Marcel Khalife | Taqasim

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World: Middle East Contemporary Jazz: World Fusion Moods: Type: Instrumental
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by Marcel Khalife

Arguably the Arab world's most recognized and celebrated composer and oud master, Marcel Khalife's album "Taqasim" is an innovative and mesmerizing instrumental composition for oud and double bass with Near Eastern percussion accompaniment.
Genre: World: Middle East Contemporary
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Taqasim One
19:39 album only
2. Taqasim Two
20:34 album only
3. Taqasim Three
20:47 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Notes on the composer

Marcel Khalifé was born in 1950 in Amchit, Mount-Lebanon. He studied the oud (the Arabic lute) at the Beirut National conservatory where he later taught between 1970 & 1975, and, ever since, has been injecting a new life into the oud.

Oud playing was traditionally constrained by the strict techniques that governed its playing. Highly talented and skillful musicians such as Marcel Khalifé were, however, able to free the instrument from those constraints and thus greatly expanding its possibilities.

In 1972, Marcel Khalifé created a musical group in his native village with the goal of reviving its musical heritage and the Arabic chorale. The first performances took place in Lebanon. 1976 saw the birth of Al Mayadine Ensemble. Enriched by the previous ensemble’s musical experiences, Al Mayadine’s notoriety went well beyond Lebanon. Accompanied by his musical ensemble, Marcel Khalifé began a lifelong far-reaching musical journey, performing in Arab countries, Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and Japan.

Since 1974, Marcel Khalifé has been composing music for dance, which gave rise to a new genre of dance, the popular Eastern ballet (Caracalla, Sarab Ensemble, Rimah, and Popular Art Ensemble).

Marcel Khalifé has also been composing soundtracks for film, documentary and fiction, produced by Maroun Baghdadi and Oussama Mouhamad among others. He has also composed several purely instrumental works like The Symphony of Return, Sharq(Orient), Concerto Al Andalus "Suite for Oud and Orchestra" Mouda'aba (Caress), Diwan Al Oud, Jadal Oud duo, Oud Quartet, Al Samaa in the traditional Arabic forms and Taqasim, a duo for oud and double bass.

Marcel Khalifé’s compositions have been performed by several orchestras, notably the Kiev Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of Boulogne Billancourt Orchestra, The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of the city of Tunis, the "Absolute Ensemble," and the Itlain Philharmonic Orchestra.

Since 1982, Marcel Khalifé has been writing books on music that reflect his avant-garde compositions and the maturity of his experience.

His challenges, however, are not only musical in character. Interpreter of music and oud performer, he is also a composer who is deeply attached to the lyrical text on which he relies. In his association with great contemporary Arab poets, particularly Palestinian poet par excellence, Mahmoud 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.

Khalife’s lyrical recordings adds up to about 20 albums, the likes Promises of the storm, Ahmad Al Arabi, Weddings, Peace Be With you, Ode To A Homeland, Arabic Coffeepot, The Children and Body (Al Jassad) to name a few.

On his journey, Marcel Khalifé invents and creates original music, a novel world of sounds, freed of all pre-established rules. This language elevates him to the level of an ambassador of his own culture and to the vanguard of Near Eastern music in search of innovators.

Marcel Khalife on Taqasim

For many years, my music has enjoyed a special, and especially gratifying, association with the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. Our respective corpora have grown to be reminiscent of each other, so that the name of each of the twain, instantly and without reflection, would evoke the name of the other. How very appropriate, for all of my musical milestones that punctuate my thirty-year career, beginning with “Promises of the Storm” and culminating with “The Doves Fly,” are graced with the lyricism and poignancy that are uniquely Darwishian. Even before we got to know each other personally, I felt as though Darwish’s poetry, with its divine assertiveness and prophetic cadences, had been revealed to me and for me. I could nearly savor his “mother’s bread” that has become iconic to his readers. I could feel the eyes of his “Rita” as deeply as I could feel the pain that his “Joseph” suffered at the hands of his treacherous siblings, and I could identify with his passport, which I fancied carried my picture, just as personally as I could identify with his olive grove, his sand, and his sparrows. They were all, at a personal level, mine.

I specifically intended this set of Taqasim (“Improvisations”) as a tribute and an expression of fidelity from Marcel Khalifé to Mahmoud Darwish. Some may wonder, as they listen to Taqasim, about the meaning of this dedication, for no part can be found in the score for the poetry of Darwish or for my own voice. Yet, nowhere have his poetry and my voice been as intensely present as in this work. With this work, I have overcome my timidity, giving way to a newfound daring as I dedicate it to Mahmoud, my friend and brother who had found his own daring long before I did.

