Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Umm Kulthum (Arabic: أم كلثوم other English spellings include: Oum Kalsoum, Oum Kalthum, Omm Kolsoum, Umm Kolthoum) (c. 4 May 1904 - 3 February 1975) was an Egyptian singer and musician. One of the best known and most beloved of all singers in the Arab world, her albums still outsell many others in the Arabic language.
Umm Kulthum was born in Tamay-az-Zahayra, Ad Daqahliyah; her exact date of birth is unknown, although it was likely the fourth of May. At a young age, she showed exceptional singing talents - so much so that her father taught her to chant the Qur'an, and at the age of 12, disguised her as a young boy and entered her in a small performing troupe that he directed. Four years later, she was noticed by a modestly famous singer (Abou El Ala Mohamed) and by a famous lutist, Zakaria Ahmed , and was asked to accompany them to Cairo, however she waited until she was 23 before taking up the invitation - and even then continued to perform as a boy in several small theatres. In Cairo she carefully avoided succumbing to the attractions of a bohemian, 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.
Around that time, she had two very significant meetings. The first of these was with Ahmed Rami , a poet who would write 137 songs for Umm Kulthum, and would introduce her to the French literature he learned at the Sorbonne. The other meeting was with Mohamed El Kasabji , a lute virtuoso who 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, taking in such cities as Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut, and Tripoli.
By 1948 her fame had come to the attention of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who later became the President of Egypt. Nasser did not hide his admiration for her, and as a patriot Umm Kulthum herself supported his ideas of Arab nationalism. This relationship contributed to her later phenomenal popularity across the Arab world - although some claim that it was more a case of Kulthum's popularity assisting Nasser; his speeches and other government messages were frequently broadcast immediately after Kulthum's monthly radio concerts, which occurred on the first Tuesday of every month, and which 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, which deal mostly with the universal themes of love, longing and loss 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 - usually at least 6 hours long -and frequently longer. The songs themselves are in some ways reminiscent of western opera, consisting of short orchestral interludes interspersed among long vocal passages.
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 Kulthum technique 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.
In parallel to her singing career, Umm Kulthum at one point pursued an acting career - but quickly gave it up because of the lack of personal and emotional contact with the audience. In 1953, she married a man whom she respected and admired, Hassen El Hafnaoui , who had practised medicine for many years, taking care to include a clause that would allow her to initiate a divorce if necessary. The couple had no children, and some commentators have controversially suggested that it may have been a sham marriage to disguise Kulthum's same-sex interests - although no proof of this has ever been produced. The fact that Kulthum also had an intense personal relationship with one of the uncles of King Farouk in the 1940s also seems to belie the claim; the singer was reportedly devastated when the king forbad 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 at the hospital in Cairo on February 3.
Her funeral was attended by over 4 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. 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.
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
- Enta Omri - English lyrics and short mp3 excerpts of original recording of one of Umm Kulthum's best known songs.
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