News Column

Khalife on Byblos, 'earth' of his music

July 14, 2014

Chirine Lahoud

BYBLOS, Lebanon: "It was my first kiss," confessed Marcel Khalife of his hometown. "It was my first love." All the childhood memories are of Lebanon's renowned oud maestro, vocalist and composer revolve around Byblos. He recalls the times when he would walk by the seashore with his grandfather, a fisherman.

"When I was going to school, we were laughing, singing and dancing. That was it," he said.

"That was my childhood."

Khalife met the press at Byblos sur Mer Hotel Monday morning, where he spoke about his upcoming Thursday evening performance as part of the Byblos International Festival.

The maestro's celebrity extends well beyond Lebanon's shores. He has performed in such prestigious venues as Paris' UNESCO Hall, the Sydney Opera House and Montreal's Palace of Arts.

In 1976, Khalife founded Al-Mayadine Ensemble, the maqam group that will accompany his show at Byblos. The ensemble has found international acclaim for its renditions of several of Khalife's numbers, among them "Oummi" (My Mother) and "Rita wal-Bundaqiya" (Rita and the Riffle).

Several soloists will join Al-Mayadine on stage Thursday. Bandeonist and accordionist Julien Labro will mingle Khalife's popular maqam melodies with tango rhythms.

"Music is about sharing and exchanging ideas," Labro told The Daily Star. "It is difficult as an instrumentalist. I don't have a voice. I deal with musical notes."

The evening's playlist will also include some beautiful poetry ranging from the verse of Marhmoud Darwish to Ounsi al-Hage and Joseph Harb. Blending Latino instrumentation, orchestral arrangement and classically trained vocalists, the show promises to make for an amazing evening.

Khalife and Al-Mayadine will be accompanied by 80 musicians from the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Harout Fazlian, and a 60-strong chorus. His sons Rami and Bachar Khalife, by now noted musicians in their own right, will also perform.

Khalife the elder expressed his deepest attachment to acoustic music, but is also known for trying to bring something new to his work, rather than erecting barriers.

"I did a trio with Rami and Bachar," he recalled. "It was electronic and acoustic at the same time. It was a beautiful experience."

After a long spell touring the world with his music, Khalife has returned to Byblos. "With the millions [of] concerts I did, it always feel[s] like the first one," he said with some emotion in his voice, "especially in Byblos, because it is my hometown. It is the earth of my music, of my songs."

Marcel Khalife will play at Byblos International Festival Thursday.

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Source: Daily Star, The (Lebanon)

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