News / Middle East

Iraqi, Iranian Musicians Collaborate at Olympics

Iraqi musician Rahim Al Haj and Amir Koushkani of Iran join to play together as part of the Cultural Olympiad music program
Iraqi musician Rahim Al Haj and Amir Koushkani of Iran join to play together as part of the Cultural Olympiad music program

Multimedia

Audio
David Byrd

They come from two nations - Iraq and Iran - that have been enemies for years.  But at the Vancouver Games, Rahim Al Haj of Iraq and Amir Koushkani of Iran will join to play together as part of the Cultural Olympiad music program.  Both artists believe that music is a language that supersedes national, political, and ethnic boundaries.

Rahim al Haj's story begins in Baghdad, where he began playing the oud - regarded as the patriarch of many string instruments such as the lute and guitar - at age nine. He loved music so much, he used to sleep with his instrument and even speak to it.

Eventually, Rahim's love of music led him to study with Munir Bashir - considered by many to be the greatest oud player ever - and Salim Abdul Kareem, at the Institute of Music in Baghdad, Iraq. But under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, al Haj was imprisoned for nearly 18 months for not supporting the Baathist party.

Rahim was forced to flee his homeland, and escaped to Jordan. But the price of his freedom was his oud - to leave Iraq he had to leave his beloved instrument behind. Eventually he came to the United States, replaced his instrument and now lives and teaches in New Mexico.

Rahim says his painful journey informs his playing.  The musician told VOA that he feels a special responsibility to use his talent to communicate for people who suffer and for those who have no voice of their own.

"This is the message I think that musicians have to know. It's not entertainment," said Rahim. "Not to go to a bar and play some music and make people happy while they are having a beer, this is not my thing. My thing is to educate people what's going on right now in the world.  My mission in life in music is three things: peace and love and compassion. How can we give these people a voice, the voiceless people?"

As part of his mission, the Grammy-nominated Al Haj plans to donate the proceeds from his latest album, which features a stellar cast of international musicians, to Doctors without Borders to help Iraqi relief.

Amir Koushkani began his musical training in Iran and specialized in Persian classical music.  His instrument is the tar - a longer-necked instrument than Rahim Al Haj's oud. Koushkani immigrated to Canada in 1991, and has composed several works in which he seeks to blend classical Persian and Western styles.  

In his apartment in Vancouver, Koushkani told VOA that playing with Rahim Al Haj will be a bridge of understanding - because they share a love for music and they can communicate their musical passion to the world. "Politics and relations between countries, it's not similar to our approach together. So I will communicate with him with passion, with love, and everything I have in my heart for music in general," he said.

Rahim Al Haj says having the forum of the Olympic Games allows him to communicate with people from all over the world, and he feels a special responsibility to reach those in Vancouver.

"I believe that any struggle in this world is our responsibility. If you don't talk about it, you are responsible.  If your government is doing something bad, you are responsible to say 'you are doing something bad.' Otherwise you are a coward and you do not deserve to live in this world, because you are selfish and you don't care about the world," he said.

Amir Koushkani says that he hopes the passion he and Rahim Al Haj share for their art will touch their audience in Vancouver. "Actually I am going to create my music on the stage, in relation to people so it's not a preset music.  So I can't wait myself to see people's eyes and to play for them," he said.

Both Amir Koushkani and Rahim Al Haj say that the Olympic Games offer a unique forum. Both men want fans to experience the uniqueness of their musical traditions and the music's ability transcend ethnic, political, and national boundaries to communicate with the world.

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs