09 April 2007

Monday's mp3: Marcel Khalife's Taqasim

Marcel Khalife has a unique cultural identity, which Wikipedia condenses into this curious sentence: "Marcel Khalife (Arabic: مارسيل خليفة‎) is a Lebanese, Christian Maronite, composer, singer and oud player, considered a Palestinian among the Palestinians, a Southerner among the South Lebanese and most commonly an Arab musician."

Khalife's music includes the recently released album Taqasim, a movement of sublime oud, bass, and percussion compositions divided into three unnamed pieces. Unfortunately, it's not his new release that's got Khalife in the news recently. On March 1-2, Khalife and Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad presented a theatrical performance of an epic love poem entitled "Majnoon Laila", or "Laila Wal Majnoon", (which means "Laila and the Possessed" or "Laila and the Madman"). The performance was part of the annual Spring of Culture Festival organized by the Bahraini Ministry of Information, a festival at which Yousou N'Dour played yesterday. But members of Bahrain's parliament took exception to the show, calling it an affront to Islamic morals.

Islamic bloc MPs, along with fellow travelers, have set out to confront "Majnoon Layla" and all the activities of the Spring Culture Fest in Bahrain, and to form a committee to investigate what they have dubbed a violation of the Sharia. We do not see this move of theirs as arising from a desire to settle some political and personal scores as much as we see it, at a more profound level, as a premeditated, systematic attempt to terrorize all forms of thought and culture and to suppress every creative endeavor. What is being targeted is the culture of liberty itself that refuses to be acquiescent.

I can only imagine what these conservative Islamists will make of the festival's presentation of Brasil Brasileiro on April 12-13, a group whose performance goes from "a ritual love dance to the excitement of a modern day Rio street carnival."

It must be a challenge to be a musician in the Arab world these days.
Khalife has been outspoken on issues of peace and reconciliation, which has earned him some enemies. Israel reportedly seized his cassettes upon invading Lebanon in 1982. Khalife was accused of blasphemy in 1999, and his music recently has also been banned in Tunesia.

Read more about the controversy and Khalife's response. Many are rallying to Khalife's defense, including the Radius of Arab American Writers and the Lebanese Cultural Forum in France. SoundRoots can't comment on the show, not having been in Bahrain to see it, but we're distressed at the attacks on this artist, who has consistently shown both great musical skill and a broad love and compassion for all people, particularly the victims of persecution. If you like this sample, we urge you to support Khalife by buying (or downloading) his music.

[mp3] Marcel Khalife: excerpt from Taqasim Part 1
from the album Taqasim
Khalife's website


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