tribute to Mahmoud Darwich and Marcel Khalifé

Conceived on an idea of ​​the musician and singer Bachar Mar-Khalifé, the recital Mahmoud, Marcel and I, played in septet by the pianist with his father Marcel Khalifé, singer, composer and player of the Lebanese oriental lute (oud), is built largely around the work of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwich (1941-2008). It took off in 2020 before being stopped by the pandemic after three concerts (in Lyon, Abu Dhabi, then at the Philharmonie de Paris). It has been coming back to life for a few months and will be presented at Jazz à Vienne on Saturday July 2.

According to Bachar Mar-Khalifé, this show is intended as a tribute to the poet, luminary of contemporary Arab literature, friend of the family, and to his own father, Marcel Khalifé, who on his album Promises of the Storm (published in France in 1976 on the Le Chant du Monde label) a set to music of the verses of Mahmoud Darwich.

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What he heard in Darwich’s poetry, explains Bashar, the composer’s younger son, was first his father’s songs, with that grew. “It was later, during my adolescence in France [né en 1983 à Beyrouth, il y est arrivé avec sa famille à l’âge de 6 ans] that I was really interested in Mahmoud Darwich, and also passionate about poetry in general. It allows so many different approaches and readings! » Very early on, he wanted to give presentations at school to publicize the poet’s work and commitment.

Put poetry to music

Marcel Khalifé remembers having started to put his poems to music during the war in Lebanon. “I was in my native village, I had just finished my studies at the National Conservatory of Beirut when it broke out. Cut off at home, with his collections, his books, I wanted to put music to his poems, to pass the time. » The first was Promises of the Storm.

After six months, he was forced to leave the region and took refuge in Paris where friends advised him to record. In one day, the case is closed. The Scrapbook Promises of the Storm contains several Darwish poems, recorded “without asking permission. We hadn’t met yet”. He never ceased to put to music the poetry of the man who would become a very close friend.

“Each time I read it, it triggered in me the urge to grab it,” says Marcel Khalife. Not without pitfalls sometimes. In 1999, following a complaint by the leader of the Sunni Muslim community, an investigating judge in Beirut instituted proceedings against him for “offending Islam” because he sang a text written in 1992 by Mahmoud Darwish titled O Father, I am Joseph which takes a verse from the Koran. The lawsuits will eventually be dismissed. “I want to continue composing for him”, insists Marcel Khalifé. In 2016, he published for example Andalusia of love (Nagam Records), a long love poem, which he recorded with Jilbert Yamine (kanoun) and his two sons, Bachar (on percussion) and Rami (piano).

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