Adib Alkhalidey, Not just for laughs
- © Jocelyn Michel
It’s possible you’ve already heard singer Adib Alkhalidey without knowing it, while on the metro or bus. “When I was in Cégep and we would party downtown at night, my friends would say, ‘Sing, Abid, sing!’ I’ve never had the courage to sing in public, but when seven of your best friends are insisting on it, you sing! And at the end, the entire bus clapped because I ended up singing La Valse à mille temps perfectly, somewhere on Saint-Denis.”
Music isn’t a recent passion for the comedian, who launched Les cœurs du malin November of 2020 under the elegant pseudonym Abelaïd, a first album in which the climactic emotional heights of French chansonand an almost old-fashioned poetic refinement are given new life through shadowy synthetic and vocal textures—at times bigger than life, at others just a whisper—from someone who can really roar.
“I would never say I’ve done everything there is to do in comedy, but there are emotions that humour doesn’t allow me to work with,” he explains when talking about the birth of his melancholic alter-ego. “I was afraid for a long time to accept that side of myself, to look at the ugly side of myself, revealed in my lyrics; the side I didn’t want to see. I was afraid to learn those things about myself!” says Adib, his laughter ringing out.
A passionate admirer of Léo Ferré and Jacques Brel, he summarizes his view of what music can accomplish not by talking about his own, but about La chanson des vieux amants, that classic tune “combining the beautiful and the ugly.” “I love it when a song gives me the impression that we’re all together in the same mess.” Once again his laughter rings loud.
Every time Adib Alkhalidey goes downtown, he never misses a visit to one major bookstore or another. “I have a kind of emotional link with big bookstores, because when I was in high school, I would often skip classes to go to a bookstore in a nearby shopping mall. I didn’t have the money to buy Harry Potter books, but I read them all when I was there! [big laugh] The employees never said anything.”
For this native Montrealer, downtown remains a melting pot of “magnificent contrasts.” “There’s all this beautiful chaos everywhere and suddenly, you go into the Fine Arts Museum! I can’t believe the clash that knowledge and culture can create with the surroundings. Outside the door, I was in the midst of the churning city, but by taking just a few steps forward, you enter this sanctuary.” Really, a sanctuary? “I say ‘sanctuary’ because at the Fine Arts Museum, I feel safe. It’s as if beauty itself had invited my soul to come back and visit.”
Since the beginning of his career at the start of the 2010s, Alkhalidey has of course had the opportunity to visit the back rooms of some of the biggest theatres in the city, and yet the experience has never become tired or dull, instead always retaining its air of mystery and majesty. “Place des Arts is a spot that always moves me every time. I can’t believe how beautiful it is. In the depths of my heart I feel lucky to be there,” he says with palpable gratitude.
And yet it’s the intimate surroundings of comedy club Le Bordel that tops his list of spaces, and where he prefers to laugh among his peers. “The first time I ever stepped foot in that place, I got this wave of emotion, I knew that it was a unique place that had been planned for the promotion of a particular kind of art. When you enter a museum, you know that the space has been carefully envisaged to house pictorial art, sculpture—Bordel was made for humour.”
He stops himself and pauses to think. “Don’t you find that it’s magical how there are all these places, all these halls, where people get together to express the same emotion in unison, whether it’s about laughter or tears? That’s what’s beautiful about art. It’s not art in itself. It’s the fact that there’s something that can bring people together.”
Adib Alkhalidey wrote the music and lyrics for his album, Les coeurs du mal.