Along the lines of heritage, is there any Spanish influence on Khalife's oud compositions? It is not actual Spanish influence, notes Khalife, "rather it is living reality.

"The music of al-Andalus," he says, "is the origin of Spanish music and the Arabs contributed tremendously to that. Flamenco, for example, has Arabic origins and we must clarify that this [Spain] was the Maghreb of the Arab world which explains the work with oud and guitar. If the music of al-Andalus was able to continue and evolve it would have reached great sophistication." But, points out Khalife, "a 600-year interruption had a detrimental effect on Arabic and Andalusian music.

What type of music does Khalife listen to? "I love world music," he says; "the Asian and African peoples have provided very important models. They present important experiments and it concerns me to observe them." Khalife also greatly loves classical music. "Classical music is not Western, it is universal music and every people has their own classical model."

Turning back to Arabic music, Khalife is alarmed about its dilution and undermining caused by commercial music which dominates Arabic music today. "People can listen to this in a nightclub" fine, but such music cannot take over the broader scene. There is quite simply, no substance: "Any handsome man can get dressed up, go on T.V. and become a star within an hour," Khalife cynically observes.

In order to educate the people about modern Arabic music, Khalife sees the need for "workshops, musical programs on T.V. and radio, and in the newspapers, so we can tell the audience that this is a muwashah, this is a modern poem, this is the new music, this is the real oud, this is a new composition of Arabic music. We need to provide the public with a new artistic-musical awareness through the media."

The media, however, he says, "is not interested in serious music, it is part of the commercial project" and "the Arab governments contribute to this silly matter," whether knowingly or not. "I cannot be a dictator or fascist in my opinion," says Khalife, "people should be able to see and hear everything," but that means equal room for serious music. If not, "the Arab public is left in a sorry state of affairs."

Khalife's outspoken concern about safeguarding serious Arabic music runs him up against those who would prefer that the public listens to pap and trivial fluff, not to anything that would hit a chord. It is just part of his revolutionary spirit; a spirit which while winning him a sea of fans has also left him with a trail of controversy stretching across the Arab world.

It is no secret that his music is banned in several countries. "No matter how much they try to ban the music, it will find its way into these countries, and the people will listen," he says. "I think it is foolish that [the governments] are afraid of music."

Most recently, Khalife faced trail in Lebanon based on certain Darwish lyrics in his song construed to be anti-Islamic. The highly political affair, though, appears to have been swept under the rug within the past few weeks.

From all of this, one can clearly see a rebellious and very substantive and serious vein running through Khalife's work. But Khalife is equally interested in the entertainment value of music.

"We don't want to burden people with problems ­ our work is to relieve them from their problems and reduce their torment." he explains, "our work is to serve humanity and at the same time attempt to evolve Arab music from the heart."

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