Joseph F. Khalifé: «My music transcends the human condition»
Composer and music teacher at LAU, Lebanese American University, Joseph Khalifé embraced very early musical career. Between the piano, the national Conservatory, musicology, and teaching, he found himself academically and humanely. A rich and fruitful career of a musician by heart told to Prestige.
Your musical journey is rich. What attracted you to the world of music? From an early age, music triggered emotions in me, without even understanding the reason. Student at the Marist Brothers in Amchit, my village, I remember, I was barely 6 years old, every time we had Mass and I heard the harmonium, I felt emotions and strange sensations that I did not understand. When I grew up, it became evident for me to follow a musical path. I discovered that music was not only the love of my life, but also my only path, and destiny.
You followed a solid musical education in Lebanon and abroad. Give us a quick overview … I started my musical studies at the age of 9. At first, I was learning piano and then I started to learn music theory. At this age, it was an extracurricular activity. Later, I joined the National Conservatory of Beirut, and later I studied musicology at USEK. Music gave me wings, in the true sense of the word … Thanks to music, I started traveling, for master classes and concerts. My first trips to Switzerland, the United States and especially Rome, are crucial moments in my life as a musician … I taught in schools, which was not an easy thing to do, and the university where I found myself academically and humanely. Today, I am a music teacher at LAU, which I consider my second family.
What is distinctive in your musical style? I want to believe that what distinguishes my musical style is sincerity. I wish my reality, my thoughts, and my human values to be expressed in my musical work.
You are a composer and Senior Instructor at the LAU. Between the composition and the music lessons, which do you prefer? Teaching and especially at university is very useful for an artist. This communication between the students and the artist gives the artist an impulse that drives towards success. Living with young people makes me feel young and gives me a lot of ambition. It is not evident to join the path of a teacher with that of a composer, but it is very successful, at least in my opinion.
You compose for Majida El Roumi, Joumana Medawar and others. Which stars do you collaborate with? I had the honor of composing songs for several Lebanese stars like Majida El Roumi, Joumana Medawar, Rima Tawil, Abir Nehme, Simon Obeid, Nabiha Yazbek, Guitta Harb and many choirs and young singers. Stars or not, those who sing my melodies become part of me.
Which of the songs you have composed are the closest to your heart? I am a spiritual person, and my style of composition is too. For me, music is a way of transcending the human condition. It emanates from the divine in us, from the spirit inside of each one … I like that my music can help others find peace and serenity. This music is like me because I like to be at peace. Among the compositions that I appreciate, I quote “Erhamni Ya Allah” and “Ya Charbel sa3edna” by Majida, “Halloumi ya Jamilati” and “Ya Emmi Bil Sama” by Joumana, “Al qabrou faregh” by Abir and several other works…
You also give religious concerts in Lebanon and abroad. Tell us … We give almost every month, four to six concerts in villages and cities in Lebanon. Our trips are also frequent. My fans know the songs very well. It’s a source of happiness for me.
Many awards have marked your career. Which one is the dearest to your heart? I received many awards. And each reward is precious to me. However, the grand prize and the dearest to my heart is the honorary medal of the Holy Father, His Holiness John Paul II and the prize of the great Lebanese poet Said Akl.
What memory of your collaboration with the stars would you like to mention? I would like to evoke a life of friendship and productivity with the diva Majida El Roumi. More than thirty-five years of serious work and more than twenty-five recorded works … At the same time, I am delighted by the twenty years of artistic engagement with the singer Joumana Medawar, her celestial voice and our thirteen albums together.
What do you think of the cultural and musical level of young people today? Today, the musical and artistic level of young people is remarkable for the variety of tastes and inclinations. You must always respect their choice.
What advice would you give them? I advise young people to be honest towards themselves and to choose the music that inspires them. They should try to cultivate themselves musically, to read, to listen and to appreciate the beautiful music.
What project would you like to do that you have not done yet? I would like to see all my works performed by a big orchestra. Interview by Mireille Bouabjian