Oum Kalthoum

Oum Kalthoum

Umm Kulthum, born on December 31, 1898 in Al Senbellawein and died on February 3, 1975. She was an Egyptian singer, songwriter, and an actress

She is known as "the Star of the East". 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.

At a young age, she showed exceptional singing talents. Her father, an Imam, taught her to recite the Qur'an, and she is said to have memorized the entire Qur'an. When she was 12 years old, her father disguised her as a young boy and entered her in a small performing troupe that he directed. At the age of 16 she was noticed by Abu El-Ala Mohamed, a modestly famous singer, and by the famous oudist Zakaria Ahmed who asked her to accompany them to Cairo. However, she waited until 1923 before accepting the invitation.

Throughout her life Oum Kalthoum's conservative values aroused a humble personality.

At this point in her career, she was introduced to the famous poet Ahmad Rami, who wrote 137 songs for her. Furthermore, she was introduced to the renowned lute virtuoso and composer Mohamed El Kasabji. El Kasabji introduced Oumm Koulthoum to the Arabian Theatre Palace, where she would experience her first real public success. In 1932, her fame increased to the point where she embarked upon a large tour of the Middle East, touring 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. Nasser did not hide his admiration for her. 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.

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 two or three songs over a period of three to six hours. In the late 1960s, due to her age, she began to shorten her performances to two songs over a period of two and a half to three hours. She has performed all over the Middle East, as well as performing in the best concert halls and opera houses in France, Russia, and Pakistan.

The duration of Oumm Koulthoum's songs in performance was not fixed, but varied based on the level of emotive interaction between the singer and her audience. A typical improvisatory 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 to bring her audiences into a euphoric and ecstatic state, and was considered to "have never sung a line the same way twice". Thus, the official recorded length of a song such as Enta Omri (You Are My Life) is approximately 60 minutes.

In parallel to her singing career, Umm Kulthum at one point pursued an acting career starring in six films; however, she quickly gave it up because of the lack of personal and emotional contact with the audience

In 1967, Umm Kulthum was diagnosed with a severe case of nephritis. She gave her last concert at the Palace of the Nile in 1973. Tests at that time indicated that her illness was incurable. She moved to the United States, where she benefited for some time from the advanced medical technology, but in 1975, upon re-entering her home country, she required hospitalisation due to declining health. Umm Kulthum died in a Cairo hospital on February 3, 1975.

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 favorite, before later releasing it for burial.

Umm Kulthum is remembered in the Arab world as one of the greatest singers and musicians who have ever lived. It is hard to accurately measure her vocal range at its peak, since most of her songs were recorded live. It is known that she had the ability to sing as low as the second octave, as well as the ability to sing as high as between the seventh and the eighth octave at her vocal peak—yet she also could easily sing over a range surpassing two octaves near the end of her career. Her unparalleled vocal strength, and her mastery of singing the Arabic maqamat, arguably make her the most incomparable voice of all time. Even today, she has retained a near mythical status amongst young Arabs.

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