It was already the third time Marcel Khalifé stood in the beautiful Henry Le Boeuf Hall at BOZAR. On Saturday 17th of November he came to introduce his new album ‘Fall of the Moon’, an homage to the poet Mahmoud Darwish and a salute to the Arab Spring. Thanks to a wonderful audience, great musicians and the interaction between the two, it was an unforgettable night.
Tony Van der Eecken of BOZAR was clearly excited to have one of his favorite Arab musicians on stage and also thankful to have a full house, a diverse and young audience. “Welcome beautiful people, this concert is for you, because you are part of this country, part of what we make together.”
Afterwards the word was for the Moussem Nomadic Arts Centre which has been introducing music, art and culture from the Maghreb, Middle East and Arab world to Belgian stages. The introduction in three languages – Dutch, French and Arabic – was interesting but clearly too long for an audience that was impatient to see and hear Marcel Khalifé.
Once Khalifé and his musicians took the stage, they were welcomed with a standing ovation, something quite rare today. But this man, by now with long grey hair and a white beard, has a record which makes him respected by thousands of people all over the world.
Marcel Khalifé & Al Mayadine Ensemble, founded in 1976, opened with the song Arabic Coffeepot, based on a poem of Mahmoud Darwish that speaks of the suffering of the Palestinian people. They continued with In your absence, It rained and Coffee Trees, songs they used to play together. The sound was quite loud and the musicians were in a way struggling with it.
Khalifé quickly intervened. For the first time he took the word to greet the audience and tell them something about the next song, The Violins. A song dedicated to Mahmoud Darwish and the Andalusia times. From that moment on, the concert got better with the minute. Antoine Khalifé on violin took the lead during this song and the melancholic melodies of a rich past invaded BOZAR.
The next song was Mohammad. A poem of Darwish about Mohammad al-Durrah, a 12 years old boy shot dead in the hands of his father by Israeli gunfire in the heart of Gaza. It was September 30, 2000 at the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The boy became a martyr and his death has become a symbol of freedom and the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation.
Khalifé dedicated this song to the children of Gaza and children all over the world. All musicians left the stage except Khalifé and Oumaima Khalil. Khalil has been part of the Al Mayadine Ensemble since she was 12. Her performance, a capella, was one of the most beautiful moments of the evening. Complete silence in the big hall of BOZAR. Her magical voice went through hearts and minds and the huge hall seemed to be too small for the power of her words about this young martyr.
At the mean time, some 3000 kilometers from this hall in Brussels, the suffering of Palestinian children continues with the latest attacks of the Israeli army on Gaza where many babies and children are losing their lives.
After a long applause for Oumaima Khalil, the musicians came back and played one of the most known songs of Khalifé, Rita. It is based on a poem of Darwish and his youth love. Rita is the most beautiful and men pray to her beauty when they see her eyes. The hundreds of people singed along and Khalifé was clearly impressed. “I am enjoying this concert,” he said. The musicians closed the first part of the concert with a second song from the new album, A song on my mind. A poem from Darwish about his beloved country, Palestine.
The second part of the concert had two more songs from the new album, Her eyes and Houriyeh’s Instructions which is the last poem of Mahmoud Darwish dedicated to his mother. The rest of the second part of the concert was music from previous albums. Political songs such as Rise up, Oh Rebel, Tango (A tribute to Che Guevara) and probably one of the most known poems of Darwish and songs of Khalifé, Passport. This poem has become a symbol of cultural and political resistance to Israel’s forced dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland.
If Khalifé plays Fishermen, Haila, Haila you know that the concert is coming to an end. Once again the audience was singing and the musicians were listening. Not only the audience was involved but Khalifé also let his ensemble shine. His son Rami Khalifé on piano is already one of the biggest talents in the Middle East. He showed the audience his piano skills during a solo that ranged from Eastern to electronic. Bachar Khalifé, his other son on various kinds of percussion (riq, tabla and cajon) is as talented but quiet as his father. Marcel Khalifé and his two sons launched a very much acclaimed trio in 2011.
Another musician who went solo is Ismail Lumanosvki on clarinet. Lumanosvki is a Macedonian of Turkish origin living in the United States. An excellent musician able to play different genres of music on his clarinet, from Balkan to classical. He’s a great addition to the orchestra.
In fact with Lumanosvki on clarinet, Anthony Millet on accordion and Aleksander Petrov on tapan, Khalifé has made an important opening to the music of the Balkan, a bridge between the Eastern and the classical Arab music he has been playing for decades.
The music of Marcel Khalifé seems to stand time and remains as diverse as the audiences that come to listen at his music. The only remark so far is that Khalifé should take in consideration that the audience feels and shares his music, but when he speaks to the audience it should be in different languages. Other than Arabic, he could perfectly have communicated in French, the lingua franca in Brussels, from time to time.
Marcel Khalifé & Al Mayadine Ensemble gave a fantastic performance thanks to the talented musicians but also to the energy that the audience shared. At the end of the concert there was another standing ovation. Very much deserved.
Foto: al.arte.magazine (Esma Alouet)
Also read the interview with Marcel Khalifé on his music, Mahmoud Darwish and the Arab spring in French and Dutch: