Little Earth – Album Review – Rahim AlHaj (and friends)

Little Earth CD cover

It is not often one comes across an artist at the top of his game that produces a double CD album consisting of collaboration with other musicians as varied as accordionists and avant jazz guitarists, but first let’s take a look that artist; Rahim AlHaj.

Rahim AlHaj – short profile

Rahim Alhaj with Oud

Rahim AlHaj was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and took up playing the Iraqi Oud. He studied at the Institute of Music in Baghdad under the tutors Munir Bashir (considered by some to be the greatest Oud player of all time) and Salim Abdul Kareem. At the time Iraq was at war with neighbouring Iran, and suffered under the repressive Ba’athist regime and soon Rahim became involved in the underground revolutionary movement setting a poem to music called “Why” which in turn became an anthem for the movement. He was imprisoned twice for a total period of two years, and when tension increased he had no option but to flee to Jordan.

Under increasing pressure from Iraq, he moved to Syria, but as relations between Iraq and Syria warmed he relocated in 2000 to the United States as a political refugee. Rahim’s new home was Albuquerque, New Mexico where he rented a hall on the University Campus for a solo performance. The overwhelming positive response launched a series of concerts across the United States and then many International concerts. Grammy nominations arrived in 2008 & 2010. To date he has released eight albums and we are going to look at just one; “Little Earth” (but don’t worry we will get around to reviewing more…)

Little Earth

UR Music (2010)
Produced by: Rahim AlHaj
Executive Producer: Tom Frouge
Liner notes: D.A. Sonneborn

Classification – World Music

Disc One
1- Samal Baghdad
Little Earth Orchestra: Robin Abeles – Double Bass / Luis Alberto – Violin / Monica de la Hoz – Violin / Issa Malluf – Darbuka (goblet drum)

2- The Searching
Guy Klucevsek – Accordion / Katie Harlow – Cello / Issa Malluf – Riq, Daf

3- Sailors Three
Rahim AlHaj – Oud (solo)

4- Morning in Hyattsville
Bill Frisell – Electric Guitar / Eyvind Kang – Viola

5- The Other Time
Yacouba Sissoko – Kora

6- Rocio
Roshan Jamal Bhartiya – Sitar

7- Missing You / Mae Querida
Maria de Barros – Vocals

8- Dance of the Palms
Glen Velez – Frame Drum, Riq, Shaker

Disc Two
1- Fly Away
Santa Fe Guitar Quartet: Chris Dorsey – Guitar / Mariano Fontana – Bass Guitar / Miguel Piva – Guitar / Eric Slaven – Guitar

2- Going Home
Little Earth Orchestra: Robin Abeles – Double Bass / Luis Alberto – Violin / Roberta Arruda – Violin / Monica de la Hoz – Violin / Issa Malluf – Darbuka, Riq, Daf / Jesse McAdoo – Cello

3- Athens to Baghdad
Peter Buck – Guitar / Lorenzo Martinez – Violin / Luis Alberto – Violin / Luis Guerra – Double Bass / Issa Malluf – Darbuka, Riq, Daf

4- Lullaby
Robert Mirabel – Vocals, Hand Drum, Rainstick, Native American Flute

5- River (The Passage)
Liu Fang – P’ip’a (pear shaped fretted Chinese Lute

6- Qaasim
Stephen Kent – Didjeridu, Shaker

7- Waterfall
Hossein Omoumi – Iranian Ney / Souhail Kasper – Daf, Riq, Darbuka

Note: Rahim AlHaj plays Oud on all tracks.


Rahim’s concept for this album was that people from different cultures should learn to make music together, before they become enemies. To this end he composed specific pieces for the diverse artists on the album, each artist remembering their musical birthplace and melding the music together, returning homeward to peace. In his own words: “It does not matter where you live, Earth belongs to each and all of us. How can I communicate that it belongs to all humanity, it does not matter what country, what race? How can we translate this concept to living and lived reality?” Well this album “Little Earth” is Rahim’s answer to his own question.

The double CD is beautifully packaged with a thirty-two page booklet intimately describing each musical piece and the ethos behind the complete album. This is one of those times you really should buy the album rather than just download it, as D.A. Sonneborn’s notes expand your experience of each individual song. As an example the track “Lullaby” is Rahim’s Iraqi lullaby translated from Arabic to English, then from English to Tewi (a Native American language) the track is a haunting mix of Iraqi Oud and Native American vocals, flute and percussion.

Each track on this album is a revelation, I never thought I would hear a Chinese Lute and an Oud play together so fluently, mixing the sounds of the cultures seamlessly. “The Searching” features Guy Klucevsek on Accordion, finishing his solo on a quarter tone note, just how did he do that? Well you can buy the album to find out… you will not be disappointed. Most guitarists will know Bill Frisell who plays on “Morning in Hyattsville”. There are also instruments from across the globe: Kora – Africa / Sitar – India / Didjerido – Australia and the album finishes off with an Iraq / Iran combination with Rahim on Iraqi Oud and Hossein Omoumi on Iranian Ney (a type of flute), truly a testament to peace.

Rahim AlHaj has created a great piece of work here, and one I don’t get tired of listening to, where else would you get a didjeridu sounding like an angry dog played off against an Oud? Who would I recommend this album to (apart from everyone)? Well definitely World Music lovers, any one with an interest in Oud, but it is more than that, anyone with an interest in music beyond what you may have heard before, this album breaks new ground in so many ways taking the fretless forerunner of the guitar, the Oud and firmly placing it on the World stage.


Review – Jahloon – April 2006



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