29 April 2007

These Frightful Days . . .

. . . the air feels historic, but in a dreadful, brutal way.
الله يحمينا من الشر المخبأ

God save Lebanon,
God save Palestine,
and Iraq,
and all the people . . .

drawing . . .
Naji Al-Ali

28 April 2007

Text to Marcel Interview

Thanks to all those who helped with the Arabic: Khawta and Layal and Transient and Hassan. Thanks Khawta and Layal for typing, Transient thank you for the Arabic editing url.

Here is the transcript to the video interview of the last post, in Arabic and English.

IBJ: Do artists, musicians, painters, writers, have a societal role to play in addition to presenting the aesthetic beautiful work?

KHALIFE: If people have something artistic to communicate, it is enough that they do so honestly in order to live up to their responsibility. But if they have more to contribute, that is always better. Now the artist's main role, if he is a painter for example, is to create the beautiful painting. If the artist is a musician, to write a musical verse that is beautiful, original & true, and he will have met his responsibility to society. In addition, artists can be active and engaged in events taking place where they live, in their homeland, in their larger environment, so that they're not neutral, but part of what's happening. If artists can help wipe out fear, give society an emotional spark or inspire emotions through aesthetic means, that is very important.

IBJ: Maestro, you previously stated that historically among the Arabs, poetry dominated other art forms because of its strength, and that the Arab ear naturally lends itself to the word and to the lyric more than to music. What has happened recently to make Arab audiences abandon both eloquent music and the eloquent word, and lean more towards the pop singer?

KHALIFE: Frankly, today we face a problem, which is the result of what we see on network and satellite stations; There is a marginalization of the people and of society. They broadcast soap operas and variety shows, which makes us weary of what our young people are watching and listening to. In my opinion, the resulting decadence comes from this gross build-up that we see. An honest invitation to these institutions, which have great financial resources, and spend great sums of money on projects that are tasteless and meaningless: We'd like to see them pay more attention to issues of humanity, cultural issues, issues dealing with man's more noble emotions, and promote work that has a relationship with humanity, its heritage and its memory. And that we open up to others in a different way than we are seeing. This requires a lot of effort. If we get less of the current trend from the Arab satellite stations, then we can get to a point where we can present our artistic and cultural projects and be more mindful of society.

IBJ: Have you faced an obstacle in your social-cultural journey that you found difficult to overcome?

KHALIFE: All projects have obstacles. We are facing many obstacles now, because we're living through difficult circumstances. People scurry around to make a clean living, whether in their homeland or abroad, and art is the last thing on their minds. They're thinking about educating their children, and how to make a living .. these difficult circumstances do not serve art and culture. And our society has been hit with a political situation that is difficult as well. Frankly, we have not been
fortunate with the politicians we have been given. At the very least we will always say NO to this flood of obscenity and misery.

إبن بنت جبيل: الفنان بشكل عام سواء كان موسيقي أو رسام او كاتب، هل له دور إجتماعي عليه أن يؤديه بالإضافة إلى تقديم العمل الفني الجميل؟

مارسيل خليفة: بيكفي إذا واحد عندو أشياء فنية يقولا، بيكفي إنو يقولا بيشكل صادق، ليكون أدى دورو. هلق إذا في إضافات تانية بيكون أحسن، بس الفنان عليه: إذا كان رسام ان يرسم اللوحة الجميلة، إذا كان موسيقار أن يكتب الجملة الموسيقية الجميلة والجديدة والنظيفة بنفس الوقت، هيك بيكون أدى اللي لازم يقدمو وقام بدورو بالمجتمع.

هلق في إضافات تانية: أن يتشارك ويتفاعل مع ما يجري من أحداث بمنطقتو ببلادو ببيئتو يعني أنو ما يكون محايد، أن يكون من ضمن الأحداث. هل بيقدر الفنان يساهم بتبديد الخوف أو إعطاء شحنة عاطفيّة للمجتمع وإظهار المشاعر بطريقة جميلة، بيكون هيدا شي كتير مهم.

إبن بنت جبيل: إستاذ مارسيل، سبق وقلت إن الشعر تاريخياً عند العرب طغى نوعاً ما على مجالات فنية أخرى بسبب قدرتو ومتاتنتو. وأن الأذن العربية بطبيعتا بتميل للكلمة أكتر من الموسيقى. شو اللي حصل في ما بعد اللي خلا الجمهور العربي يتجاهل كلا الموسيقى المتقدمة والكلمة البليغة أيضاً، ويميل للنجم المطرب أكتر من الموسيقى والشعر؟

مارسيل خليفة: الحقيقة، في مشكلة حقيقية، هيي إنو اللي عم نشوفو اليوم هوي حصيلة ما نراه ونشاهده في الفضائيات وفي الإذاعات العربية: هناك تهميش للناس، للمجتمع، من خلال بثهن لأعمال ومسلسلات بتخلينا نخاف عالأطفال وعالشباب من يللي عم يسمعو ويشوفو. أنا برأيي أنو التردّ الحاصل نتيجة التراكم الفظيع اللي عم نشوفو.

