Four decades on, the legacy of Umm Kulthum remains as strong as ever

Four decades on, the legacy of Umm Kulthum remains as strong as ever
Fans across the Arab world are this month marking 43 years since the death of the renowned Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. (Pixgood.com)
Updated 07 February 2018

Four decades on, the legacy of Umm Kulthum remains as strong as ever

Four decades on, the legacy of Umm Kulthum remains as strong as ever

CAIRO: Fans across the Arab world are this month marking 43 years since the death of the renowned Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum.
Known as the “Star of the Orient” and the “Grand dame of Arab singing,” Umm Kulthum was one of the greatest performers ever to emerge from the Arab world. But her fame went far beyond the Middle East and Arab culture.
The great opera diva Maria Callas called her “the incomparable voice.”
Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant and U2 frontman Bono were among the many Western musicians who admired Umm Kulthum.
The singer-songwriter and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan said of her, “She’s great, she really is. Really great.”
To Charles de Gaulle, the president of France, she was simply “the Lady.”
She was also popular in Israel with Jews and Arabs alike and in 2015 a street in Jerusalem was named after her.
Her 40-year career included starring in musical films during the golden age of Egyptian cinema and her monthly concerts broadcast from Cairo attracted huge audiences.
Since her death, her legacy as the essence of Egyptian and wider Arab culture has continued down the generations, giving her a near mythical status.

Early Life
Yet her origins were humble. She was born Fatima Ibrahim as-Sayyid Al-Biltagi into a poor family in Tammay Al-Zahayra in the Nile Delta. Her birthdate is uncertain and is variously given as Dec. 31, 1898 or May 4, 1904.
She was the youngest child of Sheik Ibrahim Al-Sayyid Al-Baltagi, the imam of a local mosque, and learned to sing by listening to her father teach her older brother. Her father taught her to recite the Qur’an and she is said to have memorized the entire holy book.
Her father also noticed her vocal talent and when she was 12, she joined the family ensemble performing at weddings and religious functions, but dressed as a boy to avoid public disapproval.

Moving to the city
After several trips to Cairo, in 1923 Umm Kulthum moved to the capital permanently where the well-known singer and composer Shaykh Abu Al-Aila Muhammad became her teacher and mentor.
It was not only her vibrant contralto voice that got her noticed. Umm Kulthum also wore traditional clothing, which earned her the nickname “the Bedouin.” Throughout her career she remained true to her humble rural origins.
She signed her first recording contract in 1926 and began to put together her own ensemble of musicians, or takht. As she mixed in Cairo’s cultural milieu, she met poets — most notably Ahmad Rami, who wrote the lyrics to 137 songs for her.
The virtuoso oud player and composer Mohamed El Qasabgi introduced to the Arabic Theatre Palace, where she had her first big success. In 1932, she embarked on her first major tour of the Middle East which took in Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut, Tunis and Tripoli, and in 1934, she sang at the inaugural broadcast of Radio Cairo

Legacy lives on
By the 1940s, Umm Kulthum was known as “the voice of Egypt,” through her radio broadcasts and regular concerts. She also performed privately for the Egyptian royal family and King Farouk I awarded her the Nissan El-Kamal, the nation’s highest order and one usually reserved for members of the royal family and politicians.
After the revolution of 1952, her friendship with the deposed king saw her ejected from the Egyptian musicians’ guild. When President Gamel Adel Nasser discovered Umm Kulthum songs were banned from the radio, he said, “What, are they crazy? Do you want Egypt to turn against us?” and insisted the musicians’ guild take her back.
He also took advantage of Umm Kultum’s fame, broadcasting his speeches immediately after her radio concerts. One of her songs, Wallahi Zaman, Ya Silahi (It’s Been a Long Time, O Weapon of Mine) was even adopted as Egypt’s national anthem from 1960 to1970 until President Anwar Sadat changed it to the less militant Bilady, Bilady, Bildady, which remains the national anthem today.
By 1975, Umm Kulthum’s health was of sufficient national concern to warrant daily updates in the Egyptian press. On February 3, 1975 she died of heart failure. She was 77.
Her funeral was a state occasion, with four million grief-stricken Egyptians lining the streets to catch a glimpse of her funeral cortege.
Her biographer Virginia Danielson summed her up thus: “Imagine a singer with the virtuosity of Joan Sutherland or Ella Fitzgerald, the public persona of Eleanor Roosevelt and the audience of Elvis and you have Umm Kulthum.”


