AlHaj studied under the renowned Munir Bashir, considered by many to be the greatest oud player ever, and Salim Abdul Kareem, at the Institute of Music in Baghdad, Iraq. AlHaj won various awards at the conservatory and graduated in 1990 with a diploma in composition. He also holds a degree in Arabic literature from Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.
In 1991, after the first Gulf War, AlHaj was forced to leave Iraq due to his political activism against the Saddam Hussein regime and began his life in Jordan and Syria. He moved to the U.S. in 2000 as a political refugee and has resided in Albuquerque, New Mexico, ever since. He became a U.S. citizen on August 16, 2008.
AlHaj has performed all over the world, on tour with Munir Bashir, his teacher, as well as solo and with his string quartet project, including numerous concerts in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, and France and hundreds of concerts in the United States.
AlHaj has released several recordings. The Second Baghdad, released in 2002, and Iraqi Music in a Time of War, released in 2003, were both produced by VoxLox record label. His East meets West CD entitled Friendship (Rahim AlHaj, Oud & Sadaqa Quartet) was released in December 2005 by Fast Horse Recordings. His When the Soul is Settled: Music of Iraq, produced by Smithsonian Folkways, was released in June 2006, and nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award. An oud and sarod CD with Amjad Ali Khan will be released later in the year.
AlHaj's music delicately combines traditional Iraqi maqams with contemporary styling and influence. His compositions are about the experience of exile from his homeland and of new beginnings in his adopted country. He is one of the true oud masters from Iraq. AlHaj says that "my music invites the listener to discover the true spirit of the musician." His compositions are about loss, hope, freedom, and longing. His songs establish new concepts without altering the foundation of the traditional Iraqi School of oud based in Baghdad.
2010 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional World Music Album
2008 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional World Music Album
2003 Winner of the Bravo Award for Excellence in Music
2001 Award from Veterans for Peace for work towards peace
1988 Music Institute Award for Composition
- Kelly, Jon (2008-09-20). "Talking America: Oud awakening". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-09-23.
- "Album Details on Folkways".
- "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 2015". www.arts.gov. National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
- "USA Fellows". www.unitedstatesartists.org. United States Artists. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
- Official website
- Rahim AlHaj's Music at ListeningLounge
- Kennedy Center performance on June 6, 2006
- Rahim Alhaj "featured artist profile" on Smithsonian Folkways
- Rahim AlHaj interview from Weekend America radio program, May 15, 2008