Marcel Khalife: Cultural Icon in the Arab World

Though born in Lebanon, Marcel Khalife is a cultural icon throughout the Arab world. Perhaps no other contemporary artist has so changed the face of Arab music. Classically trained on the Oud (lute) at the National Academy of Music in Beirut, Khalife refused to be limited by the rigidity of tradition, thus significantly expanding the possibilities of Arab Music. Yet for such an innovative composer, Khalife is amazingly popular.

As the clips in this selection demonstrate, in almost any corner of the Arabic speaking world it is not unusual to find audiences numbering in the thousands singing along with Khalife. This composer, singer and musician has released more than 20 albums during his career.  In 1999, he was tried in the Lebanese courts for “defaming” Islam by singing a line from the Qur’an that was included in the lyrics “I am Yusuf,” a poem by Mahmoud Darwish set to music by Khalife. He was acquitted, but he has always been a politically engaged artist using his art to comment on issues such as the Palestinian cause, the crisis in Lebanon and the cause of human rights in the Arab world.

The song “Passport” is also adapted from Darwish poems and was originally released on the album “Promises of the Storm,” which was first released in 1976 and was Marcel Khalife’s first lyrical album. It endeared him to millions in the Arab world.  Marcel Khalife and Mahmoud Darwish met for the first time 7 years after the first release of “Promises of the Storm”.  Darwish wrote of Khalife, “Marcel Khalife’s music eliminated the gap created by the poets between poem and song. He restored to exiled emotion its rescuing power to reconcile poetry, which glorified its distance from people and was thus abandoned by them.

See Marcel Khalife’s website for a full biography as well as performance dates, other song clips and much more:



Marcel Khalife is joined by his sons in the performance above. This selection features a virtuoso performance by Khalife on the oud.  The passport serves as a symbol for the Palestinian stateless existence. The lyrics can be translated as follows:

They didn’t recognize me in the shadows

blotting out my colors in that passport.

To them my wound was an exhibit

for a snap-happy tourist.

They didn’t recognize me…

Oh don’t leave my palm without a sun,

for the trees and all the rain songs know me.

Don’t leave me pale like the moon!

All the birds that followed my hand

to the distant airport gate,

all the wheat fields all the prisons

all the white tombs

all the borders

all the waving handkerchiefs

and all the eyes

were with me, but

were dropped from my passport!

Stripped of a name, an identity?

On a soil I nourished with my own hands?

Job’s cry fills the sky:

Don’t make me an example twice!

My gentlemen! My prophets,

don’t ask the trees for their names.

Don’t ask the valleys who their mother is.

From my forehead bursts the sword of light,

And from my hand springs the river.

All the people’s hearts

are my nationality.

So rid me of this passport!


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