Lebanese Master Marcel Khalifé Performs the Prophetic Poems of the Arab World’s Most Renowned and Beloved Poet, Mahmoud Darwish, and pays tribute to the Arab spring.
The poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, the melodies of Marcel Khalife (www.marcelkhalife.com), resonating across the Arab world from the Middle East to North Africa, resounding above the din of conflict and poverty, singing instead of the shade of grapevines, the bright eyes of loved ones, the heartache of divisions and decline that could be healed, love that could be returned.
Marcel Khalifé, Lebanese master of the oud (Arabic lute), evokes this world, honoring the spirit of his late friend and associate Mahmoud Darwish (www.mahmouddarwish.com), a strikingly original Palestinian poet born in Palestine whose poetry has been translated to more than 25 languages worldwide and extensively published in the US. Khalifé’s new concert program, Fall of the Moon: An Homage to Mahmoud Darwish, revisits and re-imagines the ties that bound these two powerful advocates of Arab culture, one that weaves the rich complexities of its great history, the diversity of its cultures with the humanity and longing of today and deeply expressed by the dawn of the current monumental events of the Arab spring sweeping the Arab world.
His inspired and innovative oud will be joined by diverse instrumentation, from cello to accordion, from riq (Arabic tambourine) to the cajon, from ney (Arabic flute) to clarinet in arrangements spanning from spare duos to lush large ensemble pieces.
Darwish often referred to Khalifé as his “heart’s artistic twin.” Though they come from different countries and backgrounds, both artists shared a sense of desperation and hope about the state of their homelands and the world. From the beginning of his musical life, Khalifé has sought to restore the neglected beauty and adventuresome roots of Arabic musical culture, founding a groundbreaking ensemble in his home village, teaching a new generation of musicians, and composing pieces that redefine the music of the region.
Khalifé takes traditions and transforms them into new, yet deeply appropriate rules: While the text dictates the tenor and shape of his pieces, the music retains an edge of the avant garde. The Fall of the Moon, with its potent Arabic and Mediterranean pulse, dances with passion as male and female voices join in elevated celebration.
In the free-flowing bittersweet sweep of pieces like “In Exile,” pensive vocals intertwine with hints of jazz ballads and classical lieder, mirroring the haunting journey of Darwish’s words through sorrow, reflection, and joy despite mortality: “And tell absence: You lack me/ yet I am present…to make you whole.”
Both Darwish and Khalifé sought elevation through technical mastery and passionate honesty beyond the morass of politics, into the realm of the human, the vitally connected. Darwish’s complicated life of activism, exile, imprisonment, and marginalization did not prevent him from producing stunning poems that chronicled his travails with a freshness and precision similar to Khalifé’s musical approaches.
The connection to Darwish began the first moment Khalifé opened one of his early books of poems. Over three decades, it evolved into a bosom association that was more than the sum of its parts. “Our respective corpora have grown to be reminiscent of each other, so that the name of each of the twain, instantly and without reflection, would evoke the name of the other,” Khalifé reflects. “Even before we got to know each other personally, I felt as though Darwish’s poetry, with its divine assertiveness and prophetic cadences, had been revealed to me and for me.”
“Marcel eliminated the gap created by the poets between poem and song. He restored to exiled emotion its rescuing power to reconcile poetry, which glorified its distance from people and was thus abandoned by them,” Darwish explained in a statement before his passing in 2008. “Poetry, therefore, developed the song of Marcel Khalifé, while Khalifé's song mended the relationship of poetry with people. With this, the people on the street started to sing, and lyrics need not a podium, as bread need not announce itself to the hungry.”
Together, these two icons of contemporary Arab art and culture achieved one of Khalifé’s life-long goals: to give voice to the voiceless. His art has won him recognition from UNESCO, who declared Khalifé an Artist for Peace in 2005. It has been featured on the world’s most prestigious stages and in major feature films like 2007’s Rendition.
Yet despite Khalifé’s renown and accolades, he remains committed to the aesthetic vision Darwish enabled him to conjure, the sound that gives full voice to the joys and heartbreak of a rich culture and a fraught region. He has never been afraid to make music in the face of war, and has performed in bombed-out concert halls in his native Lebanon. “Nothing justifies our art other than to speak for those who cannot speak,” Khalifé insists. “This is the cause for which we dedicated our efforts and the cause that endorsed our voices.”
This voice, as evidenced by Khalifé’s long and fertile friendship with Darwish, is ultimately a human one, singing an unexpected message that extends beyond politics into a powerful engagement with life and love. As Darwish put it in his lyrical poem, “And We Love Life: “We play the flute like the color of the faraway...We write our names one stone at a time…We love life if we find a way to it…”