Marcel Khalife ― radical composer, oud master and performer

Marcel Khalife.

Marcel Khalife, born in 1950 in Amchit, Lebanon, has injected new life into the music produced by the oud (the Arabic lute) ― helping revive an important part of Arabic culture.

Khalife studied the oud at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music and graduated in 1971.

From 1972 to 1975, Khalife taught at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music, public universities and local private music institutions. During that period, he toured the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States giving solo performances on the oud.

It was during this period that Khalife became aware of the situation facing Palestinians. Beirut was home to refugee camps full of Palestinians who had lost their homes and been driven from their lands.

Khalife has put the words of revolutionary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish to music.

In 2001, Khalife won the National Palestine Medal for Arts and Culture. He donated the prize money to the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Palestine.

In June 2005, Khalife was named UNESCO Artist for Peace for his artistic achievement and humanitarian contributions.

The political stance of Khalife's songs resulted in his music being banned by the Tunisian dictatorship in 2005. Despite this, Khalife was able to perform in Tunisia in 2009 at the International Festival of Carthage.

A July 29, 2009 article said during his performance, Khalife highlighted the censorship of his music and dedicated a song to the “revolutionary leader Che Guevara”.

Khalife has played an important role in promoting and developing Arab musical traditions.

In 1972, Khalife created a musical group in Amchit aiming to revive its musical heritage. When the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, Khalife risked his life playing bombed out concert halls.

The first performances took place in Lebanon. 1976 saw the birth of Khalife's Al Mayadine Ensemble. said that, enriched by the previous ensemble's musical experiences, Al Mayadine's fame went well beyond Lebanon. Accompanied by his musical ensemble, Khalife “began a lifelong far-reaching musical journey”, performing in Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia and Japan.

Khalife has performed at international festivals in Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, France, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Italy, the US and Morocco, and in many prestigious halls all over the world.

He has also composed several purely instrumental works, such as “The Symphony of Return”, “Sharq”, “Concerto Al Andalus-Suite for Oud and Orchestra”, and “Taqasim”, duo for the oud and double bass that was awarded the grand prize of the prestigious Charles Cros Academy in France in November 2007.

“Sharq”, a recent choral symphonic composition, was performed by the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Piacenza Choir.

His latest work, “Arabian Concerto”, premiered at the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra inaugural concert and was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and the Champs Elysees Theater in Paris.

All up, Khalife's lyrical and instrumental recordings add up to more than 20 albums and DVDs. says: “Since 1982, Marcel Khalife has been writing books on music that reflect his avant garde compositions and the maturity of his experience.” His writings attempt to further Arabic musical traditions.

He published Al Samaa, a collection of compositions for various traditional Arab musical instruments (1981), a six partAnthology for Studying the Oud (1982), Arabic Music-Theory and Practice (1984), Jadal oud Duo (1996), Oud (1997), and Andalusian Suite for Oud and Orchestra (2002). explains: “Khalife's artistic challenges, however, are not only musical in character. He is also a composer deeply attached to the text on which he relies.”

Via his association with great contemporary Arab poets, particularly Darwish, he “seeks to renew the character of the Arabic song, to break its stereotypes, and to advance the culture of the society that surrounds it”.

A quote on the site sums up Khalife's approach: “Nothing justifies our art other than to speak for those who cannot speak.”

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