The enduring melodic magic of Umm Kulthum, Star of the Orient

The enduring melodic magic of Umm Kulthum, Star of the Orient
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Egyptian actress Umm Kulthum singing on Cairo’s Voice of Arabs radio show. (Getty Images)
The enduring melodic magic of Umm Kulthum, Star of the Orient
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The legendary Umm Kulthum during an interview in May 1970. This rare picture, along with four letters, were uncovered by Huda Al-Tabei, wife of the late Egyptian journalist Mohammed Al-Tabei, 24 years after his death. (AFP/Getty Images)
The enduring melodic magic of Umm Kulthum, Star of the Orient
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Umm Kulthum. This rare picture, along with four letters, were uncovered by Huda Al-Tabei, wife of the late Egyptian journalist Mohammed Al-Tabei, 24 years after his death. (AFP/Getty Images)
Updated 20 July 2018

The enduring melodic magic of Umm Kulthum, Star of the Orient

The enduring melodic magic of Umm Kulthum, Star of the Orient
  • She was blessed with great range and virtuosity, and had the ability to link musical improvisation with the lyrics she was singing
  • For the Lebanese singer Tania Saleh, who has been a lifelong fan of Umm Kulthum, the Egyptian icon represents more than just artistic greatness

DUBAI: When the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum took to the stage at Lebanon’s Baalbeck International Festival for the last time in 1970, she was at the end of a career that had enraptured the Arab world. Over the course of almost 50 years, her voice had captured the collective imagination, brought pleasure to millions, and become a powerful symbol of Arab nationalism.
Now, 48 years later, her music is to grace the festival’s stage once again, with this year’s program kicking off on Friday, July 20 with “Baalbeck Remembers Umm Kulthum,” a 90-minute homage to the ‘Star of the Orient.’
“Everything about Umm Kulthum stands out,” says the Egyptian composer and conductor Hisham Gabr, who is to lead the celebrations. “Her voice, her mastery, her ability to improvise, and the way that she uses this incredible array of nuances in her voice to express the tiniest and slightest details of the words that she’s singing. She reincarnates melody, reinvents it in so many ways that are quite stunning and amazing. And yet she never loses track of what those words mean and how she can convey and augment those meanings to her listeners.”
The music of Umm Kulthum was formed in what is now an unrecognizable era — a golden age of Arab musical endeavor epitomized by Umm Kulthum and other greats including Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Abdel Halim Hafez. She mesmerized audiences, singing songs such as “Enta Omri” and “Al Atlal” with such raw emotional power that they continue to hold sway over great swathes of the Arab world.
She was blessed with great range and virtuosity, and had the ability to link musical improvisation with the lyrics she was singing. During her live radio broadcasts, which traditionally took place on Thursday evenings, she would often sing the same melody in a variety of different ways, performing three or four songs over the course of a few hours and bringing cities to a standstill.
These songs covered universal themes of love, loss and desire, although it was her early religious training that enabled such immaculate and nuanced diction.
“I had a very distant admiration of Umm Kulthum and didn’t really connect to her and what she represents until later in life,” admits Gabr. “I was more of a normal Egyptian fan of Umm Kulthum who would listen to her in cafés and stuff like that.
“She didn’t become a part of my life until later on, when I started studying her work to orchestrate it. And I was completely blown away with my new finding — this Umm Kulthum and her music — and felt that she really talked to me, and talks about me. I think she owns her listeners in a way that no artist has ever achieved in their life.”
Despite his admiration for the singer, however, the fact that this year’s Baalbeck concert is happening at all is as much down to fate as anything else. As Gabr says, he “bumped into it” by chance, having met the festival’s deputy director, Maya Halabi, in China last November. Halabi told Gabr that the festival was looking to produce a tribute to Umm Kulthum, but in a way that had not been done before.
“I suggested that Umm Kulthum’s legacy has been dealt with in so many ways, but until today she has never been put into an orchestral form,” says Gabr. “Why don’t we try to do that?”
So they did. An array of talent has been assembled, including the Egyptian singers Mai Farouk and Marwa Nagy, and the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental-Arabic Music. They will perform two medleys of Umm Kulthum’s most famous songs, including “Aghadan Alkak,” “Inta El Hob” and “Alf Layla Wa Layla.”
Umm Kulthum was born in the village of Tamay e-Zahayra in the Nile Delta. The daughter of an Imam, she was taught to recite the Quran and sang with her father at village weddings before heading to Cairo, where she would find worldwide fame. Even Western singers such as Bob Dylan and Maria Callas have proclaimed to be admirers.
For the Lebanese singer Tania Saleh, who has been a lifelong fan of Umm Kulthum, the Egyptian icon represents more than just artistic greatness. She is a representative of female empowerment and revolution.

