Marcel Khalifé -- "Bob Dylan of the Middle East" -- Performs at Jones Hall

It's easy to hear that Marcel Khalifé is a songwriter to the core, even if you don't understand a lick of Lebanese Arabic.

In 1976, the Beirut, Lebanon-born musician first made a name for himself when he formed the Al Mayadeen Ensemble, a traditional Arabic group that's heavy into interpreting the nationalistic and sometimes controversial poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. (Darwish, whose work has been translated into 20 languages, left the planet in 2008 following complications from heart surgery at Memorial Hermann Hospital.)

Along with a beautiful voice that's especially potent due to Darwish's free-verse technique, Khalifé has become a master of the oud (Arabic lute), an instrument that American jazz listeners first heard in the early 1960s when John Coltrane recruited Ahmed Abdul-Malik to contribute to Trane's fiery Live at the Village Vanguard sessions with Eric Dolphy.

Today, Khalifé continues to play contemporary classical instrumentals as well as intense odes to Darwish, who was widely considered the Palestinian national poet despite his divisive words.

For example, one of the songs in Khalifé's repertoire is the Darwish-penned "I Am Joseph, O Father," which has landed Khalifé in trouble with the law three times due to claims that the tune insults religious values with the inclusion of a passage from the Quran.

On Tuesday, April 17, Marcel Khalifé will present the "No Culture Without Freedom" lecture (co-sponsored by the Arab-American Educational Foundation) at Rothko Chapel, 1409 Sul Ross. Admission is free. For additional details, check out the Rothko Chapel website.

On Friday, April 20, Khalifé presents the "Fall of the Moon: An Homage to Mahmoud Darwish" concert at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana Street. The performance, part of the Society of the Performing Arts season, is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, check out the SPA website.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen