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.”


Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series

Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series

Saudi tenor Marwan Fagi kicks off Abu Dhabi Festival’s Ramadan series

DUBAI: The 18th edition of the Abu Dhabi Festival (ADF), themed “The Future Starts Now,” kicked off on Tuesday, and to celebrate the launch of its Ramadan series, Saudi singer Marwan Fagi opened up the event with a virtual performance. 

The singer, who hails from Makkah, performed “Ateehu Fika” (Lost in You), a song he composed based on a poem by Lebanese poet Nada El-Hage, with music by Saudi musician Rami Basahih.

Composer, soprano and academic Hiba Al-Kawas produced and conducted the show and mentored Fagi, weaving together the singer’s natural high tones and soothing low tones. 

Fagi was accompanied by members of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance was streamed online on ADF’s digital platforms.

Members of the orchestra recorded the melody in the National Museum of Lebanon in Beirut, while Fagi recorded his voice in Al-Tayebat International City of Science and Knowledge, an Islamic heritage museum in Jeddah.

Fagi said in a released statement: “Being part of Abu Dhabi Festival is a great opportunity for me, given its cultural status on local, regional and global levels and its unique multicultural message of acceptance and openness, which positively serves the music industry in the Arab world. My current experience with ADF is unique and special because it is liberating from all traditional musical restrictions.”

The Ramadan series, titled “Human Fraternity: Dignity and Hope,” includes digital performances of over 25 songs and chants by Arab vocalists and creators, written by 11 poets and writers and performed by eight chanters and singers who are accompanied by 60 musicians.


‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan

‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan
‘Promising Young Woman’ has been nominated for a number of Oscars. Supplied
Updated 21 April 2021

‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan

‘Promising Young Woman:’ A mesmeric, Oscar-tipped performance by Carey Mulligan

CHENNAI: Director Emerald Fennell’s debut feature “Promising Young Woman” is in the Academy Awards race in a multitude of categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Penned by Fennell herself, it is Carey Mulligan’s work all the way, and she gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Ohio-based Cassandra Thomas.

A medical school dropout, Cassandra is 30 with no boyfriend and no real friends, much to the anxiety of her doting parents. Of course, there is a reason for this. Years ago, her med-school classmate. Al Monroe (Chris Lowell), sexually assaulted her best friend, Nina Fisher. A corrupt lawyer and the school’s uncaring administration let Monroe off and left him not feeling the faintest sense of remorse. Cassandra, a promising student, dropped out and withdrew from social life.

Against this backdrop, which is gradually revealed in the nearly two-hour movie, we watch Cassandra make a weekly trip to a bar until a “friendly” male attempts to take advantage of her inebriated state, before she reveals she is in perfect control of her faculties, having pretended to be tipsy to lull predators into a false sense of security.

The plot is extremely gripping. We watch with trepidation as Cassandra challenges men, who on the surface seem so jovial, friendly and highbrow — the ultimate “nice guys” — until the moment of reckoning, when they fail to do the right thing.

Director Emerald Fennell’s debut feature “Promising Young Woman” is in the Academy Awards race in a multitude of categories. Supplied

Cassandra’s life of solitude is upended, however, when she re-connects with Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham), an old classmate who finds a chink in her armor. The pair does have genuine chemistry — enough for a whole film on them.

“Promising Young Woman” is not about their romance, however. It is about Cassandra, it is about Mulligan, and audiences will be amazed to see her comic side in a film on such dark subject matter — it is a mesmeric performance.

The soundtrack is moody and meaningful — songs like “It’s Rainin’ Men” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” fill the air, as well as Paris Hilton’s cheery pop numbers that are foot-tapping but jarring.


UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards

UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards
Updated 21 April 2021

UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards

UK actress Jameela Jamil to host 2021 Webby Awards

DUBAI: British actress Jameela Jamil, who is of Indian-Pakistani decent, is set to host the 25th edition of the Webby Awards, organizers announced this week. 

The event will be held virtually and winners will be announced on May 18. 

South Korean band BTS, US singer-songwriter Billie Eilish and rapper Cardi B are among a long list of nominees for the 2021 Webby Awards. 

