“I do not use the West to get to the West,” said Marcel Khalife who is featured on the new CD, Caress/Mouda’aba (Nagam Records), and on a 12-city tour that will hit most major U.S. markets in October and November, 2004. “If the new world order gives me the culture of MacDonalds and Pepsi Cola, I question that. Those things disappear after a short while. What we are doing is a project that will take years and years.”
Khalife’s mission began before Israel seized his cassettes upon invading his country, Lebanon, in 1982. “Since I was born,” he says, “I’ve felt I had a rebel’s soul within me. I rejected things that might be inherited, but that were wrong.” Born into a Christian family, Khalife—who plays the oud, an Arabic lute, has always been a voice of reconciliation, peace, and hope. During Lebanon’s civil war, he risked his life performing in bombed out concert halls, bringing his music and the great poetry of the Arab world to his war-ravished country.
At the same time, Khalife has been stretching the boundaries of his instrument and Arabic music. Oud playing was traditionally constrained by the strict techniques that governed its playing. Skillful musicians like Khalife have freed the instrument from those constraints greatly expanding its possiblities. About his latest CD and tour, Khalife says, “This work attempts to elevate Arabic music to a level that allows it to express profound human emotions, not by mere performance, but by empowering the music to mature and develop into a universal language of expression.
The oud, or Arabic lute, is so integral to Arabic culture that it was used by ancient musicians and philosophers to define scales and served as a foundation for Arab music as a whole. Hence, it’s no coincidence that Marcel Khalife achieved folk hero status playing this emblem of Arabic culture. So inspiring was his music that when Israel invaded his native Lebanon in 1982, Israeli officials confiscated his cassettes, lest he inspire a resurgence of Arabic pride. Peace, reconciliation and boundary-breaking are the hallmarks of Marcel Khalife’s music. Born into a Christian family in an Arabic culture, he uses musical influences from both traditions to create a sound that is both soothing and stimulating. An entrancing, nine-track CD, Caress reflects Khalife’s multi-faceted musicianship as well as his ability to connect diverse musical influences. Weaving traditional instruments such as the oud, tabla, riq and mazhar with western mainstays of the piano, bass and violin, he blurs genres for a universal sound. While his virtuoso oud playing shines on the title track, “With All My Love” features a quirky piano interpretation of “Happy Birthday,” and “Chaza” showcases a stunning violin solo by Omar Guey. Caress showcases an elegant musical marriage of Arabic, classical and jazz influences for a complex, yet accessible sound.