Rabih Abou Khalil and Penelope X at the Bitola World Music Festival 2013
What Khalil chose to emphasize were songs from his recently released record Hungry People
(Harmonia Mundi, 2013) which was, among other things, inspired by the Arab Spring. Always a witty band leader, Khalil began the evening by introducing the band members in a funny manner and provoking an avalanche of laughter from the audience. And the titles had interesting descriptive names: "Shrilling Chicken," "Lobotomy Mi Baba Lu" from Morton's Foot
(Enja 2008), and "Shaving Is Boring, Waxing Is Painful." Throughout, Khalil was in his element with his expressive, entrancing and beautiful playing. Obviously in a good mood, he would tell a story that inspired some of his songs. "Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas" was inspired by a British food specialty that had once stuck to his fingers during a concert in London. Each composition was a highlight that in some way lifted the soul and electrified the feet, but definitely the most moving one was a tribute to the city of Beirut, "Dreams of A Dying City," A contemplative, mysterious song that unfolded slowly and gradually. It started as a duet between the oud and the percussion, where Cagwin changed the tempo, and when the rest of the band joined in, the melodies just melded beautifully with the accordion.
Khalil and his band skillfully balanced improvisation and composition in a setting that blended a plethora of styles and temperaments. Their interplay was very delicate and thoughtful, as everyone was listening as much as they were playing. It was a beautiful evening with each band member offering his own individual input towards a collective end. Photo Credit