“Even though she was raised in an extremely poor family, she succeeded in imposing her talent in her native town (as a religious chants singer, accompanied by her father, who started her career disguised as a boy) and later in Cairo where she took matters into her own hands,” says Saleh. “She was self-taught, but very soon she had the ability to choose the poems of the best songwriters of her time, and of historical masters from the region, also discovering creative composers from her generation and the younger generations as well. 
“She and Abdel Wahab carried the legacy of Sayed Darwish, who gave Egyptian song a new dimension by making it about the real stories of people’s everyday realities, and by introducing the orchestra to the traditional unison of oud and voice. She put her listeners in a trance and kept them ‘msaltanin,’ as we say in Arabic, until her last breath in 1975.”
Umm Kulthum performed at Baalbeck on two other occasions, in 1966 and 1968. All three of her appearances were understandably sold out. This year’s concert is to be held on the steps of the Temple of Bacchus and limited-edition posters of her 1970 performance will be on sale at the event.
“Umm Kulthum’s is a timeless and eternal legacy,” says Gabr. “She was present, is present, and will always be present as long as there are people speaking Arabic. Her legacy is unique and unparalleled and I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said that Umm Kulthum’s legacy alone, in so many ways, surpasses all other singers combined.”


Chinese court orders man to pay former wife $7,700 for five years of housework

Chinese court orders man to pay former wife $7,700 for five years of housework
Updated 24 February 2021

Chinese court orders man to pay former wife $7,700 for five years of housework

Chinese court orders man to pay former wife $7,700 for five years of housework
  • The award of compensation for housework sparked debate on Chinese social media

BEIJING: A Chinese court has ordered a man to pay his former wife 50,000 yuan ($7,700) as compensation for housework she did during their five-year marriage, state media reported on Wednesday.
Under a landmark civil code that seeks to better protect the rights of individuals, spouses can seek compensation from their partners in a divorce if they have shouldered more responsibilities — including housework.
The woman, who did not work outside the home during the marriage, sought compensation for housework she had done after her husband filed for divorce at a district court in Beijing last year.
The judge ruled in her favor, telling the man to pay 50,000 yuan for her labor, according to state television.
He must also pay 2,000 yuan a month to support their child, with other assets such as property to be divided equally.
The award of compensation for housework sparked debate on Chinese social media, with many netizens saying the amount was too little.
“A nanny’s annual income is already in the tens of thousands of yuan,” said a social media user. “This is too little.”


Experts warn of ‘dangerous’ keto diet side effects

Experts warn of ‘dangerous’ keto diet side effects
A reduction of carbohydrate intake and increase in fats place the body in a metabolic state called ketosis. (Supplied)
Updated 20 February 2021

Experts warn of ‘dangerous’ keto diet side effects

Experts warn of ‘dangerous’ keto diet side effects
  • “The keto diet can also affect your performance during certain exercises, and you won’t be able to work out as intensely or as often as before”

JEDDAH: The ketogenic diet has become one of the fastest-growing dietary trends, but experts have warned that many of its advocates are unaware of the dangerous side effects the diet can cause.

