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Marcel Khalife

Lebanese Musical Composer, Singer & Oud Player

Lebanese Musical Composer, Singer & Oud Player

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Marcel Khalife Biography

​Once called the Bob Dylan of Arabic music, Marcel Khalifé, musician, oudist, singer, song writer, composer, teacher, and writer, has been described as a folk hero, inspiring his listeners with passion for the many educational and humanitarian causes he has championed since 1970.

Khalifé was born in Amchit, Lebanon, in 1950. His father was a fisherman, but also a flutist. Khalifé acknowledged the influence of both Christianity and Islam when growing up: “I used to go to church and listen to Christian music, and also to Islamic recitations of the Qur’an. In Lebanon we have a marriage of Islamic and Christian culture. That really helped to form my musical awareness.”

A teacher in the village advised his parents to encourage the boy to immerse himself in music. After studying the oud at the National Academy of Music in Beirut, he taught at the academy from 1970 to 1975 and began traveling around the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the United States, giving solo concerts on the oud.

In 1976 he formed the Al Mayadeen Ensemble, a musical group consisting of two ouds, a bass guitar, and a tambourine, which gained popularity throughout the Arab world, performing favorite songs such as Ummi (My mother), Rita w’al-Bundaqiya (Rita and the rifle), and Jawaz al-Safr (Passport).

Khalifé’s popularity spread and continues to grow. He has traveled the world, giving concerts throughout the Arab world and in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Japan. He has performed in many of the great festivals and concert halls, from the World Festival of Music in San Francisco to the Wellington Music Festival in New Zealand, from the Fes Festival of Sacred Music in Morocco, to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the Royal Festival Hall in London, and the Cairo Opera House.

A “politically engaged” artist, he not only supports the Palestinians, but has also given voice to the cause of human rights throughout the Arab world, writing songs about nationalism and revolution. His songs expose poverty, injustice, and “political aggression.” In 1983 he produced Promises of the Storm, a small collection of protest songs and political ballads. Most recently he withdrew from the Bahrain Spring Festival, condemning government violence used against protesters. But he said he pulled out for human, not political reasons. He wrote, “I am one of them, and I confront those who shed their blood.” For similar stands he had been named by UNESCO as an International Artist for Peace in 2005.

Khalifé says his mission is to modernize Arabic music to make it more accessible to the outside world. Labeled “a musician who ‘composes in Western style,’” he defended himself by saying that modern oud playing “requires mastery of both western harmony [and] our maqamat” (“the collection of note sequences that are the foundation of Arabic music”). Khalifé’s attempts to revive Arabic musical heritage began with the oud, giving the playing of the instrument “a higher level of precision.” He tried to go beyond traditional technical limitations and was “able to free the instrument from those constraints . . . thus greatly expanding its possibilities” and “injecting new life into the oud.”

The song writer has also written several books promoting his understanding of the Arab musical heritage: in 1981 Al Samaa, a collection of compositions for various traditional Arab musical instruments; in 1982 a methodology in six parts for the study of the oud; and in 1984 the French version of Arabic Music Theory and Practice.

His compositions have been performed by numerous orchestras including the Kiev Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, and several others. In 2008 he helped establish the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra and was named its musical director and resident composer.

Khalifé also wrote music for documentary films such as Kamal Jumblatt (1976) and All for the Homeland (1978) and scored music for such films as The Half Meter Incident (1981) and The Box of the World (2003). His music was also used in Hollywood films like East and West (2006) and Rendition (2007).

Throughout the years Marcel Khalifé has received numerous awards and prizes from the Arab world, Europe, and the United States, among which are the American Folkloric Festival Award in 1975, the National Palestine Medal for Arts and Culture in 2001, the UNESCO Artist for Peace award in 2005, and the prestigious Charles Cros Award for World Music in 2008. On receiving the Palestine Medal in 2001 he donated the prize money to the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Palestine, where an annual music competition was created in his name. Lebanese recognition has included awards from Antelias, South Lebanon, and Beirut (the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism medal, the Jerusalem Medal), and the government Cedar Medal in 2005.

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  • What topics does Marcel Khalife speak about?

    Marcel Khalife is a keynote speaker and industry expert whose speaking topics include Authors, Entertainment, Music, Speakers by Industry.
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    Marcel Khalife generally travels from Lebanon, but can be booked for private corporate events, personal appearances, keynote speeches, or other performances. For more details, please contact an AAE Booking agent.
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Marcel Khalife is a keynote speaker and industry expert who speaks on a wide range of topics . The estimated speaking fee range to book Marcel Khalife for your event is available upon request. Marcel Khalife generally travels from Lebanon and can be booked for (private) corporate events, personal appearances, keynote speeches, or other performances. Similar motivational celebrity speakers are Jenny Hval, Dave Grohl, Sara Bareilles, Morris Day and The Time and Dolly Parton. Contact All American Speakers for ratings, reviews, videos and information on scheduling Marcel Khalife for an upcoming live or virtual event.

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