Thursday, May 01, 2008

Two Iraqis, Two Worlds and Two Ouds

Early last year, Baghdad Treasure introduced me and his readers to Iraqi oud player Rahim Alhaj. Like most of Baghdad Treasure's writings, the post touched a hidden place in my heart.

Today, The New York Times published an excellent article about Iraqi oud players Rahim Alhaj and Dhia Jabbar. The two Iraqi oud players are thousands of miles apart. But, they are bound by their love of the oud. Erica Goode writes:

BAGHDAD — Dhia Jabbar hides his oud in a sack when he walks down the street in his Baghdad neighborhood.

An oud maker in his workshop in central Baghdad. Residents rarely play the oud in public now for fear of angering militants critical of secular music.

He used to teach students in the back room of a photo shop, where the sound could not be heard. But last week, militia gunmen invaded the store, destroying one of his instruments and ordering him to stop teaching. He had dreamed of a performing career, but now he has lost hope.

“Iraq is dead,” he says.

Seven thousand miles away, Rahim Alhaj, who fled Iraq in 1991, carries his oud without a second thought through the streets of Albuquerque, where he now lives. In New York, Washington and other cities, he plays for audiences of hundreds. An album he recorded was recently nominated for a Grammy Award.

The following paragraph sheds light on how things has changed in Iraq since April 2003:

In 2004, he [Rahim Alhaj] returned to Baghdad to give a concert at his family’s house. The friends he grew up with, he said, wore beards and felt uncomfortable listening to him play; secular music was considered “haram,” forbidden. An oud maker he knew was forced to build his instruments secretly in a tiny workshop on his roof.

One morning, Mr. Alhaj awoke in his family’s home to hear his niece singing a famous Iraqi love song. But the lyrics had been changed; the words no longer spoke of romantic love, but only of God, of heaven and damnation.

“What happened?” Mr. Alhaj asked. “What happened?”

There's nothing wrong with praising God. There's definitely something wrong when romantic lyrics are changed to religious lyrics.

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