According to Healthline.com, the ketogenic diet, commonly known as keto, is a low-carb, high-fat diet that shares similarities with low carb and Atkins diets. A reduction of carbohydrate intake and increase in fats place the body in a metabolic state called ketosis.
However, the diet has led to severe side effects for some people.
“The keto diet should only be done under clinical supervision, and only for brief periods of time,” Dr. Ruwaida Idrees, a nutritionist, CEO and owner of Hayati Ghethaei, a catering company, told Arab News.
She added that the keto diet should only be considered in “extreme cases,” because it can do “more harm than good.”
Idrees said: “It can cause damage to the heart, since the heart is also a muscle.”
Consulting a doctor, completing necessary tests and discussing goals with a clinical dietitian should all be considered before starting a keto diet, she added.
Idrees said there are many misconceptions surrounding the keto diet and exercise, adding that exercise can still reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and other health conditions.
People need to be careful about the types of exercises they practice, she said. “The keto diet can also affect your performance during certain exercises, and you won’t be able to work out as intensely or as often as before.”
Fouz Ghannamil, a fitness trainer, told Arab News that the diet appeared to work for many people. “It is good, but my own opinion is that the human body needs more nutrition than just fat and a really small dose of carbohydrates.”
She added: “It has a high portion of proteins which is good, but the fat sources, no matter how good they are, are a bit too much. It is better in my opinion that the portion of fat and carbs is balanced.”
Ghannamil suggested a better alternative for people looking to shed pounds this year — sticking to a diet of “80 percent healthy food and 20 percent junk food.
“Because naturally, your mind will desire junk food that is not natural, however, it has loads of fat in and your body can use it as an energy source.”
She warned people considering a new diet to stick to a balanced nutrition pyramid that contains everything they need: Protein, carbohydrates and fat.
She added that people should avoid diets based solely on numbers rather than personal experience.
Idrees, on the other hand, proposed the Mediterranean diet as a simpler alternative to the keto diet, saying that it has a good balance of seafood and other sources of proteins, moderate portions of dairy and a limited intake of red meat.


TWITTER POLL: Huge majority disagree with US decision to remove Houthis from terror list

TWITTER POLL: Huge majority disagree with US decision to remove Houthis from terror list
Updated 15 February 2021

TWITTER POLL: Huge majority disagree with US decision to remove Houthis from terror list

TWITTER POLL: Huge majority disagree with US decision to remove Houthis from terror list

DUBAI: A large majority of respondents to an Arab News Twitter poll said they disagreed with the US decision to remove Houthi militia from a terrorism list — reversing one of Donald Trump’s final decisions before leaving office.
A staggering 74 percent of 1,113 voters said they opposed the decision, while just over 17 percent agreed. And only 8.9 percent said they were undecided.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Houthis will be removed from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations on Feb. 16.


Blinken said the decision to remove the group’s FTO designation as well as its Specially Designated Global Terrorist Designation was driven by concerns, calling it “a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”
The announcement came after the Houthis mounted a number of attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, which were condemned by the State Department earlier this week.
The top US diplomat noted in his statement that Houthi leaders Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, Abd Al-Khaliq Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya Al-Hakim remain under sanction.


“The United States remains clear-eyed about Ansarallah’s malign actions, and aggression, including taking control of large areas of Yemen by force, attacking US partners in the Gulf, kidnapping and torturing citizens of the United States and many of our allies, diverting humanitarian aid, brutally repressing Yemenis in areas they control, and the deadly attack on Dec. 30, 2020 in Aden against the cabinet of the legitimate government of Yemen,” he said, using another name for the Houthis.
The Biden administration's special envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, was in Riyadh this week for meetings with Saudi and Yemeni officials as well as UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.
“The United States will redouble its efforts, alongside the United Nations and others, to end the war itself. We reaffirm our strong belief that there is no military solution to this conflict,” Blinken said Friday.


