Lebanese artist plays for peace

In Lebanon he is known as one of the most respected and provocative Middle Eastern musicians of his day. Named United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Artist for Peace in 2005 for his artistic achievements and humanitarian work, Marcel Khalife, composer and oud (Near Eastern lute) master will be performing at 8 p.m. Friday at the Stafford Centre, 10505 Cash Road.

Al Mayadine Ensemble with Peter Herbert and Mark Helias on bass, Rami Khalife on piano and Bachar Khalife on percussion will join Marcel Khalife.

"If artists help wipe out fear, give society an emotional spark or inspire emotions through aesthetic means, that is very important," Khalife said in a television interview.

Khalife’s program will be drawn from both his instrumental and lyrical repertoire. He will perform instrumental work and both old and new lyrical works primarily drawn from the poetry of the Arab world’s most distinguished poet, Mahmoud Darwish.

At age 14, Khalife studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Beirut, Lebanon, and moved on to study classical music theory in college.

Pianist Rami Khalife also studied at the Julliard School in New York from 2000 to 2003, studying piano under the Hungarian pianist Gyorgy Sandor.

Accompanied by his music ensemble, Khalife has performed in almost all of the Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia and Japan with his music ensemble.

Extracts from his most recent album, Taqasim, a composition for oud, percussion and double bass, can be heard on his Web site,

Khalife and Al Mayadine Ensemble will perform from the latest album as well as compositions that have yet to be released. Currently, they are recording for their new album at Houston’s own Sunrise Studio.

National Public Radio considers Khalife an "artistic revolutionary and cultural icon whose songs have a power beyond mere words and music."

Though some Houstonians anticipate his concert on Friday, the renowned Lebanese musician has faced discrimination and roadblocks on his 2007 U.S. and Canada tour.

On Oct. 14, a venue in San Diego denied the use of their theater to Khalife on political grounds. Concert organizers at the Joan B. Kroc Theatre said that a concert by Khalife would be "divisive and unbalanced" because it does not present an Israeli artist alongside Khalife, according to a press release from Nagam Cultural Project.

After heated debate and controversy among San Diego residents, however, the concert was moved to a different venue.

This sort of denouncement and discrimination is nothing new for Khalife, who has faced persecution in the Middle East.

Last March in Bahrain, Marcel Khalife and poet Qassim Haddad were attacked by the Bahraini Parliament because their show was considered to be a violation of Islamic morals and religious laws.

In 2006, the Lebanese singer was banned from Tunisia for dedicating his songs to Arabs imprisoned in Israel and Arab countries, according to Freedom of Musical Expression.

"In creating and presenting our work, we had only one ambition: to instigate joy as opposed to indifference, life as opposed nihility. Our goal has been to give expression to human emotion in its purest, most glorious manifestations, to exult that which is worthy of exultation," Khalife and Haddad said in a letter of response to the attack by the Bahraini Parliament.

But Khalife’s reputation is based on more than just his music.

When UNESCO designated Khalife as an Artist for Peace in 2005, he wrote a letter back to UNESCO urging them not to turn a blind eye to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and Lebanon.

"In these decisive moments that my countrymen are living, I expect your objective understanding of the human cause at hand. Let us keep it within sight. Let us relieve the burden of the daily killing taking place before the eyes of the ‘civilized’ world," he wrote. "I hope you are following on television, along with the whole world, the horrors that are taking place. Let us loudly express our utter rejection to the killing my people are subjected to by the Israeli occupation forces."

All proceeds from Friday’s concert will go toward the second annual Houston Palestine Film Festival in May 2008.

Tickets for the performance can be purchased at or at the door.

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