If you love world music and live in or near Seattle, you simply must hear Marcel Khalife perform at Town Hall on Sunday, October 7th. He is one of the world’s great oud players and one of Lebanon’s greatest contributions to international music. Khalife is perhaps best known for his long, fruitful musical collaboration with Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, himself one of the great living poets writing in Arabic.
During the Lebanon war last summer, Richard Isaac and I produced a show on Israeli and Lebanese music about peace which included The Returnee (hear it) by Khalife.
Town Hall’s press release about the concert includes interesting background information about the performer, his concert plans and the breadth of his musical and political commitments:
Marcel Khalifé, one of the Arab world’s most influential performers and composers, brings his ensemble of four, including his son Bachar on piano to Town Hall Seattle on October 7 at 8 pm. They will perform “Taqasim,” a new suite inspired by the words of fabled Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, along with favorites from his repertoire blending the sounds of East and West. This event is co-presented with the Arab Center of Washington.
…Khalifé’s work is firmly rooted in the classical and folk traditions of the Middle East blended with Western influences, such as the use of piano. A champion of freedom of expression and human rights, Khalifé was recognized by the United Nations as an “Artist for Peace” in 2005.
Khalifé was born in 1950 in Amchit, Lebanon. He studied the oud (the Arabic lute) first with family and friends, and then at the Beirut National conservatory where he was a faculty member from 1970-75. During that same period, he toured the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the United States giving solo performances.
In 1972, he created a musical group in his native village with the goal of reviving its musical heritage, and that of Arabic vocal chorales. In 1976, he founded the Al Mayadine Ensemble…Since 1974, Khalifé has also been composing music for dance, which has given rise to a new genre, the popular “Eastern” ballet inspiring such groups as Caracalla, Sarab Ensemble, Rimah, and Popular Art Ensemble. He also composes soundtracks for film, documentary and fiction produced by Maroun Baghdadi and Oussama Mouhamad, among others.
…Khalifé is a composer who is deeply attached to the texts on which he relies. In his association with great contemporary Arab poets, particularly Darwish, he seeks to renew the character of Arabic song, to break its stereotypes, and to advance the culture of the society that surrounds it. Most recently, he has eschewed songs for a purely musical representation of these poetic texts such as the recently composed “Taqasim.”
Darwish is considered to be the most important contemporary Arab poet. He has received several awards including the 1969 Lotus Prize by the Union of Afro-Asian Writers, the Lenin Peace Prize in 1983, and France’s Knighthood of Arts and Belles Lettres in 1997. Many of his heroic poems have become popular as songs. In 1999, Khalifé was brought before a Beirut court on charges of blasphemy made by a Sunni religious figure. The charges related to his song entitled ‘I am Yusuf, My father’, which was based on Darwish’s poem and cited a verse from the Qur’an. The case has yet to be resolved.
I am terribly sorry to hear via Muzzlewatch that Khalife’s tour has been marred by cultural-political phobia on the part of San Diego’s Joan Kroc Theater (you might want to let them know what you think of their capricious policies restricting artistic expression) which cancelled his performance on its stage unless an Israeli performer joined him:
San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Theatre at the Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, who have forced Khalifé to look elsewhere for a place to play in the area. It’s not so much that the Kroc Theatre folks don’t like the cut of Khalifé’s jib: rather, they feel the show would be “divisive” and “unbalanced” without an Israeli performer taking the stage the same night, according to a press release issued by Khalifé’s camp.
It’s tough to tell if this is political correctness run amok (soon to come at the Kroc: all Swiss music, all the time!) or– Khalifé being Arab and this being a Christian-run venue in George Bush’s America– something potentially more sinister.
This reminds me of the recent imbroglios surrounding Walt-Mearsheimer appearances which have been cancelled because they allegedly could not speak without suitable “balance” from an opposing speaker.
But to translate such nonsense from the realm of politics to music is reprehensible. One wonders whether anyone in the San Diego Jewish community participated in or encouraged this benighted decision.