Timeless craft of cane carving sees Saudi statement pieces go global

Visitors to Saudi Arabia are constantly on the hunt for souvenirs such as swords, or canes. (Photos/Supplied)
Visitors to Saudi Arabia are constantly on the hunt for souvenirs such as swords, or canes. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 22 June 2021

Timeless craft of cane carving sees Saudi statement pieces go global

Visitors to Saudi Arabia are constantly on the hunt for souvenirs such as swords, or canes. (Photos/Supplied)
  • Adel Al-Shehri turns handmade sidr pieces into online phenomenon using local talent, materials

MAKKAH: A young Saudi in the south of the Kingdom is bringing back the timeless craft of hand carving wooden canes with a new look to suit modern tastes, driving demand from Hajj pilgrims and online customers from around the world.

Walking canes have always been associated with the elderly and ill, and usually comprise simple designs that focus more on function rather than appearance.
That association has prompted Adel Al-Shehri to give the concept a new life by bringing back an old craft and turning canes into famous statement pieces used by Saudis.
Through his work, he can convey the cultural and historical essence of Saudi Arabia by engraving cultural designs on sidr wood.
Al-Shehri grew up in the southern mountain ranges of the Kingdom and uses the old indigenous tree to create unique intricately designed canes just as his forefathers once did.
The sidr tree, known as Christ’s thorn jujube, is an evergreen species that is a deep-rooted part of the culture. It can be used in medicine and also in the construction of canes and wooden objects found in many homes in the south of the Kingdom.

FASTFACT

The sidr tree, known as Christ’s thorn jujube, is an evergreen species that is a deep-rooted part of the culture. It can be used in medicine and also in the construction of canes and wooden objects found in many homes in the south of the Kingdom.

He told Arab News that he inherited from his ancestors a love of artifacts, such as shiny swords and jambiyas, a type of dagger with a curved blade. Growing up surrounded by architecture adorned in stones and wood, Al-Shehri said that he wanted to bring the rich history of design back using a product found right in his backyard.


“Visitors to Saudi Arabia are constantly on the hunt for souvenirs, swords, or canes. However, shipping swords is a real problem, because they are considered white weapons. Meanwhile, some items lose quality or are damaged during shipping. This is why I shifted my entire focus to making canes,” he added.
Al-Shehri said that while carrying out his Hajj pilgrimage, he used his cane as a “crutch,” engraving his name on it. Soon after, he decided to use the phrase “Made in Saudi Arabia” and focus on the Umrah and Hajj seasons to introduce the product as a souvenir that could be carried back home by pilgrims. Al-Shehri said that some Hajj institutions even reached out to give out his canes as gifts at the end of pilgrimage tours.

The canes I create are enough to stop importing canes that neither accentuate our identity nor highlight our intellectual and cultural message.

Adel Al-Shehri

He said that many people from across the world have requested their canes through Hajj institutions or on social media.
Most recently, he added, a German citizen requested four canes with different designs inspired by Saudi culture, but some customers request personalized canes or ones that are specifically customized to illustrate a memory.
Al-Shehri said that the canes he designs are delivered in handmade luxurious boxes that serve as a masterpiece to be displayed in a customer’s home. He described the cane as a “sign of prestige, warmth, and hospitality.”
The first thing that caught his attention as a child was how his family stores their ancient swords, guns, and jambiyas — all wrapped in ornate fabrics and stored in old boxes.

I inherited the love of artifacts from my ancestors.
Adel Al-Shehri

Al-Shehri had always wanted to put this heritage in the limelight and share it with other Saudi cities. The public’s broad praise of his initial work was the first building block in his dream toward producing his canes. He stressed that he often uses sidr wood for the canes because the diameter must be more than 40 centimeters.
For the wood fibers to grow, the sidr must also be dried for six months. “The handle is made from the core of sidr wood so that it could bear the grafting, which sometimes may reach a thousand grafts inside,” Al-Shehri said. With no educational experience, his drive to create such masterpieces taught him to push through and learn the craft with time and patience. “The manufacturing stages became an inspiration and taught me the ins and outs of this creative craftsmanship, which shaped the features of my personality and led me towards worlds of magic and beauty,” he said.
“I was first concerned with the metal lathe and mastering its unique way of manufacturing accessories and adding wood to them. I then focused on the element of touch and adding luster in the absence of real manufacturers in this field. I insisted on mastering the metal lathe myself so I would not have to depend on anyone else. My workshop, filled with nickel, chrome, stainless steel, and brass, along with the metal and wood lathes, became my best friend.
“I work for hours on end to meet the various requests, especially if a customer places an order for a special occasion with a tight deadline,” he added.
Al-Shehri said that what he and many other craftsmen in the Kingdom do promotes the Saudi culture and is a sign of pride in the Saudi identity. “The canes I create are enough to stop importing canes that neither accentuate our identity nor highlight our intellectual and cultural message.”