The nominations also include Trevor Noah, Jennifer Garner, Kevin Bacon, Shaquille O'Neal, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Lawrence, James Corden, LeBron James, Stephen Colbert, Chris Evans, John Mayer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

The awards show, which was founded in 1996, celebrates excellence on the Internet, including websites, media and public relations, advertising, video, apps, mobile and voice, social, podcasts and games.


From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label
Updated 21 April 2021

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

From Cairo to Barcelona, jewelry guru reflects on his family’s almost 100-year-old label

DUBAI: A Cairo-born jewelry brand that has been running since 1923 must have quite a story to tell, with plenty of insight for up-and-coming designers to learn from.

Egyptian label El Baz Jewelry is a family business that has been on the market for almost a century, fueled by its evolving artistic vision and mastery of the complex art of jewelry making. 

Youssef El-Baz, one of the owners of the brand, spoke with Arab News about how jewelry design in the region has changed over the past 100 years and why he believes El Baz has endured, as well as the launch of his own brands, one of which he kickstarted in Barcelona. 

“In the past, people were keen on buying jewelry that… was chosen based on the material and the resale value, with little attention to the design,” said El-Baz.

“Today… the customers who want to buy jewelry are (more interested in) the design (rather) than the material,” he added.

However, the designer, who founded two other labels – Grace Jewelry and B Jewelry – believes some things in the industry will never change. 

“I believe what will never change about jewelry is the sentimental value it holds, like inheritance and the idea of passing on jewelry through generations,” he said.  “People hold their loved ones forever (by) wearing and keeping their (designs).”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Grace. (@graceyourjewelry)

When it comes to the brand’s longevity, El-Baz shared his thoughts on why the label has lasted.

“In jewelry, people are always looking for authenticity or people are always looking for high quality, because they are buying something precious … and taste for sure. If the brand is not developing and adapting to the different tastes that change during the years it will die out,” explained El-Baz.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Grace. (@graceyourjewelry)

On that note, in 2019, El-Baz launched his own brand, B Jewelry, during a spell in Barcelona and quickly followed it up with the launch of Grace Jewelry in 2020.

“I wanted to create a jewelry brand that was socially responsible. I felt like Grace can be the beginning of a change in an industry where people start brands that are environmentally aware through their designs, manufacturing and packaging.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by B Jewelry (@bjewelryworld)

El-Baz got the inspiration to open the Cairo-based label Grace when he was in Milan.

“We have a complete collection called For A Better Tomorrow, (where) every design is dedicated toward a good cause. We donate 10 percent of the sales toward a good cause.” 

El-Baz ships worldwide for all three brands. 


Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini
Syrian refugees and swimmers Yusra and Sarah Mardini pose for photographers with the trophy at the Bambi awards on Nov 17, 2016 in Berlin. AFP
Updated 21 April 2021

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

Netflix working on film about Syrian refugees-turned-sports stars Sarah, Yusra Mardini

DUBAI: Netflix has announced that it has teamed up with Egyptian-Welsh director and screenwriter Sally El-Hosaini on a new film titled “The Swimmers,” based on the true story of Syrian refugees-turned-Olympians Sarah and Yusra Mardini.

The film tells the story of the two sisters and competitive swimmers and their miraculous journey as refugees from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Yusra competed as a swimmer as part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROT).

Lebanese actresses, and real-life sisters, Manal and Nathalie Issa will portray Yusra and Sarah Mardini in the upcoming movie.

They will be joined by Arab-Israeli actor Ali Suliman, Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek, Syrian actress Kinda Alloush and “The Good Karma Hospital” star James Krishna Floyd, who starred in El-Hosaini’s last film “My Brother the Devil,” which won the World Cinema Cinematography at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.  

Rounding out the cast are German actor Matthias Schweighöfer and YouTube star Elmi Rashid Elmi.

The forthcoming film will be produced by Working Title’s Eric and Tim Bevan, Ali Jaafar and Tim Cole. Stephen Daldry is the executive producer.

“The Swimmers” is set to begin production this week, shooting in the UK, Turkey and Belgium.

It is slated for global release on Netflix in 2022.