The Voice of Belonging

post 157/365


I long for my mother’s bread

And my mother’s coffee

And my mother’s touch…

My childhood grows within me

Day after day

I love my life because

If I died,

I would be embarrassed by my mother’s tears

Take me, if I return one day

As a scarf for your lashes

And cover my bones with grass

Baptized by the purity of your heel

Tie me up

With a lock of hair

With a thread that points to the tail of your dress

Perhaps I will become a god

A god I would become

If I felt the bottom of your heart

Put me, if I return

As fuel to light your fire

And a wash-line on your house’s roof

Because I’ve lost my strength to stand

Without the prayer of your day

I’ve grown old… return the stars of childhood

So I can share with the sparrow chicks

The way back

To the nest of your waiting

(translation of the song Oummi)

Marcel Khalife was born in 1950 in Amchit. His grandfather was a fisherman. His first lessons in music was with a retired military man, a teacher in his village, Hanna Karam, who advised his parents to let him continue learning music.

Starting as a performer of protest songs, the Lebanese musical and political icon still sings about freedom and nationalism. Using his position to spread a message of peace and freedom, he has faced blasphemy trials, funded music education in Palestine and performed in bombed-out concert halls, earning him the title of UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2005 for his educational and humanitarian contributions.

“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 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, I said to myself: I need to make music of them. Since then, my musical career has been connected to Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry.”

Composing music to the works of the most distinguished contemporary Arab poets, notably the poetry of the late renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, his music is characterized by a potent Arabic and Mediterranean pulse running through the inimitable combination of traditional Middle Eastern and Western elements.

Marcel Khalifé’s Al Mayadine Ensemble, which he founded in 1976, masterfully build up these layers before dropping them away, his delicate vocals ringing around the venue, the audience hanging on his every word. Performing the songs Oummi (My Mother), Rita w’al-Bundaqiya (Rita and the Rifle) and Jawaz al-Safr (Passport), based on Darwish’s poetry, the audience intertwines with his rousing choruses and are swept along on his wave of hopeful euphoria.

“My music is for the service of humanity, and is intended to present a serious and sincere work for those tormented in this destructive war. My music was a sort of balm for those wounds.”

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. 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.

Marcel Khalife’s music keeps 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.

Fallen words roll steadily of his tongue, as he sings and swings upon the strings of his picturesque songs. His are love songs. No, not your usual love song, but one that carries the love of a dream, the love of country, the love of humanity, the love of belonging to a land that once was.

His voice is heard by the suffering masses of the decaying metropolis where people long for that voice that reminds them of the vigor of a dream that was once shared by all.

His haunting voice fills the void. His presence encapsulates the stage. His piercing lyrics become our spear and his aura becomes our guiding light. As he drifts into the melodies of his heart, he is heard by many and treasured for a voice that will always be the voice of Belonging and Home.

To the one who creates magic with words…

The magic of Marcel:



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