Saturday, August 18, 2007

Um Khalsoum of Egypt (1904-1975): A Musical Voice for Unity and National Culture

About Oum Kalsoum :

Umm Kulthum

Umm Kulthum (Arabic: ?? ????? other English spellings include: Om Kalthoum, Oum Kalsoum, Oum Kalthum, Omm Kolsoum, Umm Kolthoum, Um Kalthoom) (c. May 4, 1904 – February 3, 1975) was an Egyptian singer and Musician.

More than three decades after her Death, she is still recognized as "the Arab world's most famous and distinguished singer of the 20th Century."Umm Kulthoum - profile by the Egypt State Information Service

Early life
Umm Kulthum was born in Tamay-az-Zahayra, Ad Daqahliyah Governorate, Egypt. Her exact date of birth is unknown, although it was likely to be the fourth of May. At a young age, she showed exceptional singing talents. Her father, an Imam, taught her to recite the Qur'an. She is said to have memorized the entire Qur'an. At the age of twelve, her father disguised her as a young boy and entered her in a small performing troupe that he directed. At the age of Sixteen she was noticed by Abu El-Ala Mohamed, a modestly famous singer, and by the famous lutist, Zakaria Ahmed who asked her to accompany Them to Cairo. However, she waited until 1923, before taking up the invitation.

In Cairo, she carefully avoided succumbing to the attractions of the Bohemian lifestyle, and indeed throughout her life stressed her pride in her humble origins and espousal of conservative values. She also maintained a tightly-managed public image, and this undoubtedly added to her Allure.

At this point, she was Introduced to the famous Poet, Ahmed Rami, who would write 137 songs for her. Rami also Introduced her to French Literature, which he greatly admired from his studies at the Sorbonne, Paris. Furthermore, she was Introduced to the renowned lute virtuoso and Composer, Mohamed El Kasabji. El Kasabji Introduced Umm Kulthum to the Arabian Theatre Palace, where she would experience her first real public success. In 1932, she became famous enough to begin a large tour of the Middle East, touring such cities as Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut, and Tripoli.

By 1948, her fame had come to the attention of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who would later become the President of Egypt. At one point, the Egyptian Musicians guild she was a part of, rejected her since she had sung for the then deposed king. Nasser did not hide his admiration for her.

When he Discovered that she had no longer been Allowed to sing, he reportedly said something to the effect of, "What are they? Crazy? Do you want Egypt to turn against us?"Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt. Dir. Michal Goldman. Narr.Omar Sharif. 1996. VHS. Arab Film Distribution, 1996. It was his favor that made the Musicians guild Accept her back into the fold. In addition, as a patriot and nationalist, Umm Kulthum strongly supported Nasser?s ideas of Arab Nationalism. Their relationship contributed to her later phenomenal popularity across the Arab World. However, some claim that it was more a case of Umm Kulthum's popularity assisting Nasser?s political agenda.

For example, Nasser?s speeches and other government messages were frequently Broadcast immediately after Umm Kulthum's monthly Radio Concerts. In addition to the fact that Umm Kulthum has always been known for her continous contributions to charity works for the Egyptian millitary efforts ever since the 1948 Palestine war and later during the Egyptian-Israili wars. Umm Kulthum?s monthly Concerts took place on the first Thursday of every month, and were renowned for their ability to clear The Streets of some of the world's most populous cities, as people Rushed home to tune in.

Her songs deal mostly with the universal Themes of Love, longing, and loss. They are nothing short of epic in scale, with durations measured in hours Rather than minutes. A typical Umm Kulthum Concert consisted of the performance of a single song over a period of six or more hours. These performances are in some ways reminiscent of Western Opera, consisting of long vocal passages linked by shorter Orchestral interludes.

The duration of Umm Kulthum's songs in performance was not fixed, but varied based on the level of emotive interaction between the singer and her audience. A typical technique of hers was to repeat a single phrase or sentence of a song's lyrics over and over, subtly altering the emotive emphasis and intensity each time. Thus, while the official recorded length of a song such as Enta Omri (You Are My Life) is approximately 40 minutes, in Live performance this could extend to many hours due to the singer and her audience feeding off each other's emotional energy. This intense, highly personalised creative relationship, was undoubtedly one of the reasons for Umm Kulthum's tremendous success as an artist.

Acting & Marriage
In parallel to her singing career, Umm Kulthum at one point pursued an acting career; however, she quickly gave it up because of the lack of personal and emotional contact with the audience. In 1953, she married a medical doctor named Hassen El Hafnaoui, taking care to include a clause that would Allow her to initiate a divorce if necessary. The Couple had no children. Umm Kulthum also had an intense personal relationship with one of the uncles of King Farouk in the 1940s; the singer was reportedly devastated when the king forbade their planned marriage.

In 1967, she was diagnosed with a severe case of nephritis. Umm Kulthum gave her last Concert at the Palace of the Nile in 1972. Tests at that time indicated that her illness was inoperable. She moved to the United States, where she benefited for some time from the advanced medical technology, but in 1975, while re-entering her home country, her hospitalisation was necessitated due to declining health. Umm Kulthum died in a Cairo hospital on February 3, 1975.

Her funeral was attended by over four million mourners – one of the largest gatherings in history – and descended into pandemonium when the crowd seized Control of her coffin and carried it to a mosque that they considered her favourite, before later releasing it for burial.

Umm Kulthum has been a significant influence on a number of Musicians, both in the Arab world and beyond. Among others, Jah Wobble has claimed her as a significant influence on his work. Bob Dylan is also known to be an admirer of Kulthum's music. One of her best known songs, Enta Omri, has been the basis of many reinterpretations, including one 2005 collaborative project involving Israeli and Egyptian artists.

Umm Kulthum is remembered in the Arab world as one of the greatest singers who ever Lived. She has attained a near mythical status, even to this day, among young Arabs. She is also notably popular in Israel among Jews and Arabs alike.

In 2001, the government of Egypt opened the Kawkab al-Sharq (Star of the East) Museum in the singer's memory. Housed in a pavilion on the grounds of Cairo's Manesterly Palace, the collection includes a Range of her personal possessions, including her trademark sunglasses and scarves, along with photographs, recordings, and other archival material.Rakha, Youssef and El-Aref, Nevine, "Umm Kulthoum superstar", Al-Ahram Weekly, December 27, 2001 - January 2, 2002.

Records and Discography:

Amal Hayati – Sono

Enta Omri – Sono

Fat el Mead – Sono Cairo

Hagartek – EMI

Retrospective – Artists Arabes Associes

The Classics – CD, EMI Arabia, 2001

La Diva – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998

La Diva II – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998

La Diva III – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998

La Diva IV – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998

La Diva V – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998

Alif leila wa leila

Sirat el houb

Arouh li meen

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