Arab Music from Iraq: Rahim Alhaj, oud; Souhail Kaspar, percussion. Part 1 of 2

Iraqi-born musician Rahim Alhaj earned a 2008 Grammy nomination for his CD titled When the Soul Is Settled: Music of Iraq, released on the Smithsonian Folkways label. He studied at the famed Baghdad Conservatory under the late Munir Bashir, who was perhaps the greatest oud (Arab lute) master of the twentieth century. Since arriving in the United States in 2000, Alhaj has released three more CDs, including one of original music for oud and string quartet. Legendary jazz guitarist Bill Frisell calls Alhaj’s music “beautiful, mysterious, and powerful.” This concert on July 31, 2007, was made possible in part through support from the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University.

See images, program notes and related artwork at https://www.freersackler.si.edu/series/music/

Program

1. Dream (Rahim Alhaj)
2. Home Again (Rahim Alhaj)
3. Maqam Ajam (traditional)
—Taqsim
—Song: The Beautiful One Passed Me (Marru 'Alayya al-Hilwin)
4. Maqam Rast (traditional)
—Taqsim
—Song: The Night Is Sweet and Beautiful (Il Layla Hilwa)
5. Maqam Hijaz (traditional)
—Taqsim
—Song: Atop the Palm Tree (Fawg in-Nakhal)

Intermission

6. Gray Morning (R. Alhaj)
7. Maqam Segah (aka Sika)
—Song: The Girl with Her Eyes on Me (Ya Bint w-'Enich 'Alayya)
8-11. Traditional Iraqi, Egyptian, and Syrian songs (8:57–19:20)
12. Percussion demonstration (19:34–23:40)

The Oud

The oldest known image of an oud-like instrument is on a clay seal from the Sumerian city of Uruk (4500–3100 B.C.E). A wood-bellied lute also appears on royal seals and other iconography from the same period. It is an instrument tantalizingly similar to (and perhaps a direct ancestor of) the oud itself. Unfortunately, little is currently known about the development of this instrumental tradition between the fall of Babylon to the Persians in 539 B.C.E. and the centuries that preceded the founding of Islam in 622 C.E.

The oud held a respected position as a solo instrument with its own distinct repertoire during much of the Abbasid period (750–1258), during which the royal court and capital of the Islamic empire were established at Baghdad. Iraqi musicians today describe that time as a golden age for Iraqi music. Rahim Alhaj, for example, provides a strong sense of aesthetic and musical continuity, as did his teachers and their teachers. Yet he also recognizes that Iraqi culture, including its music, has changed dramatically in the last century, and that he himself is an agent of musical change. His recording for Smithsonian Folkways is comprised primarily of taqasim, instrumental improvisations offering an early twenty first-century interpretation of maqāms, including material derived from the Iraqi maqām tradition as well as more recently created compositions.
Adapted from notes by D. A. Sonneborn for When the Soul Is Settled: Music of Iraq (Smithsonian Folkways, 2006), www.folkways.si.edu.

Oud and Iraqi Maqām

The oldest known image of an oud-like instrument is on a clay seal from the Sumerian city of Uruk (4500–3100 B.C.E). A wood-bellied lute also appears on royal seals and other iconography from the same period. It is an instrument tantalizingly similar to (and perhaps a direct ancestor of) the oud itself. Unfortunately, little is currently known about the development of this instrumental tradition between the fall of Babylon to the Persians in 539 B.C.E. and the centuries that preceded the founding of Islam in 622 C.E.

The oud held a respected position as a solo instrument with its own distinct repertoire during much of the Abbasid period (750–1258), during which the royal court and capital of the Islamic empire were established at Baghdad. Iraqi musicians today describe that time as a golden age for Iraqi music. Rahim Alhaj, for example, provides a strong sense of aesthetic and musical continuity, as did his teachers and their teachers. Yet he also recognizes that Iraqi culture, including its music, has changed dramatically in the last century, and that he himself is an agent of musical change. His recording for Smithsonian Folkways is comprised primarily of taqasim, instrumental improvisations offering an early twenty first-century interpretation of maqāms, including material derived from the Iraqi maqām tradition as well as more recently created compositions.
Adapted from notes by D. A. Sonneborn for When the Soul Is Settled: Music of Iraq (Smithsonian Folkways, 2006), www.folkways.si.edu.

Center for Contemporary Arab Studies

The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), the co-sponsor of this concert, is the only academic center in the United States that focuses primarily on the Arab world, the region from Morocco to the Gulf. CCAS was founded in 1975 as an integral part of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, and each year its graduate and undergraduate programs offer more than seventy-five courses in history, international affairs, economics, development, business, culture, and society as well as the Arabic language and the study of Islam. For more information, visit ccas.georgetown.edu.

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