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Unique combination of traditional and innovative performance techniques. . . . Alhaj’s spontaneous inventions are constantly fascinating.
—Los Angeles Times
Motallebi . . . lit into a seemingly endless flurry of righthand chord-chopping that made Dick Dale’s pick-melting intensity seem wimpy by comparison.
—New York Music Daily
Rahim AlHaj, virtuoso oud musician and composer, was born in Baghdad, Iraq. He began playing the oud (the grandfather of all stringed instruments) at age nine, and early on, it was evident that he had a remarkable talent. 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. He won various awards and graduated in 1990 with a diploma in composition. AlHaj has released twelve CDs. His 2018 album One Sky (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) is a call for friendship and features Iranian santour maestro Sourena Sefati. Letters from Iraq (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) is a powerful musical meditation on consequences in a postwar reality, featuring oud, percussion, and string quintet.
Sahba Motallebi is a virtuoso on both the tar and setar, two related lutes at the heart of Persian classical music. As a teenager in her native Iran she pushed against patrimonial restrictions and emerged as a dynamo on her instruments; when she was only fourteen she began her studies at the Tehran Conservatory of Music, and between the years 1995 and 1998 she was a four-time winner as best tar player at the Iranian Music Festival. While still in school she cofounded the boundary-breaking female music ensemble Chakaveh; in 1999 she was invited to join the prestigious Iranian National Orchestra, which initiated her global performance career and eventually led her to settle outside of Los Angeles, where she has lived and played for over a decade, working fastidiously to preserve traditional Persian classical music.