ودعوة صادقة لهالمؤسسات اللي عندا إمكانيات وحقيقةً عندا إمكانيات كتير، عم ينصرف كتير فلوس على أشياء أحياناً ما إلا طعمة، وأغلب الوقت يعني مش بس أحياناً، أدعو إنو يهتموا أكتر بموضوع الإنسان، بموضوع الثقافة، بموضوع مشاعر الإنسان النبيلة، أن يقدمو شي لهو علاقة بالإنسان بتراثو بذاكرتو، أن ننفتح أكثر على الآخر بطريقة مش مثل ما عم نشوف، ننفتح بطريقة مختلفة وهيدا بدو كتير شغل.

إذا خففوا شوي من هالموجة اللي عم يصدرولنا ياها الفضائيات العربية منكون قدرنا نوصل لمحل نقدم فيه مشروعنا الفني والثقافي، وقدرنا نهتم بمجتمعنا.

إبن بنت جبيل: هل واجهت تحدي عظيم بمسيرتك الفنية، كان صعب عليك تتخطاه أو يمكن ما قدرت تتخطاه؟

مارسيل خليفة: دايماً، كل عمل في صعوبات، عنا صعوبات كتيرة لأن عم نعيش بظروف كمان صعبة، الناس عم تفتش عن لقمة العيش السليمة دايما، سواء في الوطن أو المهجر، بالأخير يمكن يفكرو بالفن، عم يفكروا كيف يعلموا اولادون ويحصلو على لقمة العيش.. كلها هايدي أمور الصعبة كلا ما بتخدم كتير الثقافة والفن. فضلاً عن ان مجتمعنا أصيب بوضع سياسي كتير صعب. المسؤولين السياسيين عندنا ما كتير توفقنا فيهم، بالحقيقة. على الأقل رح نبقى نقول "لأ" ضد هذا المد الطافح بالقذارة والبؤس.


21 April 2007

Me with Marcel

Who's got the Arabic keys?

!!!!!!!!!!!! To all Arabic language bloggers: HELP!! I wanted to transcribe and post this interview (video below) but I have no idea how to go about using a standard English keyboard and computer to type in Arabic. Anyone want to type it and send it to me, so that I can post it????????? If you choose to volunteer for this worthwhile task, please email me at ibnbintjbeil@hotmail.com

In 2002, when Marcel Khalife visited Detroit to perform at an open-air festival here, Transient and I caught up with him behind stage and conducted this quick interview just before he went onstage. Transient directed and I asked the questions. The audio isn't that good, it's an old tape.. maybe we'll get it cleaned up and re-posted in future.

14 April 2007

Bint Jbeil Memories, from Above

(click on picture for a larger view)

A in the first picture above shows Wast-el-Balad, or "Center of Town" in Bint Jbeil, the village of my family and my ancestors. This is the highest hill in the village, and is the oldest part of town. The oldest architecture of Bint Jbeil is there, hundreds of years old, including beautiful yellow-stone arched homes and some beautiful old doors and windows. the rest of the areas in the picture are a series of outlying valleys surrounding the center of town, and those outlying valleys are surrounded by highlands (not visible in the picture.) The highest is "Jabal Maroon" (Mt. Maroon,) overlooking Bint Jbeil on one side and the occupied Palestinian Jaleel (Galilee) on the other side.

B (the dark-green area) "el-Birkeh" or "the Pool," is a man-made pool that is currently not in use, but which for countless generations had been a place that collected rain water for livestock to drink, and also served as a place where all the villagers came to wash their clothes and housewares, before the time when running water became available.

C is "Karm el-Midan," the field in whose earth my grandfather and his children toiled for their livelihood. Many farm fields in Bint Jbeil are given names by their families. During the mid to late 70's, when I was a child, there were two large craters in "Karm el-Midan", each about three meters in diameter and just as deep, caused by Israeli bombs. We used them as playthings, sliding down their slopes and climbing back up in countless hours of play.