French nun, Europe’s oldest person, turns 117 after surviving COVID-19

French nun, Europe’s oldest person, turns 117 after surviving COVID-19
Updated 11 February 2021

French nun, Europe’s oldest person, turns 117 after surviving COVID-19

French nun, Europe’s oldest person, turns 117 after surviving COVID-19
  • Sister Andre is not going to do anything special for her 117th birthday
  • She converted to Catholicism and was baptized at the age of 26

TOULON, France: Europe’s oldest person, French nun Sister Andre, turns 117 on Thursday after surviving COVID-19 last month and living through two world wars, with a special birthday feast including her favorite dessert — Baked Alaska.
Born Lucile Randon on February 11, 1904, Sister Andre said she didn’t realize she had caught the coronavirus, which infected 81 residents of her retirement home in the southeast city of Toulon, killing 10 of them.
“I’m told that I got it,” the nun said ahead of her birthday. “I was very tired, it’s true, but I didn’t realize it.”
But David Tavella, spokesman for the Sainte-Catherine-Laboure nursing home, said she had “experienced a triple confinement: in her wheelchair, in her room and without a visit.”
“So, her birthday, it reinvigorates us,” he added, following the deadly outbreak.
Sister Andre said she was not going to do anything special for her 117th birthday but the home is planning a celebration for her.
There will be a special mass at the home, which has a dozen nuns, and the chef is preparing a birthday feast of foie gras, capon fillet with porcini mushrooms and Sister Andre’s favorite dessert: baked Alaska, washed down with a glass of port.
She says her favorite food is lobster and she enjoys a glass of wine.
“I drink a small glass of wine every day,” she said.
Born in Ales in a Protestant family, she grew up as the only girl among three brothers.
One of her fondest memories was the return of two of her brothers at the end of World War I.
“It was rare, in families, there were usually two dead rather than two alive. They both came back,” she said last year, on her 116th birthday.
She converted to Catholicism and was baptized at the age of 26. She joined the Daughters of Charity order of nuns at the relatively late age of 41.
Sister Andre was then assigned to a hospital in Vichy, where she worked for 31 years and then spent 30 years in a retirement home in the French Alps before moving to Toulon.
She is the second-oldest living person in the world, according to the Gerontology Research Group, after Japanese woman Kane Tanaka, who is 118.
Asked what she would say to young people, Sister Andre said: “Be brave and show compassion.”


Lawyer becomes internet sensation after Zoom filter makes him look like kitten

Presidio County lawyer Rod Ponton signed into the Zoom call for a civil forfeiture court hearing appearing a fluffy white kitten. (Screenshot)
Presidio County lawyer Rod Ponton signed into the Zoom call for a civil forfeiture court hearing appearing a fluffy white kitten. (Screenshot)
Updated 10 February 2021

Lawyer becomes internet sensation after Zoom filter makes him look like kitten

Presidio County lawyer Rod Ponton signed into the Zoom call for a civil forfeiture court hearing appearing a fluffy white kitten. (Screenshot)
  • The short video clip, which was shared online by Ferguson, ends with others coaching the attorney on how to remove the cat filter

LONDON: An attorney in Texas has become an internet sensation after accidentally leaving a kitten Zoom filter on during a virtual court hearing.

Presidio County lawyer Rod Ponton signed into the Zoom call for a civil forfeiture court hearing appearing a fluffy white kitten, prompting Judge Roy Ferguson to alert him of his appearance. 

“I'm here live. I'm not a cat,” Ponton replied, while explaining his assistant was trying to turn the filter off, to no avail.

“I can see that,” replied Ferguson.

The short video clip, which was shared online by Ferguson, ends with others coaching the attorney on how to remove the cat filter.

The judge said on Twitter: “These fun moments are a by-product of the legal profession’s dedication to ensuring that the justice system continues to function in these tough times. Everyone involved handled it with dignity, and the filtered lawyer showed incredible grace. True professionalism all around!”

In an interview, Ponton said he has fielded calls from around the world and has been booked for national television.

“I always wanted to be famous for being a great lawyer. Now I'm famous for appearing in court as a cat,” he told The Associated Press.

* With AP