Music
1:28 am
Wed May 2, 2012

Marcel Khalife: The Bob Dylan Of The Arab World

Originally published on Wed May 2, 2012 6:03 am

The Lebanese classical musician and composer Marcel Khalife is often compared to Bob Dylan — not for his music, but for his politics. The Middle Eastern musical and political icon sings about freedom and nationalism.

Khalife is famous for translating poetry into music. For years, he collaborated with the nationalist Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

"It began when I graduated from the music conservatory in Beirut. The civil war started in Lebanon — I wanted to change the world with music," says Khalife.

The beginning of the Lebanese civil war left Khalife besieged in his hometown. He found solace in Darwish's words.

"I had nothing in my loneliness except for Mahmoud Darwish's poetry collections," says Khalife. "I said to myself: I need to make music of them. Since then, my musical career has been connected to Mahmoud Darwish's poetry."

Khalife's new album, Fall of the Moon, is an homage to his late friend Darwish.

Khalife was famously indicted on blasphemy charges for singing the Quran in his song "Ana Yousef Ya Abi." These days, Khalife's music is the language of the revolution, chanted on Arab streets.

"What is happening in the Arab world today should have happened a long time ago. These uprisings, these revolutions were necessary because we needed to move beyond the stagnation that we used to live in," says Khalife. "But let us be clear — these revolutions need time. No revolution in the world resulted in positive outcomes that quickly."

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're going to hear some music, now, from one of Lebanon's most celebrated performers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARCEL KHALIFE: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: At 61, Marcel Khalife is an icon in the Middle East.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KHALIFE: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: Singing in Arabic, he's famous for translating poetry into music. He describes how, for years, he collaborated with the celebrated Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

KHALIFE: (Through Translator) It began when I graduated from the music conservatory in Beirut. The Civil War started in Lebanon, and I wanted to change the world with music. The youth rebellion, you know. I was besieged in my hometown at the beginning of the war, and I had nothing in my loneliness except for Mahmoud Darwish's poetry collections. I said to myself, I need to make music of them.

GREENE: Over nearly three decades, these two artists brought their talents together time and time again, until Darwish died in 2008 following heart surgery. Khalife's new album, out this month, is called "Fall of the Moon," and it honors his late friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Marcel Khalife's a classical musician. He composes and he plays the lute. He's often compared to Bob Dylan because of his passionate, rebellious spirit. Khalife sings about freedom and nationalism, and he's performed in bombed-out concert halls. The lyrics to his songs were chanted out on the streets during the Arab Spring.

KHALIFE: (Through Translator) What is happening in the Arab World today, should have happened a long time ago. These uprisings, these revolutions were necessary because we needed to move beyond the stagnation that we used to live in. But let us be clear, these revolutions need time. No revolution in the world resulted in positive outcomes that quickly.

GREENE: And maybe he captures that sentiment in this song, called "Oh, My Proud Wound."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KHALIFE: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: Marcel Khalife, Lebanon's iconic singer. The album is called "Fall of the Moon." He's on tour in the United States through this weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KHALIFE: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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