Rahim AlHaj is a master of the oud, an Arabic lute sometimes called “the grandfather of all stringed instruments.” A Grammy-nominated composer and musician, AlHaj has received many awards recognizing his virtuosic talent, including the 2015 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. He’s also been a political refugee from Iraq since 1991.
In March, he was invited to perform and speak at Owen Valley High School in Spencer as a part of Bloomington’s Lotus Education and Arts Foundation’s Lotus Blossoms outreach program. Lotus Blossoms more than one-ups the drab school convocations of our youth by inviting world-renowned artists to visit and engage with K-12 students in south-central Indiana.
“I think music has the ability to break down barriers like no other thing,” says Loraine Martin, Lotus Outreach director. Through song and dance, Lotus Blossoms performances open the students’ eyes to a world beyond the Hoosier state, inspiring them to learn more about cultures different from their own. In addition to appearing at Owen Valley High School, AlHaj also performed and gave a lecture in the Hoagy Carmichael Room at Morrison Hall on Indiana University’s campus in March. Now residing in the U.S., AlHaj tours across the states and around the globe, playing the oud with musical artists of every stripe and spreading an optimistic message of compassion and understanding.
His music, rooted in Iraqi tradition, pushes the boundaries of classical oud composition and seeks to be a voice against injustice and oppression. He blends traditional Iraqi maqams with contemporary styles, having performed with the likes of Bill Frisell and the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet. He’s even composed for rock legends R.E.M.
But AlHaj also seems to enjoy speaking to students. At the end of his trip to Owen Valley High School in Spencer, he told the students, “Remember, guys, you are responsible to make change in this world.”
Filmmaker TJ Jaeger recorded AlHaj’s trip to Owen Valley High School. Limestone Post presents the experience in the video above.