Marcel Khalife to tour the world with slick new concert format

The legendary Lebanese singer and composer aims for a wider audience with new jazzy takes of his folk classics

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Marcel Khalife unveiled his dazzling new concert experience last night at Hay Festival Abu Dhabi.

A sold out audience at Manarat Al Saadiyat gathered to see the Lebanese singer and composer perform many of his poetic and cinematic compositions with a slick new twist.

This was down to his band of cracking young musicians, which was led by his son, Bachar Mar-Khalife on the piano. The sextet gave many of Khalife's compositions a new makeover, some through the use of electronic music elements (Ya Beirut), while others traditional folk tracks, such as Birds of Galilee and the operatic Passport, were blended with lashings of zippy Balkan jazz.

It was all done rather tastefully. More importantly, it also didn’t take away any of the power from Khalife’s sung lyrics provided by his late friend, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwich.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates- Marcel Khalife performing at Hay Festival at Atrium, Manaarat Saadiyat.  Leslie Pableo for The National
L-R  Bachar Mar-Khalife on piano, playing with his father Marcel Khalife at Hay Festival Abu Dhabi. Picture by Leslie Pableo for The National

Another interesting aspect of the new show is how inclusive it all is. Backed by visuals flashing many of Darwich’s lyrics in English, this format is the best way for non-Arab audiences to savour the music and literary quality of Khalife concerts.

"This is part of the plan," Mar-Khalife told The National after the concert. As the re-arranger of all the songs, he wanted the new show to expand his father's already dedicated fan base. "They are wonderful, but there are still people out there who should still hear the important work that Marcel has done. With this show we want to play in different places. We already have a US tour later this year and we are in talks with a few international jazz festivals, so this is all very exciting."

A silent party to close Hay Festival Abu Dhabi

Rooftop Rhythm’s popular silent disco party comes to the Hay Festival on Friday night. The way it works is simple: come down, choose a set of wireless headphones and dance to mix of reggae, Afrobeat and Arab fusion provided by locally based spinners including DJs Dyme, Hiddy and ALLAD.

Show runs from 11pm to 2am at the Atrium of Manarat Saadiyat. Tickets are sold out but you can register your interest on