Courage at forefront of World Refugee Day mural

Courage at forefront of World Refugee Day mural
Updated 21 June 2021

Courage at forefront of World Refugee Day mural

Courage at forefront of World Refugee Day mural
  • Syrian artist Diala Brisly: “It’s very important to show solidarity among refugees”
  • “Courage is having fears, having all this worry, having all this trauma, and still having the energy to keep going”

LONDON: A refugee artist from Syria has created a unique piece of art that captures the spirit and courage of those fleeing war and poverty.
To mark World Refugee Day 2021, which was on Sunday, Diala Brisly created a mural with one key theme: The courage it takes to flee one’s home.
Commissioned by the International Rescue Committee, the piece depicts various people against a backdrop of a bombed city.
Now safe in France, Brisly said her work is about having the “energy to keep going through fear, trauma and upheaval.”
She added that the piece’s message — “refugees are courageous” — captures the essence of what it means to be forcibly uprooted.
“I really like the slogan because it shows strength, regardless of all the troubles that we’re going through,” she said.
The artwork depicts people of various ethnicities and identities, including children, and one man poignantly wearing a life jacket — a staple item of refugee migration across the Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere.
“It’s very important to show solidarity among refugees. I believe in solidarity between all people. When we have this struggle in common, and we understand each other’s pain, we’re able to help each other because we share similar experiences,” said Brisly
“The media puts the spotlight on refugees when they’re in the middle of the sea. But it’s very important to understand that the crisis didn’t start in the Mediterranean, it started before,” she added.
“For me, courage is having fears, having all this worry, having all this trauma, and still having the energy to keep going.”
During the revolution against the Assad regime, journalists shared Brisly’s artwork to supplement their reports.
But this exposure, she said, put her life in danger. She fled Syria via Turkey and ended up in France.
Now she uses her talent to create moving works that support the causes she believes in, and runs art therapy workshops for children affected by war.
According to the UN’s refugee agency, nearly 82.4 million people were uprooted in 2020, fleeing war, violence, persecution and human rights abuses.


Nasana wooden dolls: Preserving Saudi heritage through artisanship

Nasana wooden dolls: Preserving Saudi heritage through artisanship
Saudi designer Malak Masallati chooses to preserve the traditional costumes of her country through a collection of wooden dolls called Nasana. (Supplied)
Updated 19 June 2021

Nasana wooden dolls: Preserving Saudi heritage through artisanship

Nasana wooden dolls: Preserving Saudi heritage through artisanship
  • The collection was launched in November 2020 and is currently on display at the Assila Hotel in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Every culture has a special way to tell the story of its people. Saudi designer Malak Masallati chooses to preserve the traditional costumes of her country through a collection of wooden dolls called Nasana (which translates to “our people”).
“Nasana is there to highlight the diverse individuals of Saudi Arabia, with their different backgrounds, ages, stories, traditions, and customs,” Masallati told Arab News, adding that it also reflects the pride Saudis feel for their Kingdom.
The collection was launched in November 2020 and is currently on display at the Assila Hotel in Jeddah. It has previously been exhibited at Shara Art Fair by the Saudi Art Council.

Saudi designer Malak Masallati chooses to preserve the traditional costumes of her country through a collection of wooden dolls called Nasana. (Supplied)

It consists of 15 dolls, each representing a different region of Saudi Arabia. Each character has a name inspired by traditional names from each region, including Saud, Al-Joharah, Nourah, Sitah, Abdulaziz, Itra, Hajjar, Zahra, Haylah, Obaid, Saeed, Amnah, Fatou, Fouad, and Shifa.
“I believe that Saudi Arabia has a vast heritage yet to be discovered (by many). The younger generation possesses the knowledge and creativity that is required to (promote that heritage),” she said, citing the Saudi fashion brand Sleysla, with whom she has previously worked, as a good example.

