Rahim AlHaj didn’t think anyone would believe him.
Three or four years ago, the Iraq-born musician was in the greater Washington area for a concert. As usual, he was staying with his friend, Smithsonian Folkways sound engineer Pete Reiniger, who lives in the Historic District in Hyattsville.
A two-pack-a-day smoker, AlHaj stepped outside to have a Native cigarette and noodle around on his oud.
“I played two notes and I felt an echo,” he told Hyattsville Wire. “Exactly the same notes. I didn’t really pay attention, and then I played a few notes more and the same notes came back. I started freaking out. I played it again and then I saw that it was a mockingbird in the trees who was mocking my playing.”
AlHaj called for his friend, certain that no one would believe him.
“It was a call-and-response between me and this genius kind of bird,” he said.
As we previously noted, the song, called “Morning in Hyattsville,” ended up on AlHaj’s 2010 record “Little Earth.”
AlHaj is no stranger to Hyattsville. He first came here to record at Reineger’s home studio “When the Soul is Settled: Music of Iraq” for Folkways. The album was nominated for a Grammy in 2007.
He’s also friendly with Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal, having played benefit concerts for Iraq and Palestine at the restaurant’s other venues. Though he typically plays concert halls, AlHaj said he likes to mix it up at smaller venues from time to time.
“I enjoy it because you can see the audience,” he said. “It’s very intimate.”