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Rahim AlHaj is re-imagining Iraq for the Western imagination. The renowned oud player, composer, two-time Grammy nominee and 2009 United States Artists fellow says he is using his music to bring Iraqi culture to Western audiences. Images in the mainstream media depict Iraq as place of destruction and war and suffering, he says. “Iraq is always present in our heads and our eyes. When we see it on television, it’s all about war and destruction and terrorists.” On the contrary, he thinks that the deep roots of Iraqi culture and music can bring great beauty into the world. His instrument, the oud, is a pear-shaped, short-necked string instrument that has been played for thousands of years. “There are misconceptions about Middle Eastern culture, specifically our [Iraqi] culture. So I find it so important to stay here to educate people about this kind of music that’s rooted very deep, in thousands of years of history.” AlHaj will be performing with Iranian tar player Amir Koushkani on February 19 as part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad. He says their audience should expect a thoughtful and challenging performance. “When they come to the concert I need their soul, their eyes, their heart, their ears,” says AlHaj. “When they come they will hear stories that they didn’t hear before, they will hear music that is unfamiliar to them. I will communicate with them not on an entertainment level, but a very intellectual level.” AlHaj is also looking for two of his childhood friends who are both musicians in Vancouver. He lost contact with them many years ago and hopes they will attend his performance. “I’m dying, dying to see them,” he says. “Hopefully they will see an advertisement or article in Vancouver. Maybe they will see it and we’ll connect again. I dream about that; I’m just dying to see them again.” Rahim AlHaj and Amir Koushkani plays February 19 at the Roundhouse Community Centre, 181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets $15. Tickets and more information on Rahim AlHaj and Amir Koushkani