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Review: Marcel Khalife Benefit for Palestinians

Marcel Khalife Benefit Concert for Palestinians

By Sonia Nettnin

CAPTION: Marcel Khalife, master of the oud (Arabic fretless lute), signs autographs for adoring fans. Khalife is on his U.S. Tour. While in Chicago, he played a benefit concert for Palestinians.

Marcel Khalife, internationally-renown oud master, played a benefit concert for the Palestinian people on Sunday night.

It was a night’s dream beneath moonlight where the music of the legendary artist fused fire.

The audience clapped and sang into roars.

The benefit concert raised money for mobile, medical units (MMUs) for the Palestinians who live in the West Bank. Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks prevent them from medical care.

A single unit costs $120,000 U.S. dollars and it can serve up to five villages. With the MMUs, people can receive health and medical services, which include: physical examinations, track medical/occupation history, spirometry, chest X-rays, audiogram, laboratory testing, risk assessment, and mammography.

Geneva organizations will match monetary donations.

The Arab-American Action Network and the Palestinian Humanitarian Aid Project initiated the benefit concert.

Al-Mayadine Ensemble

Khalife played with the Al-Mayadine Ensemble (which means village-square and battlefield.) Members include: Oumaima Khalil, vocalist; Rami Khalife, piano; Peter Herbert, double bass; and Bachar Khalife, percussion (bongos, congos, mazhar, riq, tabla, and vibraphone).

During the performance, the musicians utilized improvisation. Instrumental calls and responses emanated from their music. The bass supported oud by maintaining the downbeats. The musicians beat their instruments like drums.

As individual musicians and as an ensemble, Al-Mayadine possesses a refined, sophisticated sound. They play as a unit, yet they give each other solo opportunities. Their mature sound radiates comfort and continuity, which enhances audience enjoyment.

Marcel Khalife

His fingers move across the fingerboard with ease and grace. Hand positions and finger placement are second nature, an extension of him. He strums chords so in tune they ring.

Khalife’s heartbeat rhythms pulse the spirit of solidarity. People swayed throughout the performance.

Khalife is an instrument of music. His lyrical voice is emotion. He recreates variations of refrains and transforms the journey found in maqams (musical scales). Whether Khalife’s vibratos are with his vocals or his fingers, he captures life from every angle. The title of his latest CD, “Caress/Mouda’aba,” evoked call and response with claps from the audience.

Khalife sings with reflection, like the warm waves of sea water. He shares his soul center stage. His songs breathe the peace and the hope found in sunrises and sunsets. The endings of his pieces finish prevailing…music lives in time and in memories…music never ends.


Khalife and the Al-Mayadine Ensemble return to refrains with a build-up to ecstasy. Khalife is with the people. The fingerboard, an intimate terrain, is the land with his heartfelt hands.

At times their music felt haunted, like an exploration of the unknown. The ethereal dynamics of their music expresses a dance of souls. Syncopated moments reveal solemnity and the sinuousness of the Arabic language.

Vocalist – Oumaima Khalil

In a breathtaking performance, Khalil sang “I Love You More,” acappella. Her pure vocals resonate sweetness and longing. Yet, the feelings are innocent. Her high notes are perfect pitches – soothing and strong. Her timbre possesses depth and she commands a range of octaves elegantly.

When she sang, the audience did not stir…she moved me to tears.


Khalife plays with seamless technique and his artistic expression is natural. He played songs for Palestine, where the land is the language of music – Khalife’s sound is the salt of the earth.


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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