Bachar Mar-Khalifé is an artist that I have only discovered through my usual game of cover roulette; that image is quite stark image which was took by acclaimed photographer Lee Jeffries, which has been described on the Infiné Records website as follows - his images also refer to the sacred. In the representation of the passion, joyful suffering - but to me it seems to show a man who is in pain and with the title translating to 'Oh Country'. Bachar Mar-Khalifé was born in 1983 in Beirut, in Lebanon, he is described as Franco-Lebanese after he moved to France aged six as a refugee. Now this album is sung mainly in Arabic and I have not been able to find a website with the lyrics, so I cannot go into details about the lyrics sadly - but I am still intrigued about how this album sounds...
“Kyrie Eleison” starts this album with a vocal repetitive serious of words and is joined by a gentle piano, I will not lie and say I understand what is being sung but I love the tone to the vocals and the passion in the voice as well. Halfway through there is an uplifting keyboard section added and Bachar sounds as if he is shouting out in wonder and joy. It is hard not to be uplifted by this and the ending which has a church organ sound as the song reaches a dramatic conclusion. “Balcoon” is second song which has electronic drums, bass, keyboards and it sounds like a guitar as well in the background. It is gentle and relaxing to me, it has a trip-hop vibration to the music and it brings to mind sunshine and chilling times I have experienced in my life. The song itself might have a totally different meaning, but it is bring a warm glow to my heart. "Lemon" follows on from and this is a song that has a Mediterranean feeling, I am hearing shades of North Africa, Middle-Eastern influences in the song and it is a song that brings joy in my heart. It is one of those song that is very infectious and has been bringing a smile to my face ever since I heard it. It goes round in a loop and gets under your skin, sticks in your mind and sounds as if it should have always existed in my life.
The fourth song is called "Layla" and this was the first song on the album that I played to Mrs Carter and she actually stopped still and looks on in awe, usually she looks a little confused by what I play but she was instantly impressed by the music on this song. It is a start off with soulful beginning, beautiful keyboards, gentle percussion and a brilliant bass performance which underpins everything. Then the tempo changes and it takes it up another level, everything has been infused with a new layer of energy which is then taken away as the piano and vocals end this beautiful number. Following on is the haunting song called "Yalla Tnam Nada" which features Golshifteh Farahani, it is a slower song and the drums are used to emphasise certain sections of the song, the piano is very hidden and the vocals are given the time to shine. It took a while to sink in, but it comes at you in a different way; but it is a song that gives more with each listen, each listen is a little more rewarding. "Wolf Pack" follows on and this track is full of energy and noise, the instruments are all given time to shine as everything starts to loop around and it moves in a way that sounds as familiar to me as Aphex Twin. It has some really aggressive moments in the song, well maybe the word aggressive is wrong - forceful might be better. Either way it is has shades and depths to the music which take the listener on a journey, once more I am in love with the music of this fine man and it sings to me in ways that other artists cannot. Next is the title track "Ya Balad" and we already know this translates to "Oh Country" - it has a haunted tone to the music and if the lyrics translate to the photo then there might be a shade of regret, wishing and longing mixed into this music. Whatever is being said, parts of the song sound like pain being derived from the heart and the passion is there to see and you do not need to speak the same language to hear someone singing in pain - just a hauntingly beautiful song.
"Madonna" starts with a vocal which is almost a whisper as some gentle piano repeats in the background. There is offerings of praise in this number as the mixture of musical styles come into the song. The name suggests links to religion and the hallelujahs also give a feel of offering, again I am just surmising here and I do not wish to offend if my thoughts are wrong. It is a piece which has passion driving through it and it is an interesting piece. "Laya Yabnaya" is brought into the world with vocals and percussion, building around a simple pattern that adds more percussion as the song slowly builds up with other instruments being added at slow intervals as the drone nature of the song is given a chance to open up to the audience. It drifts backwards to the drums and vocals only every now and then which adds a shade of the night to this which I find beautiful. It is a stunning song that has been haunting my dreams recently and is a very close second behind "Lemon" for song of the album. The penultimate number is called "EII3" which starts with piano and an accordion (I am hoping it is one of those, my ears have been through so much recently), it is a short interlude which sounds incredibly lonesome and thoughtful. It is also one of the few tracks of the album which is not a perfect length and could have been given a little bit more time, but it is always best to leave the audience wanting more. Ending the album is Dors Mon gâs which sounds like a lullaby with an added sense of unease to part of the music, some of the piano sounds sinister in places as if there is a deliberate part of the song which is showing the world that something still needs to be discussed or resolved. It ends the album on a thought provoking number and still keeps my interest going on this album.
I might not be able to speak the same language as Bachar Mar-Khalifé or have shared life experiences as this man has been forced to live through, but this album is a work which is something that has introduced me to his world. It is also an album that is still evolving in my mind and with each listen it takes a new form in my mind’s eye, with each spin of the record I am finding notes and passages that do not need words to gain a reaction from me. I do hope that one day I get to read a translation of the words, I would never want to hear them in another language as they sound beautiful as they are now; this album truly moves me and it is another great record from 2015.
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart
Top track - Lemon
You can purchase Ya Balad on Amazon here
You can visit the Bachar Mar-Khalifé artist page on InFiné Records here
You can follow the activities of Bachar Mar-Khalifé on Facebook here
You can stream Ya Balad on Spotify here
You can stream Ya Balad on Deezer here
You can stream Ya Balad on Tidal here