Thursday, November 15, 2007

"My music is about love. We can't achieve peace without it"

’Middle East’s Bob Dylan’ sings out for peace

Marcel Khalife’s music has been banned in Tunisia and attacked in Bahrain.

In his native Lebanon, one of his songs was called blasphemous because it included a passage from the Koran.

Considered a musical hero by Christians and Muslims alike for performing publicly during Lebanon’s civil war - more than once risking his life to appear in abandoned concert halls - the man who’s been called a Middle Eastern Bob Dylan isn’t surprised by much these days, even when it happens while he’s on tour in the United States.

When a concert date in San Diego was canceled recently because it was deemed potentially dangerous, the singer and oud master - who leads his Al-Mayadine ensemble, including his pianist son, Rami, Friday at Berklee Performance Center - stepped back and viewed it through a global lens.

“These problems aren’t limited to one geographical area,” said Khalife, speaking in Arabic through a translator. “In varying degrees, they’re problems in the United States, too.”
Shortly after it was revealed to owners of the San Diego theater that Khalife’s show was being presented by a Palestinian rights group, they pulled the plug on the concert, calling it unbalanced and divisive. Khalife dismissed the suggestion that an Israeli artist be included to add balance, and the event was rescheduled at another venue in San Diego.

“What happened is not isolated from what’s going on worldwide with the curtailment of freedom of expression,” said Khalife. “It seems that whenever you present the idea of Palestinian human rights, you are confronted and people stop you from expressing your opinion on the issue.”

Khalife’s most recent CD, “Taqasim,” is an all-instrumental work for oud, double bass and percussion. It was inspired by the spiritual and philosophical messages of contemporary Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish, who has been called “the essential breath of the Palestinian people.”
Delicate, lyrical and accessible to Western ears, “Taqasim” continues Khalife’s approach of infusing modern Arabic classical music with traditional folk material from Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East. His many compositions, which often employ vocals, have been used in Arabic film soundtracks and dance productions for decades.

Khalife’s music itself is only one way he gets his points across. Never shy about speaking out against injustice, he has earned the respect of organizations such as UNESCO, which named him an Artist of Peace.

And he makes it clear that he’ll continue to speak his mind during the current U.S. tour.
“Even though I have a strong affinity for the American people, I take a stand on issues about the current policies of the Bush administration,” he said. “I’m doing this tour to create a milieu of understanding between the people of the Arab world and the people of the United States.
“Even though the word peace isn’t necessarily in the lyrics of my music, love is the common thread,” he said. “My music is about love. We can’t achieve peace without it.”

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