singer Maria de Barros takes a native Cape Verdean morna into new Arabic-language territory. Native American singer-flautist-percussionist Robert Mirabal reworks AlHaj’s Arabic lullaby in the Tewa language to haunting effect, in a song that transcends identifiable local roots. And on “Qassim” - AlHaj’s tribute to a cousin killed by U.S. forces in IraqStephen Kent’s didjeridu moves past the instrument’s easy clichés, unveiling its vocal potential while providing a solid foundation for the improvised oud figures.
AlHaj closes with a repudiation of the trumped-up Iran-Iraq conflict, in a duet with Iranian ney (end-blown flute) player Hossein Omoumi on “Waterfall,” a sprightly Sunni men’s dance from western Iraq. Unlike so many confected “world-music” encounters - without straining credibility or insulting the listener’s intelligence, while grounded in a particular artistic tradition - Little Earth finds revelatory and highly productive connections with musicians and genres from around the planet. - Michael Stone
The artist's web site: www.rahimalhaj.com
CD available from cdroots.com