In Taqasim, I shall entrust to the broad range of the lower registers of the oud and double bass the task of communicating those tremendous but obscure dimensions that are often ignored by the listeners’ ears – the task of expressing the profound consonance between the poet and the musician.

In Taqasim, my music will not “portray” anything or “refer” to anything. Rather than attempt to reconcile two systems of expression, it will re-create what the poetry of Darwish has created in me, in a manner analogous to the way digital systems process information, with analog material faithfully reproduced after being digitally encoded.

In Taqasim, I will try to reproduce, only as music can, the esthetical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual resonance of Darwish’s poetry. Through a purely musical idiom, I will attempt to communicate what my singing voice has never been able to communicate in any setting of Darwish’s poems.

I will “encode” his poetry in a system of rhythm, melody, and harmony. To the listener’s sensitivity, I shall entrust the task of decoding, which I sincerely hope will be truly faithful to the source.

Quotes from the press

" needn't be Arabic to succumb to Khalife's melodic flair..." Washington Post

"...a striking array of colorful timbres and propulsive rhythms..." Los Angeles Times

"Legendary Lebanese musician, Marcel Khalife, transcends time and politics..."
CNN International- Inside the Middle East

In Taqasim, "...the oud's lyricism flows like a river. The improvisations are as architectural and expressive as those in elite Indian raga."

In Taqasim, "...different styles drift — dreamlike at times — through the music: a whisper of flamenco, a sudden rhythmic recollection of jazz, a sliding phrase recalling an Indian raga. It's an impressive outing, stimulating new responses with each hearing." Los Angeles Times



to write a review


Beautiful, thought provoking and reflective, empowering.
This music is different than any I've heard. Mr. Khalife reaches in and pulls out emotions and wills you to just sit and listen to this. It's joyful, melancholy, dramatic, so many things. I am not a professional musician with knowledge of the maquamat, but I can FEEL the music and that's all that matters. I love this CD. Thanks.

Daniel Brown

Khalife’s love affair with the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish
Khalife’s love affair with the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish has been well-documented in the past. For the last three decades, he has willingly dipped into the fertile work of the Palestinian to pepper his compositions with Darwish’s choice metaphors and prose. So this all-instrumental homage to the master poet knocks the listeners slightly off-balance. “I want to manifest the subtle, the unspoken,” he explains in the moving liner notes. These wordless improvisations (which is the literal translation of the word “taqasim”) are destined to “recreate what the poetry of Darwish has created in me.”

The result are three deeply moving parts where prose and written cadence become riveting conversations between Khalife’s oud, his son’s percussions and the upright bass of Peter Herbert. It is sparse but never empty, restrained yet overflowing with emotion, challenging if always within the grasp of the neophyte. “Nowhere have his poetry and my voice been as intensely present as in this work,” he hammers. “As mischievously as the two boys that still inhabit the two of us, the singing voice and the poetic words run and skip with juvenile abandon on the five lines of the musical staff.” And the listener can picture the gay abandon of two running adults at the end of Part One as the oud embarks on one its controlled flights away from the tragedies haunting the Middle East.

This is never a solitary exploration. Khalife has the rare ability to build up a quiet tension before inviting the bass or percussions to join his merry dance. Witness the superb exchange with his son Bashar after eight minutes of Part 3. His presence is enhanced by a daring move to only use the lower registers of the oud and double bass. In this way, he says, he “shall entrust to the broad range of the lower registers...the task of communicating those tremendous but obscure dimensions that are often ignored by the listeners’ ears – the task of expressing the profound consonance between the poet and the musician.”

At the same time, Khalife further opens his world to jazz, with improvised exchanges with Herbert’s pulsating bass lines. The fact that it was superbly recorded in the Big Apple might have inadvertently contributed to this bridge into what is occasionally referred to as American classical music. The result has already impressed Khalife’s compatriots. Beirut’s Daily Star wrote of the album: “A sound field of floating overtones and oscillating reverberations results...Listening to Khalife’s latest (album) feels like sinking into waves of murky water. It is an uncannily physical experience.” Yes, but an experience that can only further awaken the world to the poetic abilities of this uniquely talented Lebanese artist.

