Al Awda California Home
About   Factsheet   Donate   Contact

Until Return - Issue 2

Marcel Khalife in San Diego

The belated Salvation Army denial of venue for the Marcel Khalife concert in San Diego resulted in significant local, national and international media attention. In addition to the campaign initiated by Al-Awda San Diego, numerous discussions and several campaigns sprang up on the internet sometimes among unlikely participants. Articles in the press have appeared in several languages including English, Arabic, and French among others. And, in addition to radio interviews, the venue denial was analysed by Al-Jazeera news satellite television network on October 26, 2007 in the "Ma Wara Al Akhbar" ("What's Behind the News") program. The Cultural Coordinator of Al-Awda's chapter in San Diego together with Marcel Khalife and other guests took part in the program which was broadcast live from Houston, Texas and aired again later that day. The Salvation Army, which had also been invited to take part, cancelled its participation at the last moment.

What was equally significant and inspiring, was that, despite the belated venue denial by the Salvation Army, Marcel Kahlife and Al-Mayadine ensemble nevertheless did perform in San Diego on Sunday October 14, 2007 as originally scheduled albeit at a new venue, the beautiful Birch North Park Theater.

Below is a short report on the concert by Farhad Bahrami a member of The Center for World Music and The Persian Cultural Center, two community organizations among a dozen others which supported the concert.

A short report on Marcel Khalife's concert in San Diego
October 14th, 2007 - by Farhad Bahrami

Birch North Park Theatre is a beautiful, recently-renovated, crimson-colored old-style concert hall with a large stage, and a high ceiling with chandeliers. It was a fine venue (despite an earlier controversy) for UNESCO Artist for Peace, Marcel Khalifé and his new Al Mayadeen Ensemble, who had not played in San Diego since 1994. The sound quality was excellent and the lighting simple, but effective. About 600 people attended the concert. The show was really worth it.

The concert opened with "Taqasim," a multi-movement instrumental piece featuring three of the four musicians: Marcel Khalifé on oud, Mark Helias on doublebass, and son Bachar Khalifé on percussion (mainly the Arab tambourine, the riqq). "Taqasim" is the plural of taqsim, an improvised (usually solo) form in Arabic music. Marcel's composition "Taqasim" cast
this form as a series of improvisations, primarily on oud and doublebass, interspersed between composed sections. Marcel's oud playing can be described as crisp and graceful. Bachar's accompaniment throughout the concert was tasteful and rock-steady. And Mark Helias is obviously a creative master of music as well as the doublebass. The concert started with
the sound of the solo doublebass, setting the stage for the stylistic variety of the music that would follow.

For the next section, Marcel Khalifé was joined by Rami Khalifé on piano. Marcel and Rami, father and son, though representative of two generations and two different worlds, fit together perfectly. Marcel's black attire and chic red shawl were contrasted with Rami's jeans and French collar-torn shirt. Their instruments are from two different worlds too. The oud, being a
fretless instrument, is capable of "quarter-tones" central to Arabic (and for that matter Persian and Turkish) music, whereas this capability is absent from the piano. Rami carefully worked around this limitation, instead taking advantage of uniquely pianistic capabilities to great effect. For example, several times he muted notes by reaching inside the piano with his hands to muffle the strings. And when Rami and Mark played free jazz later on in the programme, the oud and riqq were silent. Still, father and son, combined and compromised to perform the next song beautifully, after which they were joined by Mark and Bachar to perform three more songs. In the last song of the first set, "Walk," Marcel invited the audience to sing, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that many people knew the words by heart. When I looked up the poem in the programme notes (how I wished then that I knew Arabic), tears came to my eyes:

With straight posture I walk
With head up high I walk
I have an olive branch in my hand
And on my shoulder my coffin
As I walk and walk.

Though Marcel may not consider himself a singer, he selects beautiful poetry and sings them with considerable skill and heart, allowing the listener to share in the poems' emotion. The second set consisted of four songs. Each was preceded by the opening line of the poem in Arabic and English. Fortunately the printed programme notes included English translations of all
the poems. Most of the poems were by contemporary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, but others were represented too.

"And We Love Life (if we find a way to it)" was played by the quartet. Marcel dedicated this song to the plight of Palestinian refugees.

"Mother" was performed by Marcel alone, accompanying himself on oud.

"Passport" was dedicated to the immigration officers who have made the musicians' current U.S. tour so difficult! "Everyone's heart is my citizenship, so drop this passport!" Once again the audience was invited to sing a section that was often repeated in the song (and fortunately had no words). I found myself singing too. The free jazz section played on piano and doublebass seemed to emphasize the cross-cultural message of the song.

"Fisherman, Haileh Haileh," the final song, seemed to be an Arabian folksong. Everyone was singing the refrain "Haileh Haileh" and the whole auditorium was animated. The musicians let the audience conclude last refrain (and the concert) and were the first to applaud. There was a
standing ovation but no encore played or needed. We had heard a variety of music played by world-class musicians: composed chamber music, improvised jazz, music sounding Andalucian/ Mediteranean, as well as traditional-sounding Arabian music. We had heard every instrument as a solo instrument and in combinations with others. And we had seen different generations and nationalities come together to make and enjoy music. The audience would not leave and stayed around in the lobby and outside the hall for an hour after the concert, mingling, laughing, taking pictures, and basking in the joy of music.

Indeed "everyone's heart is my citizenship."

Back to Until Return Issue 2


2000 - 2008 Copyright Al-Awda/PRRC. All Rights Reserved. Legal Information.