By Amandine Thomas, Uni’Sons

Montpellier, 17th of September.

On this Saturday, the Arabesques Festival is going full swing. In the heart of the “Medina” built by UNI’SONS’ staff and some twenty young adults, all volunteers, hundreds of families are discovering Arab culture: Palestinian handcraft, pottery, mint tea, Moroccan pastels, memsen, street musicians, acrobats etc.

In the amphitheater, the artists of Digital Africa are doing their sound check.
Under the blue circus tent, professionals of music industry are having a meeting about the international context. Because of crisis, wars and racism in Europe and the Mediterranean, musicians are challenging problems of mobility, freedom of expression, exportation, taxes on web sales etc. and small producers can’t fight. A passionate debate, leaded in a constructive and positive way by the Lebanese journalist Mayssa Issa.

Last year, the debate was on new opportunities generated through lockdown. Some of the musicians invited explained how they met online and started to compose together. That was the case of Dhafer Youssef (Tunisia), Ballaké Sissoko (Mali) and Elvin Aarset (Norway) who created 80% of their project “Digital Africa” without meeting each other. Tonight, the show of the 3 masters of oud, kora, and electric guitar will be sold out.

Going on the visit of Arabesques festival, we arrive at the backstage. Some of the staff, volunteers and musicians are enjoying the sun of Montpellier at the catering. The atmosphere is charming, light and playful. Deckchairs & olives trees create some confidential spaces to meet and chat.

That’s where I met Samah Mustafa, a Palestinian woman DJ. She won the competition “Palestine Connect” and was invited by Arabesques to perform as opening act yesterday. Samah confides me that she is impressed because she is at 2 meters from her big idols: Marcel Khalife and his son Bachar. In front of Marcel Khalife, she feels really small, and she can’t either speaking or looking at them.

Marcel Khalife is a maestro and a wise man. He is the one who revealed “oud” internationally and the one who started fighting extreme ideologies using music, poetry & love. We used to say that a concert of Marcel Khalife elevates hearts and minds.

Samah and I have so many questions to ask to such a musician : Who teach you playing this way?  When did you know you will become a professional musician?  Do you still learn? Do you transmit yourself?  

Then, Bachar, Marcel’ son, come to us and say: “Hi Samah, congratulations for your performance”. The two musicians start talking about music, as if they already knew each other. They both use the same instruments on stage: looper machines to multiply and addition sounds and voices. As this technology arrived before a methodology, they were very happy to share their experiences and learn from the practice of the other. “I learnt classical music at the Conservatory, then I choose electronic music to express myself, but there is no school for that in Palestine” laugh Samah. “I grew up in Paris, but my experience is the same! Musicians need to feed their arts all the time, that’s why we have to be curious and to try new things all the time.” replies Bachar. “And we also need recommendations. Thanks a lot Bashar!” concludes Samah. Then they exchange contacts and Bachar says: “Call me, I’d be pleased to help you”.  

At that time, the magic of Arabesques Festival operates in the backstage. This unique electricity of passion and compassion, that lead artists and fascinate the audience.  

Marcel Khalife is a Lebanese musical composer, singer, and oud player. From 1970 to 1975, he studied and taught oud at the Beirut Conservatory. In 1976, he created the ensemble Al Mayadeen and became internationally famous for his songs Oummi (My mother), Rita w’al-Bunduqiya (Rita and the gun) and Jawaz as-Safar (Passport), inspired by the poems of Mahmoud Darwich. He receives the Palestine Music Award and gives the prize money to the National Conservatory of Music of Beir Zeit University in Palestine. In 2005, he was appointed UNESCO Artist for Peace by the Director-General of UNESCO, in “recognition of his fervent and generous commitment to musical heritage.” With his wife Yolla Khalifé, they have two sons, Rami and Bachar, also musicians. Marcel Khalife – Ommi (with Lyrics) / مارسيل خليفة – أمي – YouTube  
Bachar Khalife is a Franco-Lebanese singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. He trained at the Conservatoire national in Paris with his brother Rami Khalifé. He obtained the Conservatory Prize in piano. Bachar is also interested in percussion and discovers the traditional repertoire of his country of origin by his father. The composition of his first album, Oil Slick, took him almost ten years. He has worked with conductors Lorin Maazel, James Gaffigan and with the Orchestre national de France and the Ensemble Intercontemporain. He has participated in several projects that combine jazz, world music, electro and hip-hop with artists as diverse as Bojan Z, Carl Craig, Francesco Tristano, Murcof, Kery James, Chapelier Fou, Christophe and the K/D/M3 trio. Bachar Mar-Khalifé – Lemon – YouTube
Samah Mustafa is an Arab Palestinian singer, musician, Vocal and music therapist. Samah’s musical journey was influenced by the oriental classic singing and folk Arabic music, she combined together with modern music to develop her own unique music style. Samah was also influenced by instrumental music, and today she is a band leader, writing, composing and arranging ambient, folk and experimental music based on vocal and other instrumental loops, musical images in vocal and lyrics.
©Luc Jennepin
©Luc Jennepin