December 2006

Chris May

Taqasim is music of the most elevated and Sufic complexion
Before discussing the extraordinarily beautiful and uplifting music on Taqasim, a last minute, odds-on favourite for the best of 2006 lists, a little background on the oud, taqasim and oud player Marcel Khalife (you can hit fast forward if you know it).
Born in Lebanon in 1950 but now living in exile in Paris, Khalife's work is shaped by both classical Arab court music, of which he is a master, and today's Palestinian diaspora. In the 1970s, moved by the Palestinian refugee camps around Beirut, he became an eloquent supporter of the nationalist movement. Much of his work has since been inspired by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Meanwhile, fundamentalist zealots have three times tried to have Khalife imprisoned on the charge of “degrading Islam” (for including a couplet from the Koran in one of his songs). There's much more to his brave and principled story. In 2005 he was named a UNESCO Artist For Peace, but it's no longer safe for him to live in his own country.
The oud, from which the European lute derives, is an eleven-stringed instrument with a Rubenesque, pear-shaped body. Crucially, the curves produce a richly resonant sound box. The oud's fretless neck allows the player to use the slides and microtones also found in Indian sitar music. At the top end, it is pretty and filigreed; in its sturdy middle and bass registers, the beating heart of the instrument, it can be intensely driving and mesmeric.
There are raga connections too in taqasim, a complex, precisely detailed framework for improvisation. In a taqasim, a musician plays a series of improvisations, separated by moments of silence, on different aspects of an opening modal theme, to which he periodically returns.
Which brings us to Taqasim. There are three taqasims on the album, each lasting about twenty minutes, and each offering a musical cosmos to get lost in. Moods and colours evolve, but the underlying effect of the first is beatific, the second darker, and the third urgent and visceral. In each, the oud's lyricism flows like a river. The improvisations are as architectural and expressive as those in elite Indian raga.
Whilst not ignoring the crystalline upper reaches of the oud, Khalife concentrates on the middle and bass registers, supported by Peter Herbert's sonorous bass, in a stream of gorgeously melodic, melismatic improvisations. Sometimes the music sounds characteristically Middle Eastern, at others unexpected cross-cultural influences take hold. The oud, by turns, takes on guise of a sitar, a Spanish guitar, a lute, a bouzouki, even a drum.
Taqasim is music of the most elevated, Sufic complexion, transporting and cleansing, delighting and reviving, and a hotline to something beyond words, something unmistakably higher.

