Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Music: Umm Kulthum

It took me forever to rinse out all the leftover baby oil from that Jad Shwery post last week. I opened the windows to let the stale cologne and cigar smoke out and I turned over the seat cushions. Now I think we could do with a little palate-cleanser. This is a fragment of a performance of Howwa Sahih by the great Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum from a documentary about her life and work. I am posting this excerpt, instead of a complete song because a) I think the documentary bit on Arab music (which I know virtually nothing about) is really interesting and b) Umm Kulthum is Tearing. It. Up.

Seriously. She is like Aretha Franklin + Pavarotti x My Grandmother.

A glance, and I... I thought it was a greeting... it passed so quickly

I love how confident she is. She has her audience right here ::taps palm::
Even in the midst of this heart wrenching lyric she is smiling and flirting with her audience, simultaneously portraying and embodying the longing of the lyric. Bending and elongating the moment until they cannot help but scream and applaud.

And then she throws back her head and laughs.

The next time I feel terrified and inadequate onstage I will remember this performance.

Kulthuum was a fascinating figure, a politically and socially powerful woman and beloved star during a period when female performers were looked down upon in the Arab world. Undoubtedly, a full post on her would be better than just this little taste. But this is what we are working with today. So listen up while I dump the rest of Jad Shwery's trash... anyone know if you can recycle Botox needles?


  1. I Love Umm Kulthuum. She has such an amazing and powerful voice. It's awesome how she would engage the audience.

    You should check out Dhaffer Youssef. He's a Tunisian musician and does some interesting things with his voice.

  2. I like Umm Kulthum, but I am more of a Fayrouz person myself. She doesnt have the confidence of Umm Kulthum, something about her voice, the ways she sings, even her life story makes me sympathetic to her.

    My wife is Arab, but she doesnt listen to Arabic music that much. I listen to it more than she does.

    Marcel Khalife is my favourite Arabic singer bar none.

  3. That's funny... I almost posted a Fayruz video but I stumbled across this clip and decided to post it instead. I agree that she is amazing.

    I'll check out Dhaffer Youssef too.