Tony Khalife
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Tony Khalife

Gilroy, California, United States

Gilroy, California, United States
Band Rock Classic Rock

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As a comeback story? A little-guy-makes good story? A boy meets world story? A war story? Tony is all of these, the boy soldier from Beirut,, Lebanon who grew up to become the peaceful, loving singer-songwriter, who held a rifle before he held a guitar, who spent his teen years dodging snipers, who saw his mother beaten nearly to death, his community exiled, his classmates killed, his world destroyed. Through the maelstrom of a bloody, fractional Civil War, Tony Khalife are the sounds of his grateful soul.

Tony recalls coming home when he was 11 to find his mother beaten by militiamen, his father gathering the family - Tony was the youngest of four siblings - to escape from West Beirut to East Beirut, taking refuge into a tenement exposed to enemy fire. Tony was conscripted into the militia, trained in the use of weapons, and every night would make his way to the front lines where he would exchange fire with those positions. "I was a boy." says Tony, "and engaging in real, live gun fire, I didn't know better."

Meanwhile, he had also discovered his instrument. He and his older. Rother pooled their lira to buy a nylon-stringed Hondo guitar. Tony never took a lesson, but the FM stations in Beirut were playing western music, and Tony would copy Beatles songs on his guitar, picking out chords by ear. "I would literally come home from spending all night at the demarcation line, with fellow child soldiers getting killed around me, and sit my guitar for six or seven hours. Music became the only sanity I had."

The family spent it's evenings in the basement bomb shelter, amid cigarette smoke and candle light, with no electricity and no water. Tony sat Tony sat by himself in a corner, strumming his guitar.

Tony describes that feeling, of teaching himself and playing by himself, as being almost like "discovering music by myself' like I had to invent it, to soothe myself, to myself," He recall stringing his rifle with rubber bands and strumming while he sat in trenches, making what he calls a "drone that sounded like a berimbau. it kept me awake, alert."

He couldn't play soccer outside, he did't go to school, he was shot twice twice before he was 16, he survived. "All I had was that guitar." Tony's music is a reaction to those experiences - the brutality of war, the loss of innocence, the senselessness of that violence. It is what gives his music, and the new album Book of Changes, it's steady, soothing, unrelenting power. His dazzling guitar playing - his sound is unique, with just barest hint of his Arabic roots.

But this not, no half-baked pastiche of East and West, but rather concise and direct song writing in the tradition of James Taylor or Joni Mitchel. These are songs of surprising chord changes, steady, minor key melodies and hypnotic lyrical ambition; all of it underpinned by Tony's soulful tenor voice. It is hard to do justice to that voice, for it bears the pathos of Tony's lost childhood and the joy of his triumph over that sadness with every breath.

Book of Changes is the culmination of a life's journey from pain to healing, from suffering to joy. The song are artful explorations of that journey, from love to despair to comedy to transcendence, all told from a knowing yet never cynical place. Perhaps Tony had to live through all he did to create these unique songs.

It is Tony's lament, occasionally, that his music is not celebratory; he is wrong for his music is the celebration of what matters most; will, survival, love. His voice is pure and warm because of what he has seen and felt. It is not the voice of pain, but of triumph over pain, of seeing and experiencing evil up close, and having the strength to reject his worst and embrace his best.

After teaching himself guitar, Tony had begun playing for a local band The Marvels, and was even named Best Guitarist in Lebanon. "Because I was pretty much the only guitarist in Lebanon, "Tony jokes. There was no mail into Lebanon, but through a bandmate who had connections with Air France, he borrowed French and American music magazines where he first saw an advertisement for Guitar Institiute in Los Angles.

He gained. Admission, his father scraped together a few thousand dollars for Tony to travel, and at age 20 he fled Beirut. In the trunk of a Mercedes180, his forehead banging against an internal spring so that by the time his godfather had managed to get through the 15 check points from East Beirut to the airport, he had blood dripping from his forehead. Tony would leave Beirut literally with blood on his hands.

At so many stages of his journey, on the front ,ins running those roadblocks, dodging sniper bullets, Tony could have been taken from us. That great personal tragedy would also have been our loss, for we would have never heard these powerful songs. - Karl Taro Greenfeld


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Currently at a loss for words...