HIGHLIGHTS

• ‘Nasana’ is a collection of 15 hand-painted wooden dolls representing the traditional costumes of different regions of Saudi Arabia.

• The collection is currently on display in Jeddah and the dolls are also available to buy.

• Most of the collection’s costumes are based on information found in the book ‘Traditional Costumes of Saudi Arabia’ by The Mansoojat Foundation.

Masallati, who has more than 15 years of experience in interior design and residential renovation, is the founder of Dar Malak, a makers’ space in Jeddah dedicated to producing other unique Saudi products. The Nasana collection was itself produced there. The dolls are hand-painted by emerging artists from different Saudi communities working in Dar Malak.
“The collection went through a long design process, trying different techniques with various materials such as paint, gesso, as well as gold and silver leafing,” Masallati explained.
The dolls are based on research carried out online and in the field. “(We) captured stories and researched the facts,” Masallati said. “We traveled to most of these areas and incorporated details we found in Abdul Raouf Khalil Museum in Jeddah, where they showcase beautiful traditional costumes.”
She also mentioned that “Traditional Costumes of Saudi Arabia” — a book produced by the Mansoojat Foundation Collection, a charity dedicated to the preservation of ethnic textiles and designs — was of invaluable assistance to the project.
The Nasana dolls — some of which stand 59 centimeters tall — are also on sale for between SR9,000 and SR11,000 ($2,400-2,933).
Masallati said she and her team intend to expand the collection in the future, and to work with art college graduates. They will also produce a new collection this year, she said.

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International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia
Updated 18 June 2021

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

International Sushi Day: Delicious spots to try in Saudi Arabia

In honor of International Sushi Day celebrated on June 18, here are six sushi spots to try in Saudi Arabia, rounded up by Arab News Japan.  

Chez Sushi

This modern and casual restaurant on Prince Saud Al-Faisal Road in Jeddah feature custom dishes such as a Japanese burrito and attractive lunch offers.

Oishii Sushi

Owner Khulood Olaqi turned this home-based online store into a fully-fledged restaurant where she is both a chef and manager. Cozy, warm and welcoming, Oishii Sushi is located in Riyadh.

Sushi Centro

Promising sushi that is “rolled to perfection,” the restaurant also provides traditional Japanese food that is rich in flavor and flair. Sushi Centro has two branches in Saudi Arabia, one in Jeddah in Centro Shaheen Hotel, and the other in Riyadh’s Centro Waha Hotel.

Nozomi

Nozomi’s menu is internationally renowned and award-winning, offering an unrivaled fine-dining experience on Riyadh’s Dabab Street.

Wakame

A hip restaurant that plays host to business meetings, gossip and fast-paced service at a dimly lit sushi bar, Wakame has three branches in Jeddah: In Ar Rawdah district, in Obhur and on Al-Malik Road.

Sushi Yoshi

A franchise with branches in Riyadh, Jeddah and Alkhobar where guests can enjoy anime with their sushi. 


Arab filmmakers Kaouther Ben Hania, Sameh Alaa join Cannes’ short film jury

Arab filmmakers Kaouther Ben Hania, Sameh Alaa join Cannes’ short film jury
Updated 18 June 2021

Arab filmmakers Kaouther Ben Hania, Sameh Alaa join Cannes’ short film jury

Arab filmmakers Kaouther Ben Hania, Sameh Alaa join Cannes’ short film jury

DUBAI: The Cannes Film Festival announced this week that Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania and Egyptian director Sameh Alaa will be part of the short film jury at the 74th edition of the event next month.

Other jury members include filmmakers Tuva Novotny from Sweden, Spain’s Carlos Muguiro, screenwriter Alice Winocour, and actor Nicolas Pariser, both from France.

Alaa’s movie, “I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face,” won the coveted Palme d’Or in the Cannes Film Festival’s short-film competition in October. (Supplied)

For this year’s festival, which runs from July 16 to 17, the selection committee has viewed 3,739 short films. The jury will be awarding one of the 10 movies selected for the competition, including flicks from Brazil, Denmark, China, France, Hong Kong, and Portugal.

Ben Hania has been making headlines in the film industry after her critically acclaimed movie, “The Man Who Sold His Skin,” was shortlisted for the Oscar’s international feature film award in February.

Meanwhile, Alaa’s movie, “I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face,” won the coveted Palme d’Or in the Cannes Film Festival’s short-film competition in October.