“We are not a trio. We are Marcel, Rami and Bachar Khalifeé, three distinct entities united in the same musical body,” says Marcel Khalife. The family Khalife breaths, drinks, eats and lives music. It is a family that does not allow itself to be governed by restrictions and puts freedom first. Oud legend Marcel Khalife is known for years for his talent and innovative sound. It was inevitable that his sons Rami and Bachar would follow in their father’s footsteps. It was only a matter of time before the three musical spirits would appear together on stage. From the desire to unify the three musicians they started a project. On 21 February the trio performs in De Roma in Antwerp. Al.arte had an interview with Bachar Khalife, the youngest member of the family.
What does music mean to you?
I grew up in a musical family. I don’t know any better. For me, music is like eating and playing soccer. It was not until later – when I got older- that I got aware of the fact that we were slightly different. You start asking yourself questions. There used to be music everywhere I was. I don’t want that anymore, not like that. Now I am able to distinguish music from other things. When I’m producing music, I can lock myself up in the studio or in my room. But when I finish, I need to forget the music. I want to enjoy the moment, be able to laugh at something funny, hear the birds sing, just being alive. Life is not forever. This may sound a bit corny but I see life as a concert. When I am on stage, it is as if I’m performing for the last time. The same goes for the audience. It’s a unique experience, one we should be aware of. But music is not only a way for me to express myself artistically. It’s also a way to spend time with my family. At home we do not communicate through words, but through music.
You guys say: “We are not a trio. We are Marcel, Rami and Bachar Khalife, three distinct entities united in the same musical body.” What makes you so different? What differentiates you?
That statement comes from my father. I believe we each have a different answer to that question. I don’t feel strongly about words. I rather focus on the similarities and not the differences. The differences only restrict us in our being.
Your music can be described as a mix of oriental and western music. It is a mix of tradition and modernity. What is so appealing about this fusion?
The mix is not done consciously. It just happens. Above all, we make music. Music does not belong to a particular region, country or genre. The world of today is too large for that. It is your own context that defines what you hear. Take for example Amazigh music. If you hear that and you don’t know Amazigh music, then you might describe the music like techno or rock. But you don’t. You define it as Amazigh music, because you know that the music comes from a particular region. Or example, Hamza Al-Din, a Sudanese musician. You don’t know him? Then perhaps you could compare his music with the music of Curt Kobain or Nick Drake. I don’t want to restrict myself to a Lebanese man who makes Arabic music.
This project is a family story. What is your story about?
The project originated in 2011. The organization of the “Music and Art Festival” in Beirut suggested at the time that the three of us would give a concert. At first, I was not convinced. Rami on the other hand was. We then started rehearsing. We created new compositions and played old songs by my father. This was a completely new form of play, for my dad as well as for us. Our father was used to be on stage with other artists. Now, we were suddenly performing as three equal musicians on stage. By working with us, my father has proven that he’s not afraid to take risks. It’s not easy for your audience to come with something totally new. Often, the audience wants to hear what they know. But my father is a free spirit and at the end of a concert, people are particularly surprised by our collaboration. The new generation will also be surprised. We working together demonstrates that there are no boundaries between our generations.
What is the most important message to your audience?
Above all, people have to enjoy, have no expectations, and share that moment with each other. Everybody experiences things in his or her own way, so there is not really one message. For me, music is freedom. Music speaks in a way we don’t with words. By experiencing music, one shares freedom and humanism with each other. But of course it is also about the experience and people should especially enjoy the music. Otherwise you might as well stay at home.
You and your brother are working together for some time now with your father. You have played together in the Opera House in Sydney, in 2011 in Tunisia, two weeks ago in Paris… How is it to work so closely with – not Marcel Khalife the great musician – but with your father?
© Alexandre Chevillard
© Alexandre Chevillard
(Laughs loudly) It is undoubtedly the most bizarre group I have ever played with. The rehearsals are loud. Literally loud! It’s heavy and exhausting. But the heavier, the better the results. Now, I am especially proud of the result. I think we render sincerity above all. That is something we lack in this world, I believe. By the way, it would be interesting to ask my father how it is to work with his sons.
How do you guys cope with artistic differences?
Surprisingly, we are on the same page about how something should sound. I still remember the first time when we started. Our first song sounded very similar to the final result. This has not only to do with our common background but also with the fact that we are connected. What strikes me the most is that the three of us will never be 100 percent satisfied with the result. We are always pursuing perfection. Which is something that does not exist in my opinion…
Your father has a strong opinion when it comes to human rights, freedom and the Arab nation. That did not always make him popular. How did that influence your lives?
Our parents were always very protective when we were growing up. We received a lot of love from our parents. It has never limited us, but rather enriched us. Because of that, I feel alive and strong. I have learned that not everyone sees the world as we see it. But that does not matter. The world is big enough for everyone. Of course it is difficult when you are not wanted, but I have never hold grudges.
Your father’s biggest inspiration is Mahmoud Darwish. Who inspires you?
I do not think that it is possible to make a similar comparison. And I also do not think that my father was inspired by Mahmoud Darwish. It was more of a very special relationship they shared. My father did get inspired for example by my grandfather who played the flute, hymns, and the voice of the muezzin calling for prayer… This also implies for me. I can not really think of one specific thing. It is rather a collection of everything around me: electro music, movies, literature, rock, nature…. Sometimes you can get inspired unconsciously.
To get an idea of your musical taste, what was the last concert you attended?
(Laughter) I went to the concert of my brother Rami with the band Aufgang. I almost never attend a concert. I often feel a bit displaced when I am in the audience. The stage is rather my place.
Bachar Khalife released his album ‘Who’s Gonna Get the Ball From Behind the Wall Of the Garden Today’ in March 2013. He is now very busy producing his third solo album.