"India to me means languages, music, religions and civilisation and it was with Iraq too. But unfortunately now Iraq has got ruined. The biggest my country has suffered from wars is the ruining of art," Alhaj told IANS.
The Iraqi artist, who is now a US citizen, says he has grown up listening a lot of music by Indian artists like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain, and even watched Bollywood movies.
"Indian music helped me savour the days of turmoil in my country," said the musician, known for playing the oud, a 12-stringed instrument, played with four fingers. It looks like a mixture of guitar and sarod.
"All my compositions are struggle, sadness and tragedy of children and women of Iraq," says Alhaj, who was imprisoned for political activism by the Saddam Hussein regime, adding that so far over four million Iraqis have been displaced because of three decades of wars.
Alhaj left Iraq in 1991, and began his life in Jordan and Syria. He shifted base to US in 2000 as a political refugee and has resided in Albuquerque, New Mexico ever since. He became a US citizen Aug 15, 2008.
The 43-year-old was in the City of Lakes to perform with sarod players Amaan and Ayaan Ali as part of the Ancient Sounds concert Sunday.
It is his second visit to India. His maiden trip was in 1989 when he performed with sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, father of Amaan and Ayaan.
Alhaj and Khan’s CD "Ancient Sounds" was also nominated in 2010 for the Grammy Awards in the Best Traditional World Music category.
This time, their Ancient Sounds concerts was organised by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).