Written by MOJIB GHAZNAWI and edited by ANOUR ESA
Marcel Khalife is one of the most prolific Arab singers, composers, and oud (Arab 10-stringed lute) performers. Given his legacy of social critique and a longing for peace, Marcel is often regarded as the Bob Dylan of the Arab world. Despite this comparison, the two singer-songwriter legends could not have had more different upbringings. While Bob Dylan debuted on the stages of his high school talent shows, Marcel Khalife’s first public performance was amid the rubble of bombed-out buildings in Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war.
On December 8th, hundreds from the DMV packed into the Lincoln Theatre to see the critically acclaimed Lebanese musician, Marcel Khalife perform alongside his two sons, Bachar and Rami Khalife. Just like Khalife’s music and lyrics (poems written by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish), this concert was politically charged. Presented by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the concert was framed as a chance for the “Arab community to take back their culture.” The performance was seen as a tool to fight discrimination, racism and intolerance, giving the Arab community a chance to define themselves rather than Hollywood or the media forcing that definition. This message is especially important for the world that we live in today, with dictionary.com’s word of the year being “xenophobia.”
The stage was illuminated by a purple haze, with a three separate elevated platforms for the musicians. Perhaps the haze was due to a fog machine or perhaps as some suggested, it was a few Lebanese shisha/hookah smokers. The concert that followed the audience’s fervent and long standing applause was out of this world. For those that were expecting a traditional Marcel Khalife concert they were both satisfied and surprised, because this was not just a Marcel Khalife concert. This was a collaboration with his two incredibly talented sons–renowned artists in their own right–helping Khalife to innovate and experiment with the classics that many audience members grew up with.
The concert was rightfully titled “Turaath: Sounds for a New Golden Age.” It combined a deep foundation of classical heritage (turaath) with contemporary piano and percussion, looping systems, and a MIDI interface. Together, the two sons carried on their father’s tradition of pushing the envelope of music, a unique harmony with Marcel Khalife’s powerful Oud progressions and improvisations. At various points of the show, Rami was shredding on the synth in a style similar to Snarky Puppy and Jacob Collier, yet with the frequent use of the pitch bending wheel for creating classical arabic microtones as a reminder that this was not simply western music. Bachar solidified and blended the performance together with a non-orthodox percusion performance, playing various cymbals and toms with one hand, and thumping a cajon with the other. When he was not playing percussion, Bachar riffed on a MIDI interface, whispering over his father’s lyrics with his loop pedal.
With leaders like Mahmoud Darwish, Edward Said, and Marcel Khalife, Palestinians grow up to be professional protesters. Marcel Khalife’s oud (traditional Arabic stringed instrument) and enchanting voice is known in almost ever Palestinian and Arab household, for his music, combined with Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry has fomented itself in their collective consciousness and traditions. MC and Comedian Amer Zahr remarked that indeed, no Palestinian protest is complete without a Marcel Khalife song. After almost 45 years of musical innovation and inspiration, Marcel Khalife’s music is more alive than ever today.
The trio’s debut album is titled Andalusia of Love, and pays homage to Marcel’s infinite nostalgia for peace. Andalusia was the area where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived peacefully amongst each other during hundreds of years of Muslim reign in the Iberian Peninsula. Given the political climate of today, both in the US and abroad, this familial concert could not have come in a better time, a new call and desire for peace and coexistence in the region.
Andalusia of Love is available to stream on Youtube, Soundcloud, Spotify and iTunes, and if you ever have the chance to hear any of the Khalifes live, you should take it.