Composer And Singer Reinvigorates Musical Traditions Of East And West

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Arabic classical composer and popular singer Marcel Khalife is admired by Christians and Muslims alike. Throughout the chaotic years of civil war in his native Lebanon, he risked his life to perform publicly. A paradoxical figure in world music, he strives to unite the traditions of Arabic and Western music. Khalife is a master of the oud, or the fretless Arabic lute, and a musician a critic once dubbed "a sort of Middle Eastern Bob Dylan."

He will appear in concert at the University of Arkansas April 25 at 8 p.m. in the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall. General admission is $5 and $1 for UA faculty, staff, students, and seniors. His appearance is being co-sponsored by the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and the music department in Fulbright College.

Born in Amchit, Lebanon in 1950, Khalife taught at the National Conservatory of Music and other institutions from 1970 to 1975. He launched the Al-Mayadine Ensemble in 1976, performing in concerts around the world. He has composed soundtracks for films and documentaries, in addition to writing scores for over 20 productions. On "Jadal," an all-instrumental two-disk set, he pays tribute to his fellow countryman, poet and mystic Khalil Gibran.

His music comforted and at times spiritually united Lebanese during the years of war, when Khalife emerged as one of the most respected and provocative Middle Eastern composers of his day. When Israel invaded Lebanon, soldiers confiscated his cassettes, hoping to diminish his ability to bolster national pride. His American tours during the 1980s raised money for hospitals and maternity clinics in Lebanon.

In his music, he brings together high poetry, the idioms of the street, folk music, classical music, and pop. He draws on centuries of traditional Arabic music to create contemporary pieces that reach well beyond the Arab world, combining Western-style composition techniques with Arabic vocal styles.

He has won numerous awards throughout his career, including the Medal of Cultural Merit from Tunisia, the Star of the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism, and the Golden Dagger of the United Arab Emirates.

 

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