There is perhaps no parallel in our modern times to the artistic bond between Marcel Khalife and Mahmoud Darwish. It is rare that a celebrated musician is the twin manifestation of a great contemporary poet. Khalife’s deep reading of Darwish’s poetry lasted over the four decades of the poet’s life. If an author’s dream is to have one true reader, Darwish found a special one in Marcel. Marcel heard the modern Arabic poem as sung speech in a manner that illuminated the contemporary Arabic song’s ability to embrace rhythm and phrase within new horizons. His music and song are “bread for speech,” as Darwish called them,” that evaporate the mirage which often exists between modern poem and song, in an age where the poem is wary of public consumption. Darwish and Marcel shared an exalted belief that, while it can, art does not dance alone.
Two fiercely independent artists: Marcel never asked Darwish permission to compose his poems to music, and Darwish never asked Marcel to put his poems into song, nor wrote any of them with that in mind. And just as Darwish’s poem never ceased developing over the decades, Marcel Khalife’s music kept on transforming: from the intensely lyrical and committed to the conversational and introspective; from the traditional and classical Arabic song, from the untranslatable and deeply palpable “Tarab,” to the innovative open music of the jazzy and the cinematic. The lyrics included here span nearly all forty years of Darwish’s poetry. The progressive arc of the poet’s transformation is easy to recognize. Similarly the listener will easily distinguish Khalife’s multiple rebirths and returns. And as music and song are also an idea of translation, lyrics also are. Some of the poems here are excerpts of their original whole, seamlessly sliced and then spliced by Marcel Khalife: the text becomes music’s subject, just as music becomes subject to the text.