For a time, my grandfather planted tobacco in that field. At a difficult period in the history of Southern Lebanon, during and after the famine of the 20's, many farmers in the South of Lebanon were duped by a French company called ROGÉS into planting tobacco, a very difficult crop to maintain, requiring year-round labor, and waking up before sunrise to harvest the large prickly leaves, since doing so under the hot sun caused the sticky milky-white liquid that seeped from the stem to build up on one's hands and caused problems for the farmworkers. ROGÉS exploited the farmers by securing a monopoly from the French-Mandated government of Lebanon, giving the company the ONLY legal license to buy and distribute the farmers' tobacco crop. Many farmers lived in debt throughout the year, until ROGÉS came at the end of each year to pay them just enough to pay off their debts for the previous year.

D shows our house and barn. The house was abandoned throughout the Israeli occupation of Bint Jbeil (1978-2000,) a dark period for the town when 90% of the poor villagers chose to leave instead of live under the degradation of occupation. Many struggled against the occupation from outside of the occupied zone. The blue-grey rectangle is the barn and the bright white triangle is the house. The small clump of green directly to the right of the barn is our olive grove.

When my grandfather first moved from the old part of town to these outlying parts, during the first half of the twentieth century, the townfolk did not understand why he did so and all asked him why he was moving out "to live among the wild wolves," as they put it. This part of town at that time was all wilderness and outlying farmland and fruit groves, and his new two-room mud house was the only structure in the area.

E shows "Al-Wadi," or "the Valley," where my family maintained a grove of fig trees. I don't quite remember which of the sections is the one that belonged to our family, because the Wadi was sectioned off into various groves and fields for various farming families, but I have many memories of going there.

Throughout the 70's, we left Beirut during summer vacations for three months of paradise in Bint Jbeil. My three uncles Yusuf, Abdallah and Ghassan, who were just a few years older than my older sisters, would walk us younger kids to the Wadi for an afternoon among the fig trees. All the fig trees in our field bore fruit that was golden on the inside, except one tree, whose fruit had a red inside; this one tree, however, was never approached by us, because there was a large poisonous snake that lived in its trunk. My uncles would send us on our way to play among the trees, and when we got back they would have a pot of tea brewing on a small campfire. They would have the pot, the tea leaves, the matches, the tea glasses, spoons and sugar hid somewhere among the rocky terrain of the fig grove, and never told us where. It was a game, a sort of a trick they played on us every time we went there: They would first distract us, then they would dig up the tea kit before we knew it, we would drink tea and eat and play for a while, then they would distract us one more time with some playing in order to hide everything again.

My father's mother died at the age of 36, when he was only ten. Medicine was not readily accessible in remote villages back then. He was raised by his father and his mother's mother, Amneh. My great-grandmother Amneh was paralyzed from the waist down, but she was still an active member of the farming family. Every season, when the figs were ripe, she would tell her family to transport her to the grove in the Wadi, where she would camp out for the duration of the season. She actually lived in a tent! Because she was paralyzed, she did not want to be carried back and forth daily. For the entire harvest season, she would sit in her tent and work on the fruit, pickling, drying, and preserving the fruit.

(click on picture for a larger view)

The pictures above show Bint Jbeil before the Israeli assault on it this past summer. The picture below shows the aftermath of the war. All the grey is debris of the destroyed town. The Israeli assault on Bint Jbeil included the elite of the supposed "mighty" Israeli army, including the "famed" Golani Brigade, but they could not take the town. The battle for Bint Jbeil was compared to the siege of Stalingrad during World War II, when the Nazi army besieged the city for more than half a year but could not occupy it, and destroyed it in the process. Israel was defeated in its siege of Bint Jbeil because it could not occupy the town but chose to destroy it out of spiteful punishment.

(click on picture for a larger view)

07 April 2007

A Dream, A Dream

I had a dream last night, and I remember it. It is a rare occurrence that I would remember that I actually dreamt, let alone remember the dream. Yet this once was important enough that I remembered it.

We were looking at something, my father and I, along with some other people. I don't remember what exactly, a book, a poem, pictures, a film, a song. I know we were closely looking into some old images or words describing images, and maybe listening to a song. Then my father did something that surprised me; he started speaking fondly and in detail about those lost days of his youth. (My 73 year old father hardly speaks with nostalgia about the past, although I know he holds it dearly in his heart.) He approached the images closer (a television screen or a collection of pictures in someone's hands?) and pointed into them as if to enter them, and began to recount those days of populist aspirations, of national struggle, of hardships and glory, of simple dreams on a grand scale. I don't remember if he spoke of disappointment, but I do remember that he continued to passionately gesture into the images and eloquently say,