December 2006

Zeina Nasr

Improvising a new instrumental language
Khalife reproduces Darwish's poetry with music
BEIRUT: Marcel Khalife's latest album "Taqasim" consists of just three tracks, all of them untitled, instrumental and around 20 minutes in length. The first opens with mournfully low scales - a surprise to faithful listeners, as the oud does not traditionally linger in such deep registers. But as "Taqasim" brings Khalife's total musical output to over 15 recordings, he can probably be forgiven for being intentionally unconventional.
A dense resonance characterizes all the musical passages that follow those first booming progressions. The oud feeds off the pulsating rumbles of an upright bass, the percussion adds sparse accents and sensitive microphones amplify every detail. Each instrument resounds to the hilt and Khalife pushes a typically nimble oud technique toward more muscular executions.
A sound field of floating overtones and oscillating reverberations results, providing as much improvised sonority as the musical pitches from which they arise. Listening to Khalife's latest feels like sinking into waves of murky water. It is an uncannily physical experience
Once dubbed the Dylan of the Middle East, Khalife is a world-renowned folk singer, a virtuoso oud player and a classically trained composer. His acclaim stems from his intimate songs of political protest, yet Khalife is more than mere artist. He is a populist paragon who has come to embody the Arab spirit of resistance in the face of oppression and injustice.
As the late scholar Edward Said once remarked while introducing Khalife ahead of a performance at Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College: "He is a musicien engage - he is involved in the society and the times of which he is a part."
Born in 1950 in the northern seaside village of Amchit, Khalife studied the oud at Lebanon's National Conservatory of Music. In 1976, he created the Al-Mayadine Ensemble, which enlisted a changing roster of instrumentalists and singers such as Charbel Rouhana and Oumaima al-Khalil. Touring and recording with Al-Mayadine for years, Khalife successfully set contemporary Arab poems to music, delivering his manifesto of popular lyricism to generations of listeners.
"Instead of soporific sentimentalism," reflected Said, "Marcel Khalife has brought an elevation of lyrics in a popular idiom to the entire Arab world in a way that nobody has succeeded in doing."
On "Taqasim" (which means "improvisations"), Khalife moves away from the sung poems of his early career in favor of jazz-inflected instrumental compositions. With his son Bachar Khalife beating out rhythms and Peter Herbert wielding a surprisingly versatile upright bass, Khalife's oud releases mercurial melodic motifs into a soundscape of deviating tonalities.
Emerging from all the colliding vibrations are his solos. They begin as passages of compelling grace. Akin to the sunny tunes of Egyptian composer Sayed Darwish, they are pleasantly familiar - until they modulate into atonal explorations. Though they build slowly, they sound sudden. Rhythms break and shatter; agile finger-picking is replaced by crescendos of forceful strumming.
Despite the solid mesh of sound Khalife has created, there is a remarkable, fragmented quality to "Taqasim." It is unclear how much of the music is improvised and how much is predetermined. No overriding structure organizes or unifies the whole. Whatever core the musicians follow, it remains largely incomprehensible to those who don't have the actual scorebook in front of them.
Khalife and his colleagues seem to follow a standard jazz form, with each instrument taking turns improvising solos. But rather than nicely rounded returns to the previous musical material, the refrains that follow the solos consist of constantly shifting counterpoints, and the musicians continually plunge into intuitive jams. Although these jams produce culminating peaks of beauty, the listener easily becomes unmoored in this turbulent sea of musical ideas.
If "Taqasim" is difficult to absorb, it may be because Khalife draws upon his lifelong love of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's verse. This love is the hidden structure from which his improvisations arise. As Khalife explains in his liner notes: "I will try to reproduce, only as music can, the esthetical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual resonance of Darwish's poetry."
Instrumental works often use poetic or literary texts as sources of inspiration, but Khalife insists that his music "will not 'portray' anything or 'refer' to anything. Rather than attempt to reconcile two systems of expression, it will re-create what the poetry of Darwish has created in me."
What he offers the listener is a kind of instrumental tarab - an expression of ecstatic appreciation encoded into instrumental textures rather than the lilt of a singing voice. Darwish's poetry has evoked lyrical euphoria in Khalife for decades. But rather than express this joy by continuing to put Darwish's poems to song, Khalife says that on "Taqasim," he is attempting "to communicate what my singing voice has never been able to communicate in any setting of Darwish's poems."
The listener is thus left to decode Khalife's intimate tarab as it echoes through his oud strings.
The voice remains the heart of the Arab musical tradition. Very few orchestral or instrumental compositions of significance exist within that tradition, and in all likelihood an Arab audience would sooner appreciate the impulsive beauty of a singing voice than the rational intricacies of a masterful orchestral arrangement.
That said, when a singer pours forth an engaging tune, the accompaniment is all too often lacking. When the Lebanese Philharmonic gives a concert, for example, it performs primarily Western classical works. When violent political events call for national mourning, local television channels run sober interpretations of Mozart symphonies.
There is a great need for the development of a rigorous instrumental language in the Arab musical tradition - a language at once distinct from but well aware of its ties to the Western instrumental tradition that surrounds it.
In "Taqasim," Khalife experiments with Western modes of sonority and improvisation, all the while anchoring his music in Darwish's Arab lyricism. Khalife responds to the need for a new instrumental language, and although the results are not a full realization of this need, "Taqasim" nevertheless stands as a daring and undeniably intriguing attempt.

Don Heckman

An impressive outing and stimulating new responses with each hearing
"Taqasim" (Connecting Cultures Records)Lebanese oud virtuoso Khalifé has been a pioneer in blending Arabic music with Western elements in works performed by large orchestras as well as his Al Mayadeen ensemble.

Like Alhaj — who was imprisoned twice by Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime before he left Iraq — Khalifé has had his skirmishes with various authorities, for pro-Arab political statements as well as alleged "insults of religious values." (It's obviously difficult simply to be a musician in the Middle East, which may explain why Khalifé now lives in Paris and Alhaj lives in New Mexico.)

Ultimately, all musicians — regardless of origin — will offer their music as the ultimate statement of their values, creatively, culturally and politically. And Khalifé is best experienced in his stirring improvisations.

Deeply inspired by the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish (and accompanied by the double bass of Peter Herbert and the percussion of Bachar Khalifé) he performs a large, extended work in three parts. Each of the stop and start sections of the taqasim (the foundation of the improvising), reveals different emotional content — sometimes intimate and inward reaching, sometimes high spirited and celebratory.

Khalifé generates his lines from the rich-toned middle and lower areas of his instrument, employing vocal-like melismatic phrases, constantly reminding the listener of the complex, lyrical rhythms of Darwish's poetry. Different styles drift — dreamlike at times — through the music: a whisper of flamenco, a sudden rhythmic recollection of jazz, a sliding phrase recalling an Indian raga. It's an impressive outing, stimulating new responses with each hearing.

January 7, 2007

Shakilah Mehrunnisa

This music grows on you. I bought it for my son and he usually doesn't like music without lyrics. Lovely music we listened to on the morning of Eid!