Breaking barriers with the Khalife family

Rami, Marcel and Bachar Khalife

When Rami Khalife arrives in New York City’s Town Hall tonight to play with his father Marcel and brother Bachar, the goal of the trio is known going in. It’s a chance to show that music — more than ever — can provide a bridge between people and make it abundantly clear that we’re more alike than we may think.

But aside from the music, just hearing what it takes to get father and sons on the same page musically is the most potent example of us all being part of the same human race.

“The whole point is to find this fine line where you don’t use your beliefs and don’t lose yourself and, at the same time, welcome and embrace the other, especially when you come to a project like this, where you really give and take,” Rami explains. “This is all about giving and taking. I’m not saying everything is perfect. We do fight a lot and disagree a lot, but at the end of the day, what’s more important is that we face all that and we go on stage and deliver a message of peace and a message of love. It’s a show about life.”

As such, life isn’t always about the finished product. It’s about the journey to get there. Lifelong musicians, Rami and Bachar joined with their father on his March release Andalusia of Love, and while it was a family affair for the Lebanese trio, Rami points out that this tour and an album next year won’t be about Dad using his sons as sidemen, but as a band of equals.

Andalusia of Love was his own music,” he said. “We added some of our improv and our energy to it. But it’s mainly my father’s concept, as opposed to the trio, which is completely a shared work. There’s no one leader, there’s no one brain commanding everything. It’s a shared work where each of us brings something and contributes to something. This is what we will do in the upcoming tour in the States.”

So Dad can’t be the leader all the time?

“Not this time,” Rami laughs. “It was a challenge for him, of course, because he’s not used to that position. It’s also a challenge for us, because we have to, with our charisma, with our presence, be on his level. So on both sides it wasn’t really easy in the beginning. But I think things came naturally, and the nature of music itself made it easier for everyone. When you hear it, you have glimpses of Marcel’s work, but there are a lot of influences from my experience and my brother’s experience. It mixes electronic with acoustic, electronic music with pop music — it’s really what we all experience in life. It makes it really personal and really very important in our development and in our venture into music.”

The United States tour also comes at the perfect time, with the nation largely divided after the recent Presidential election, and with immigrants, African-Americans and Latinos wondering what Donald Trump’s America holds for them. Khalife, whose tour with his father and brother is presented by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), wants to bring people together, not separate them further.

“I am really a citizen of the world myself, and I think we should do those things because of our upbringing and where life took us,” he said. “We were a little bit like the kids of an ambassador, going four years in a place, then moving to another place and another place, and all this experience filled us with lots of cultures, lots of flexibility, lots of understanding towards others. It made us very diverse and rich from the inside.

“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing now in the world, not only in the States, but everywhere, is that everyone is closing up more and more towards their own identity, their own religion, their own everything,” Khalife continues. “We forget that we’re all human beings. I might sound a bit naive or idealistic, but that’s what we are. We come from dust and we’ll go to dust. So this is the moment to show that we can bring cultures and people together, and through music you can have a common understanding. I’m not talking about politics or matters like that. We can all have a different point of view and I respect every point of view. Every human has the right to think what they want to think. But I think we can be together at some moments and share the same values and the same love together at one given point. We don’t have to be together all the time, but at some moment, we have to be together.”

Why not now? That’s the goal for the Khalifes, and slowly but surely, shows like this make an impact. Maybe not on thousands at a time, but if even one listener comes to a new understanding and lets him know it after the final note is played, that’s fine with Rami.

“It actually happens a lot,” he said. “This shows how fearful we are of others. I wouldn’t say ignorant because we have the capacity and the tools to know each other through the internet, but it almost makes us go in the opposite way instead of making us closer to each other. This is one of the qualities that music can provide, that sense of universality. You don’t have to be similar to another to understand something that is pure, that is given in a loving way and in an innocent way and with authenticity. Maybe this is what makes our music universal because it’s not identified as purely Arabic, it’s not identified as purely jazz, and it’s not identified as anything. It’s everything and nothing at the same time. This is why I like it. I don’t like to put barriers or put a certain identity or a certain color to something. I like to be wide and reachable to everyone and understandable to everyone. It’s a great victory and a great pride to me when people come up to me after the show and say, ‘I didn’t imagine that I would be touched this way.’”

Marcel, Rami and Bachar Khalife play Town Hall in New York City tonight, Wednesday, December 7. For tickets, click here

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