x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A voice of hope in the shadow of loss

A series of concerts dedicated to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish drew large crowds over the weekend.

Marcel Khalife, opens the show  at the Emirates Palace Auditorium in Abu Dhabi, on Nov 6 2008.
Marcel Khalife, opens the show at the Emirates Palace Auditorium in Abu Dhabi, on Nov 6 2008.

ABU DHABI // A series of concerts dedicated to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, featuring his friend and collaborator Marcel Khalife, drew large crowds over the weekend, with the money raised pledged to Palestinian children's charities. The Lebanese singer and musician performed in the capital on Thursday and Friday and last night in Dubai in a sold-out show. Khalife, who frequently collaborated with Darwish, setting the poet's words to music, performed in A Salute to Mahmoud Darwish with his ensemble, Al Mayadine, at the Emirates Palace hotel's auditorium on Thursday and Friday. During the concert, organised by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, Khalife drew on his long association and friendship with the poet, performing some of his best-known works including Jawaz al Safar (Passport) and Asfour (Pigeon). Darwish had been due to take part in the concert before his death in August, something that Tânia Sfair, director of the charity A Child, A Promise, said gave the performance special resonance. "This event is one of the largest that we have been involved with, especially because of the names involved - Khalife and Darwish, who was a personal friend of our association," she said. "The concerts were especially emotional because he was supposed to be here and we feel his absence." The money earned during Abu Dhabi concerts will go towards projects carried out by the French charity, which works to improve the lives of children, particularly in Palestinian refugee camps. "The young children who live in these camps, in misery and humiliation, they are the new generation and they are jewels who should have the right to their culture, whether music, art or poetry," Ms Sfair said. "We want to show people that Palestinians deserve this, they deserve a real life and a real childhood." Among the audience on Friday night was Ghanem Zukarat, a long-time friend of Darwish, who spoke of the poet's lasting legacy. "Mahmood still has so much to give. He left us a lot and represented the Arabs to the world as a great poet for all human beings," he said. The first mention of Darwish's name drew a huge cheer from the crowd, as Khalife walked on to the stage. During the two-hour concert, Khalife performed some of his best-known songs, including Asfour, which he dedicated to "prisoners of thought around the world". Members of the audience said Khalife had become a symbol of freedom. "The power of art is very important because it is not just about awards, but it comes from the heart to the heart, and this is the power of Marcel Khalife and Mahood Darwish, who had the power to express themselves," said Fouad Obaid, 30, from the Gaza Strip. After the performance on Friday, members of the audience waited in long lines to meet Khalife. Among them was Karam Kafina, 25, a Palestinian engineer, who said the musician gave voice to the Palestinian cause. "He means everything to us," he said. "We feel that he sings about us. It was more than I expected and he is so charismatic." Sahar Osman read her first Darwish poem at the age of 16 in her -native Sudan. It was also then that she was first exposed to Khalife's music, which she has "kept in her heart" ever since. "Khalife sings about freedom, human rights, nature, humanity," she said. "He raised a lot of issues and his music is like a dove of peace for the whole world." An exhibition of photographs taken by children in Lahza, a Palestinian refugee camp, was on view at the concert venue, organised by Zakira, an organisation promoting photography in Lebanon. Candid images taken by children as young as six depict life in the refugee camps in Lebanon. Khalife also performed last night at the American University of Dubai, at an event organised by the Palestinian Arab Cultural Club, with the money raised going to the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. Born in 1950, Khalife studied the oud at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music and has performed around the world. He was named a Unesco Artist for Peace in 2005 and is the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra's musical director and resident composer. zconstantine@thenational.ae