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Umm Kalthoum: Legend of the East

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Umm Kalthoum (Arabic: ?? ?????) (1904—1975), an Egyptian singer and musician, was the most famous singer in the Arab world in 20th century.

Umm Kalthoum (Arabic: ?? ?????) (1904–1975), an Egyptian singer and musician, was the most famous singer in the Arab world in 20th century. She was born to a modest family in one of Egypt’s villages, Senbellawein, Dakahlia Governorate, Egypt. She was influenced by her father, an imam (Koran reader), who taught her the instruction of Islam as well as trained her to recite it perfectly. Umm Kalthoum singing talent appeared at a very young age. When she was twelve years old, she had the chance to sing in public, and at the age of sixteen she was recognized by a famous singer, who invited her to go to Cairo, where her talent could be explored and appreciated.

In 1923, Umm Kalthoum went to Cairo, where she was invited to the house of Amin Al-Mahdy, who taught her how to play the oud (an Arabic musical instrument). Al-Mahdy introduced Umm Kalthoum to the cultural and intellectual circles in Cairo, specifically the late famous poet Ahmad Rami, who wrote 137 songs for her. Rami played an important role in developing the career of Umm Klthoum, where he introduced her to the French literature, which he greatly admired from his studies at the Sorbonne, Paris and later he became her mentor in Arabic literature. Umm Kalthoum was also introduced to many of therenowned composers in Egypt, who shared the production of many songs to her.

Umm Kalthoum at a concert for King Farouk

In 1932, Umm Kalthoum gained fame and she went in a large tour around the Arab world. Umm Kalthoum’s songs dealt mostly with the universal themes of love, longing and loss. In one concert, Umm Kalthoum used to perform two or three songs in three to six hours and later she reduced the time to two and a half to three hours. There was no fixed time for her performance, as it was based on the level of emotional interaction between her and the audience. Umm Kalthoum had an extraordinary vocal range, where she was able to sing as low as the second octave, and as high as the eighth octaves. Her vocal cords were also able to produce about 14,000 vibrations per second. This unparalleled vocal strength forced her to stand at a one to three meters away from the microphone.

Umm Kalthoum performed about 280 songs on various themes including, love, patriotism, nature, and religion as well as songs for specific events. Umm Kalthoum’s voice reached many parts of the world, including the Arab countries as well as non-Arabic speaker countries. One of her best songs is Al-Atlal (the Ruins), written by the poet Ibrahim Nagy, and composed by Al-Sombati in 1966. This song can be considered as Umm Kalthoum’s last example of genuine Arabic music, as she started to accept pieces influenced by western music.

In her life, Umm Kalthoum enjoyed a great wealth, fame, and power. She lived in a nice villa overlooking the Nile River in Zamalek, one of the most distinguished suburbs in Cairo. Umm Kalthoum showed a social and national responsibility. She supported the Arabic music and musicians and established a charitable foundation. In addition, after the Egyptian defeat in the 1967 war, Umm Kalthoum began a series of domestic and international concerts and contributed the revenue to the Egyptian government.

President Gamal Abdel-Naser was a fan and a friend of Umm Kalthoum

Umm Kalthoum and Sheikh Zayed, President of the United Arab Emirates

After her return back to Egypt, she suffered illness and on 3rd February 1975, Umm Kalthoum died in Cairo. Her funeral was attended by over four million mourners, one of the largest gatherings in history. Although Umm Kalthoum died over three decades ago, her allure and fame have never died away and her songs still affect and attract millions of people. After her death, Umm Kalthoum’s villa was demolished and a high-rise building was built on its site. In her commemoration, a statue was put up in front of the building, which was named after her. In December 2001, a museum was built to exhibit all her precious belongings. There is no doubt that Umm Kalthoum occupies a remarkable position in 20th century Oriental songs.

Umm Kalthoum’s performance dresses

Umm Kalthoum own Oud: a musical instrument and nine-row pearl necklace with multi-coloured enamel and white stone details

Umm Kalthoum Museum Statue

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umm_Kulthum

http://almashriq.hiof.no/egypt/700/780/umKoulthoum/

http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/umm.htm

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Abdel-moniem El-Shorbagy

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