Notes on the composer
Marcel Khalifé was born in 1950 in Amchit, Mount-Lebanon. He studied the oud (the Arabic lute) at the Beirut National conservatory where he later taught between 1970 & 1975, and, ever since, has been injecting a new life into the oud.
Oud playing was traditionally constrained by the strict techniques that governed its playing. Highly talented and skillful musicians such as Marcel Khalifé were, however, able to free the instrument from those constraints and thus greatly expanding its possibilities.
In 1972, Marcel Khalifé created a musical group in his native village with the goal of reviving its musical heritage and the Arabic chorale. The first performances took place in Lebanon. 1976 saw the birth of Al Mayadine Ensemble. Enriched by the previous ensemble’s musical experiences, Al Mayadine’s notoriety went well beyond Lebanon. Accompanied by his musical ensemble, Marcel Khalifé began a lifelong far-reaching musical journey, performing in Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Japan.
Since 1974, Marcel Khalifé has been composing music for dance, which gave rise to a new genre of dance, the popular Eastern ballet (Caracalla, Sarab Ensemble, Rimah, and Popular Art Ensemble).
Marcel Khalifé has also been composing soundtracks for film, documentary and fiction, produced by Maroun Baghdadi and Oussama Mouhamad among others. He has also composed several purely instrumental works like The Symphony of Return, Sharq(Orient), Concerto Al Andalus "Suite for Oud and Orchestra" Mouda'aba (Caress), Diwan Al Oud, Jadal Oud duo, Oud Quartet, Al Samaa in the traditional Arabic forms and Taqasim, a duo for oud and double bass.
Marcel Khalifé’s compositions have been performed by several orchestras, notably the Kiev Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of Boulogne Billancourt Orchestra, The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of the city of Tunis, the "Absolute Ensemble," and the Itlain Philharmonic Orchestra.
Since 1982, Marcel Khalifé has been writing books on music that reflect his avant-garde compositions and the maturity of his experience.
His challenges, however, are not only musical in character. Interpreter of music and oud performer, he is also a composer who is deeply attached to the lyrical text on which he relies. In his association with great contemporary Arab poets, particularly Palestinian poet par excellence, Mahmoud Darwish, he seeks to renew the character of the Arabic song, to break its stereotypes, and to advance the culture of the society that surrounds it.
Khalife’s lyrical recordings adds up to about 20 albums, the likes Promises of the storm, Ahmad Al Arabi, Weddings, Peace Be With you, Ode To A Homeland, Arabic Coffeepot, The Children and Body (Al Jassad) to name a few.
On his journey, Marcel Khalifé invents and creates original music, a novel world of sounds, freed of all pre-established rules. This language elevates him to the level of an ambassador of his own culture and to the vanguard of Near Eastern music in search of innovators.
Marcel Khalife on Taqasim
For many years, my music has enjoyed a special, and especially gratifying, association with the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. 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. How very appropriate, for all of my musical milestones that punctuate my thirty-year career, beginning with “Promises of the Storm” and culminating with “The Doves Fly,” are graced with the lyricism and poignancy that are uniquely Darwishian. 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. I could nearly savor his “mother’s bread” that has become iconic to his readers. I could feel the eyes of his “Rita” as deeply as I could feel the pain that his “Joseph” suffered at the hands of his treacherous siblings, and I could identify with his passport, which I fancied carried my picture, just as personally as I could identify with his olive grove, his sand, and his sparrows. They were all, at a personal level, mine.
I specifically intended this set of Taqasim (“Improvisations”) as a tribute and an expression of fidelity from Marcel Khalifé to Mahmoud Darwish. Some may wonder, as they listen to Taqasim, about the meaning of this dedication, for no part can be found in the score for the poetry of Darwish or for my own voice. Yet, nowhere have his poetry and my voice been as intensely present as in this work. With this work, I have overcome my timidity, giving way to a newfound daring as I dedicate it to Mahmoud, my friend and brother who had found his own daring long before I did.
In Taqasim, I shall entrust to the broad range of the lower registers of the oud and double bass the task of communicating those tremendous but obscure dimensions that are often ignored by the listeners’ ears – the task of expressing the profound consonance between the poet and the musician.
In Taqasim, my music will not “portray” anything or “refer” to anything. Rather than attempt to reconcile two systems of expression, it will re-create what the poetry of Darwish has created in me, in a manner analogous to the way digital systems process information, with analog material faithfully reproduced after being digitally encoded.
In Taqasim, I will try to reproduce, only as music can, the esthetical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual resonance of Darwish’s poetry. Through a purely musical idiom, I will attempt to communicate what my singing voice has never been able to communicate in any setting of Darwish’s poems.
I will “encode” his poetry in a system of rhythm, melody, and harmony. To the listener’s sensitivity, I shall entrust the task of decoding, which I sincerely hope will be truly faithful to the source.
Quotes from the press
"...you needn't be Arabic to succumb to Khalife's melodic flair..." Washington Post
"...a striking array of colorful timbres and propulsive rhythms..." Los Angeles Times
"Legendary Lebanese musician, Marcel Khalife, transcends time and politics..."
CNN International- Inside the Middle East
In Taqasim, "...the oud's lyricism flows like a river. The improvisations are as architectural and expressive as those in elite Indian raga." www.allaboutjazz.com
In Taqasim, "...different styles drift — dreamlike at times — through the music: a whisper of flamenco, a sudden rhythmic recollection of jazz, a sliding phrase recalling an Indian raga. It's an impressive outing, stimulating new responses with each hearing." Los Angeles Times