"Oud is the grandfather for all the string instruments, from 5,000 years ago,"explains Iraqi-born oud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj. "The European lute came from oud.And when Bach composed concertos for lute, he was inspired by oud. So lute,guitar, banjo, sitar-all these instruments came from oud." The oud is a fretlessstring instrument developed in the ancient kingdom of Sumer. Thousands of yearslater, the oud's sonorous tones are instantly recognizable in modern MiddleEastern music. AlHaj belongs to a small group of traditional oud masters thathave begun to cross over into Western music. Joining the ranks of Anouar Brahemand the prolific Rabih Abou-Khalil, AlHaj seeks to bridge Eastern and Westernmusical traditions. Even with today's international interconnectivity, it's nosmall task. "It's not just to use the Western style and the Western frame-no,"explains AlHaj. "There's Eastern music that has specific tradition, orfoundations. And then there's Western that has different style and differentframe. So how can we bridge this together?" In building this bridge, AlHaj hasperformed with both classical string quartets and jazz artists; he even has analbum in the works with jazz legends Bill Frisell and Dave Holland, both of whomlearned of AlHaj by seeing him perform in his hometown of Santa Fe, N.M. ThoughAlHaj remains primarily a solo performer, San Diegans are lucky to have theopportunity to experience the solo and jazz sides of his artistry next week whenhe begins his first West Coast tour. AlHaj will be performing solo at the PacificBeach Presbyterian Church on March 15. The following evening finds him performingat Dizzy's with two local jazz players, bassist Gunnar Biggs and percussionistTim McMahon. Audience members should be prepared to play an active role inappreciating the music. "People that have no voice, to give them voice, to talkabout their tragedy, their problem, and their disaster through the music," is howAlHaj sums up his approach. "Each composition I compose has a story to tell," hecontinues. "Always I'm talking to my audience-"This composition is about trees,about love-it's not just about the Iraqi people.' There's a message, there's astory, there's a subject I'm talking about. I don't need them to come and listenfor an hour and say, "Oh it's nice music.' I don't need that."
Rahid AlHaj plays solo at Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, 7:30 p.m. on March15. $12. 858-273.9312. He plays jazz improv at Dizzy's, 8 p.m. on March 16. $12.858-270-7467.