Photo courtesy of Khulood Kittaneh

Talk by lebanese artist engages community, culture

Photo courtesy of Khulood Kittaneh On March 11, in celebration of the Palestinian Culture Day, the Emirates Writers Union hosted a talk by Marcel ...

Mar 16, 2013

Photo courtesy of Khulood Kittaneh
On March 11, in celebration of the Palestinian Culture Day, the Emirates Writers Union hosted a talk by Marcel Khalife, a famous Lebanese composer and singer.
The talk was titled: “My experience with Mahmoud Darwish.” Darwish, the late famous Palestinian poet who wrote about the resistance to Israel occupation and the fight for the freedom of the Palestinian nation, was a co-writer, collaborator and close friend who has always been an inspiration to Khalife.
“We never know if Mahmoud Darwish made Marcel famous or Marcel Khalife made Mahmoud famous,” said Khulood Kittaneh, an Arabic language instructor at NYUAD. “I only know that a combination of Marcel and Mahmoud would be the best recipe for soul. When they speak, they speak to your heart and mind.”
In his talk, Khalife shared the story of his personal relationship with Darwish and read some of his famous poems. The event was held in the old National Theater, where the room filled quickly with the Arabs of different age and origin.
“I wished that introducing the Artist took a more interactive form and allowed for Q & A session,” said Omima El Araby, an NYUAD Arabic language instructor. “On an organizational level, it was obvious that the event needed to be held in a bigger hall and the signing of the album needed to be done in a better orderly manner.”
Although everybody had his or her own reason to attend the talk, no one was left indifferent to the emotionally rich speech of the singer.
“There are certain names that we grew up with and that we admire,” Kittaneh said. “It is really like touching the moon, going to a virgin place that you’ve never been to, I will do anything to attend events like this. Since I was five years old, Marcel singing was the first sound I have ever heard.”
Darwish’s poetry later incorporated into songs by Khalife primarily addressed the issues of the Palestinian nation.
The two artists found a way for the voices of people to be heard – through the elegance of verse and music.
“I went to the talk because of Mahmoud Darwish, who is an idol to me. He basically translated humanity into words,” said Ayesha Al Hashemi, Language Immersion Coordinator at NYUAD. “I wanted to see how Darwish affected other artists, and it became clear when Marcel spoke about him as if he was talking about his twin brother.”
At the end of the talk, Khalife became especially emotional when recalling his last conversation with his colleague and sincere friend. He remembered that he could not say any proper goodbye to Darwish.
“I felt trapped by silence, and he was trapped by speech,” Khalife said.
This event was suggested as an experiential learning activity to the students in the Arabic language program at NYUAD. The talk was entirely in Arabic, and even some of the Arabic speakers in the room found it hard to understand due to the poetic and eloquent presentation by the singer.
“Students learning a second language in general need to hear and use the language in a natural setting, outside the classroom, they need engage in a discourse that is not prepared, structurally, to fit their level,” said El Araby.
“I believe it is very important to learn within the language, much deeper things like culture and politics. You can’t talk about politics without naming Khalife and Darwish,” Kittaneh said.
The students’ impressions varied based on their comprehension and familiarity with the culture.
“It wasn’t really about the language, it was rather about being exposed to the situation when they use their language to express their feelings,” said freshman Eszter Sárközi. “In the end, he cried. I knew it was because he was remembering Mahmoud Darwish. When you see the person cry, you don’t need words to have the same affect on you.”
Khalife’s performance was not just an insight into the Arabic culture for foreign students; it also had a great impact on the Arabic NYUAD students.
“My father was imprisoned by the Israelis in the 1980s, and he was telling me that in the prison it was only listening to Marcel Khalife that made prisoners believe that they will escape,” said freshman Ameed Abutteen. “His songs could make their souls arise and feel free. His songs have been influential and famous throughout generations of Palestinian people.”
For freshman Sala Shaker, the event was a chance to actively engage with her heritage.
“Since I already know the language, but don’t get enough chances to speak it here, I feel like I am not connected to my Arab roots, and this event gave me an opportunity to meet people,” Shaker said. “As someone who is Arab and who hasn’t spoken or heard Arabic in such a long time, I found it really helpful.”
The talk was followed by the signing from the album dedicated to Darwish called Fall of The Moon. At the end, Khalife performed a song based on Darwish’s lyrics called Ummi, which means my mother.
NYUAD members who attended the event enjoyed one of the Darwish’s beloved poems that has been integrated into Khalife’s music, “Rita.” This song tells a love story about a Palestinian men and an Israeli girl who are in love but cannot be together.
“It shows how much love is stronger than politics,” said Kittaneh.
Daria Karaulova is news editor. Email her at
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