Marcel Khalifé and Bachar Mar-Khalifé at the Barbican, London

Oud improvisation over a drone was accompanied by prose and poetry as jazz made way for the music and politics of the Middle East

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Marcel Khalifé and Bachar Mar-Khalifé

It was back in 2011 that Ornette Coleman appeared at the EFG London Jazz Festival with his son, Denardo. This time, it was the turn of oud master Marcel Khalifé to take to the stage and perform with his son, Bachar Mar-Khalifé. Marcel is best known for his commitment to the Palestinian cause, a symbol of liberation. Mar-Khalifé grew up in war-torn Lebanon in the presence of his father’s music.

Their last concert took place in March 2020 at the Philharmonie De Paris. Khalifé then travelled to Australia for a short stay before finding himself stuck there for over a year. It was only 10 days before this performance that he managed to return home, resuming rehearsals in preparation.

Alongside the live music – much of it consisting of improvisation over a drone – visual displays behind the musicians onstage depicted artwork relevant to what they played. Moving imagery of Beirut and night skies surrounded the stage.

Much of the music featured spoken word, which was read in Arabic. Translations were displayed but even without them I could grasp the power of the words from the passionate applause that followed. Verse by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish also appeared and included lines such as: “Don’t make his blood a decoration.”

The evening concluded with Khalifé left to himself onstage asking for the lights to be raised in order for the audience to sing along. This seemed to be far more than another concert as part of the annual jazz festival. Rather it became an intimate conversation between a well-renowned public figure and the Lebanese population of London.

Marcel Khalifé & Bachar Mar-Khalifé: EFG London Jazz Festival, Barbican Centre, 15 November 2021