Friday, May 25, 2018


Songs of the ancient oud still resonate

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The oud is a stringed instrument similar to the lute, which has been around for some 5,000 years. (MPR Photo/Jeff Jones)
An Iraqi-born musician uses an age-old instrument called the oud to relate his experiences of exile in his native land, and of new beginnings in his adopted country.

St. Paul, Minn. — The oud is an ancient instrument, tracing its origins to Iraq more than 5,000 years ago. Its name translates to "flexible rod" or "stick."

In the West we're more familiar with the lute, which is actually a direct descendant of the oud. Rahim AlHaj plays the oud, and is a composer for the instrument.

AlHaj is originally from Iraq, where he was imprisoned for speaking -- and singing -- out against Saddam Hussein's regime. He fled his native country in 1991 using forged identification papers. He eventually took asylum in the U.S. in 2000.

AlHaj has performed his oud compositions all over the world. His music combines traditional Iraqi music with contemporary styling.

AlHaj writes about the experience of exile and of new beginnings in his adopted country. He is working on albums that combine his oud music with string quartet and full orchestras.

AlHaj was in the Twin Cities this week for a concert as part of the "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit at the College of St. Catherine. He spoke with MPR's Tom Crann. To listen to their interview, choose the audio link in the right column.