Sunday, November 10, 2013

Umm Kulthum: “The Lady”

It has been said that Arabic is a language of poetry. The fluidity and blurring of lines between the real and surreal provided by spoken word are a form of art, greatly revered and respected in the Islamic and cultural Arabic tradition. For much of the Arab world, the magic of western masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, pale in comparison to the magic of poetic words on the tongue of an enchanting voice.

Umm Kulthum is the epitome of this artform. Her voice has captured generations since she first began singing to Egyptian audiences in the 1930’s. She is remembered with great love and nostalgia by practically all of the Arab world, not just for her beautiful voice and impeccable pronunciation, but her ability to combine poetry, music, and emotion.

 In every Umm Kulthum song, one can her the artist pour herself into each note, each tone, and melody completely. Her emotion comes through tangibly and powerfully with each word. The NPR article below captures the indescribable power that her words have over the audience, even through a recording. For forty years her recordings captured audiences from across the Arab world for hours at a time, completely lost in the magic of her voice and presentation of carefully selected lyrics. While American families would sit gathered around the radio to listen to comedy broadcasts and jazz, Arab families sat for hours, enchanted by the poetry and resonance of Umm Kulthum’s iconic voice. It would not be an exaggeration to name her the single most important figures of Arabic music, possibly even Arabic art.

Without Kulthum’s contribution to the development of the modern Arab music style and entertainment, Cairo would possibly never gained the reputation of being the “Hollywood of the Middle East.” Her style, poetry, passion and decades –long devotion to performing is inherent in any discussion of the Arab arts, and any such discussion would be incomplete without acknowledging her contributions to modern non-Western music.

Supplemental Information and Articles :

This article gives a nice detailing of Umm Kulthum’s life and long lasting career as a performer. The last few paragraphs especially highlight the dedication with which Umm Kulthum devoted her life to music and entertainment.

This is an opinion piece on the NPR music website which I believe gives good insight into the significance of Umm Kulthum and her music to the Arab world. It gives some background on the great Egyptian singer, but mostly I appreciate the way the author unveils the mystic-like appeal of Umm Kulthum and her legendary voice. It illustrates nicely the great nostalgia and love with which Arabs remember the beloved singer.

This article describes again, the dedication of fans to Umm Kulthum and her iconic reputation in the Arab world. By explaining the incredible presence at her funeral, the readers get an image of the passionate love that Umm Kulthum’s audiences had for the beloved artist.