Ambassador for his Lebanese and wider Arab heritage, Marcel Khalife, singer-songwriter and master of the oud, the fretless Arabic lute, took centre stage, flanked by son Rami on keyboards and drummer Aymeric Westrich
Marcel Khalife & Rami Khalife, Usher Hall * * *
His expressive singing ranged from plaintive to passionate, while Rami could respond empathetically on piano, particularly in Sharq, otherwise deploying quavering synthesiser outbursts. One number, described simply as “a love song” featured limpid piano as Marcel simply recited the lyrics.
Westrich’s drumming, however, was way too heavy, banishing subtlety, in numbers such as Passport, based like many of Marcel’s songs on a poem by the late Mahmoud Darwish. The instrumental Requiem for Beirut spoke for itself with increasingly impassioned piano and a crashing, if overlong finale.
One would have welcomed more of the oud’s expressive string voice, as in the gentle Il Umi – “To My Mother”, unencumbered by keyboards and overwrought drumming. And while Arab speakers in the audience sang along, for the uninitiated, Rami’s cursory introductions were inadequate. An informative programme would have shed greater appreciation of why this charismatic songwriter is regarded as the Bob Dylan of the Arab world.