"Every single day, I look back on those old times. Not a day goes by in this old age that I do not ponder how it was back then; we lived joyfully and with dignity, even though we struggled against great odds. We looked upon the future with a confident hope that the people would soon triumph against all their tyrants through their hard work, and that Palestine would soon see its liberation, and a new age of glory and tranquility would follow our toil. Every day of my life now, I cannot help but remember and think about those days -- images and events etched into my conscience."
In our waking life, he does not engage us much in such conversation, although I do know that he has much criticism concerning the faults, shortcomings and disappointments of those secular Pan-Arab Nationalist times. In the dream, I was taken by his speech; I told him with much enthusiasm that I have many more books, poetry, images, songs and films that document those times. I tried to get him interested by promising him books about Gamal Abdel-Nasser, archives of pictures from the struggles of the 50's and 60's, and long-forgotten nationalist songs that he and my mother would have heard sung over radio airwaves during Beirut's glorious renaissance, when they were both idealistic 20-something school teachers who had migrated to Beirut to teach the poor illiterate Southern refugees. I ran to my house and fumbled through my library -- but alas, I could not find what I was looking for; I quickly turned the pages of an old book that I was sure contained an archive of Nasser's revolution and his many trips to Arab countries, showing throngs of millions of simple folk flooding the streets in fervent adoration, but found that the book was actually about abstract art from 1917 Russia. I nervously ran through an antique picture-book that I thought depicted Beirut's seashore and its old fishermen, but it turned out the pictures were of old Paris streets. I tore up my library: a VHS cassette that I was almost certain contained footage of Um Kalthoom singing nationalist songs during the '56 Suez crisis, instead showed "The Police" in 1980 singing "Message in a Bottle" and "Walking on the Moon." I knew I owned a 40-year old magazine, printed in Baghdad or Damascus or Cairo or Sanaa or somewhere, that had pictures and articles reporting on the countless Palestinian refugees that had just escaped the '67 war, as well as poems and expressionist line drawings that I clearly remembered where quite strong artistically speaking; I found the magazine -- I recognized its worn, semi-glossy red-green-black cover -- but alas, the magazine turned out to be a 1984 issue of an American magazine featuring a full color spread of the championship Detroit Tigers. I popped an old decrepit audio cassette - the worn hand-written ink script on it may have read, in Arabic, "Palestine Villages - Oral Narrations", I couldn't quite make out the faded writing. All I got was a little bit of white noise and a little bit of laughter from an unknown voice that quickly faded into inaudible whispers of children. Needless to say, I did not go back to my father in the dream, because I was empty-handed of the promised treasures that would bring the past back to life.

When I awoke this morning, my first thought was to go through my library to see which books, old magazines and music I actually own, because the dream confused my memory of what was real and what was imagined. It's been hours, and I've yet to muster enough courage to actually approach those shelves of waiting books.


05 April 2007


The Post below is from 6 months ago. I re-post it here in honor of Marcel's Detroit concert tonight. A group of 16 of us bought tickets and are going together. Although I have attended a dozen or so of his concert since the 80's, this is the first time he will perform in Detroit's posh Max Fisher Center, home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I'm taking with me an old vinyl copy of his "Ahmad Al-Arabi" album, and will try to get it autographed by Marcel. My hope is to get the same album autographed by Mahmoud Darwish as well, if he ever comes anywhere close to Detroit.

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Marcel Khalifé is the Bob Dylan of the Arab World. We grew up listening to his music and song. His older repertoire, which we grew up on in the 80's, is a folk music sung for the people during the hardest periods of the Lebanese and Palestinian struggles, such as this video below. He sang for the common people's political, social and personal concerns, many times putting to music the poetry of such notables as the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

His newer repertoire, although not departing completely from the tradition of the socially conscious folk song, is more inclined towards experimenting with instrumentals, namely a hybrid of Classical Arabic music and Western orchestral music, by introducing the Oud (large Arabic lute) into his more complex orchestral compositions such as
this video clip from his newest (upcoming) "Taqasim" Album:

Listen to other recent instrumentals from recent years; this clip is from the Album "Concerto Al-Andalus"

Or the earlier groundbreaking "Oud Duo" (mid 1990's), where he pits two Ouds in a musical discourse of sorts:

In the Album "Concerto Al-Andalus," where he instroduced many instrumental works, he shows that he is still fond of song, by including vocal works in the same album such as:

Many instrumental works followed Oud Duo, such as this clip from the album "Muda'aba" (Caress):

In 2005 Marcel was given the title of "Unsesco Artist for Peace." In 2006, he used this podium to make a stand for Lebanon and Palestine: Read