Art in the press

Lebanon's Khalife sings it OUD, proud

(Arts and Lifestyle) - The Boston Herald

When he was a teenager attending the conservatory in Beirut, Lebanon , Marcel Khalife used to pass Palestinian refugee camps and try to figure out why the people there were living in such horrid conditions.

A few years later, when Lebanon erupted into civil war, the young oud player became a folk hero by performing in abandoned, bombed-out concert halls.

It was his fellow Lebanese citizens, not Palestinians, who heard him perform there, yet both groups had something in common: despair. By then, Khalife had figured out how he had the power to help erase some of that despair.

Even when the Israelis invaded his native country and confiscated cassettes of his music that they feared would keep Arab spirits high, the oud player and singer kept performing and recording.

Decades later, Khalife is a revered cultural icon in the Middle East whose personal mission has never wavered.

"We must speak out loudly against injustice and oppression and policies that affect human beings all over the world," he said recently in Arabic through a translator. "And it's more important now because of the current conditions that prevail in Palestine and the Middle East."

Though it would be only natural to expect that Khalife's passion translates into intense, politically charged music, the reality is that it manages to be challenging, accessible and eminently soothing. It's also diverse. He has composed music for film soundtracks, ballets, symphonies and avant-garde ensembles.

The ensemble he brings into Berklee Performance Center on Sunday night, Al Mayadine, was formed in 1976 and means both "battlefield" and "village square."

That's a fitting description of the range of messages that Khalife gets across in his music and the ways he disseminates them. His latest CD, "Caress/Mouda'aba" (Nagam), is a gorgeous tapestry of styles Middle Eastern and Western that uses vocals, piano, bass, oud and instruments such as bongos, vibes and tablas. The subjects? Love, war and liberation.

"I never set any limits on my work," he said. "I've always incorporated influences starting from my own musical heritage to classical, jazz and the music of other cultures.

"I personally abhor living within a box. I adore the openness of other societies and cultures and the openness of life in general, not life determined by narrow domain.

"In that context I have been influenced by so many cultures, Muslim, Christian, Jewish or otherwise."

Khalife also has long been influenced by contemporary Arab poets, particularly Palestine's Mahmoud Darwish. That inspiration is clear in the lyrics of his own songs - and in the way he describes what he's trying to accomplish.

"What I see is a faraway light," he said. "If somebody else sees it in my music and my art, then that's a wonderful thing for me.

"I come with love. If we can exchange that love, then I will have accomplished my objective."

Caption: KHALIFE

COPYRIGHT 2004 Boston Herald 10/29/2004, by Young Bob