Bringing Umm Kulthum to London is my gift to her, says Saudi musical producer

Bringing Umm Kulthum to London is my gift to her, says Saudi musical producer
Syrian opera singer Lubana Al-Quntar sings during rehearsals in London on Feb.21, 2020. (AN photo/Zaynab Khojji)
Short Url
Updated 24 February 2020

Bringing Umm Kulthum to London is my gift to her, says Saudi musical producer

Bringing Umm Kulthum to London is my gift to her, says Saudi musical producer
  • The musical is the first big production in English about an Arab legend and the singing is in Arabic
  • Songs will be performed in Arabic, while the dialogue will be in English

LONDON: A musical inspired by the life of legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum is being staged in London’s West End as a “gift” to the “Star of the East,” who died before she could fulfil her dream of performing in the city.
Saudi-born theater producer Mona Khashoggi said that Umm Kulthum told an interviewer in Paris before her death in 1975 that she had been invited to sing in the UK capital.
“But, sadly, she fell ill and died before she could realize her dream. So this is my gift to her,” Khashoggi told Arab News during rehearsals in London.
“Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era” has been produced and written by Khashoggi, one of Saudi Arabia’s first female theater producers.
The lead role in the musical tribute will be played by acclaimed Syrian opera singer Lubana Al-Quntar. Umm Kulthum’s great grand-niece Sanaa Nabil will also feature in the show.


Khashoggi, who is passionate about reviving and preserving Arabic culture and heritage in the West, said the musical is not based on the star’s life but, rather, inspired by it. The show focuses more on the younger Umm Kulthum, her private life and early career.
In a quest to discover more about the “Nightingale of the Nile,” Khashoggi traveled to Egypt, where she spoke to Umm Kulthum’s family and friends, and to the families of Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Baligh Hamdi, who both composed songs for the future star.
“So I have created a story and I hope the audience will like it. It’s also an opportunity to showcase different music and instruments. Preserving and reviving our culture is my aim. This is entertainment, and there is dancing and acting — it is fun.”
The musical will include Umm Kulthum’s most popular works from a career spanning five decades. Songs will be performed in Arabic, while the dialogue will be in English, providing a rare insight into the life of the woman who overcame the odds to become Egypt’s biggest star during the “Golden Era” of Arabic classical music between the 1940s and 1970s.
“As a woman, Umm Kulthum inspires women to excel,” Khashoggi said. “You are talking about someone who, a hundred years ago, came from a simple village and became a legend. Her songs mean a lot to us, and her words and way of singing are full of emotion.
“To me, she represents the Arab world and also home. I think we are very nostalgic about her and that’s why I brought her to London. There are many different Arab nationalities here, so she reminds us of home.”

“Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era” will debut at the London Palladium on Mar. 2, for one night only, but Khashoggi hopes that the show will go on to tour “the Middle East, Europe, America, Canada and Australia.”
“It is the first big production in English about an Arab legend and the singing is in Arabic, so I’m hoping the audience will enjoy it.”
Khashoggi said that she is confident the musical will raise awareness of Umm Kulthum and classical Arabic music among a Western audience as well as young people of Arab origin who have had little exposure to the legend.
“I wrote the story and put the music together, and I selected lyrics that sound easy on the Western ear. The show is sold out. I don’t know who bought tickets, but I hope it’s not just Umm Kulthum lovers, I hope Westerners will come and see something different,” Khashoggi added.
The producer compared “The Lady,” as the singer is also known, to Maria Callas. “People in Egypt gathered around the radio to listen to Umm Kulthum when her concerts were broadcast live on the first Thursday of every month,” she said.
“Umm Kulthum sings to everyone, she’s in every home and in every head in the Middle East. She is the only artist whose music is still alive in such a big capacity. People stop their work and everything else to listen to her; she reminds us of home.
“She is not just the voice of Egypt, she is the voice of the Arabs and our queen. I’m honored to bring her to London.”

 


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 30 min 58 sec ago

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.


Finish him! ‘Mortal Kombat’ stars reflect on bringing hugely popular game to life

 Finish him! ‘Mortal Kombat’ stars reflect on bringing hugely popular game to life
Updated 21 April 2021

Finish him! ‘Mortal Kombat’ stars reflect on bringing hugely popular game to life

 Finish him! ‘Mortal Kombat’ stars reflect on bringing hugely popular game to life

LOS ANGELES: The cinema adaptation of much-loved video game Mortal Kombat recently hit the silver screen — and fans can breathe a sigh of relief as it’s a fairly faithful take on the hugely popular game in that the plot and characters are mostly an excuse to string together a series of fight scenes.

For action fans and players of the famously gory fighting games — which featured the ominous and oft-quoted phrase “Finish Him” just before violent wins — while not flawless, the movie is a victory.

“A lot of people grew up with these iconic video games and these pop culture icons,” said Ludi Lin who plays series mainstay Liu Kang. “The more I grow the more I learn that I’m still a kid inside. I think a lot of adults pretend to be someone that they’re not. So, I want these characters and this story to tell people that ‘your childhood actually meant something.’”

The film features several of the franchise’s iconic characters testing their might in a tournament to defend Earth and earns its audience, and its R-rating, with its fight scenes, choreographed and expertly executed by experienced stunt performers, including members the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, a group of stuntmen and martial artists who work alongside the legendary actor.

“All the actors or most of them in this film have extensive martial arts training,” Max Huang, who plays fighter Kung Lao, told Arab News. “Acting or stunts, that’s all part of the whole process in order to create a great film. So having an understanding of creating action definitely helped me to then be in front of the camera and pull off certain types of movements.”

The cast is noteworthy not only for its fighting ability but also for mostly featuring actors of Asian descent — a definite positive in Hollywood, where filmmakers have long been accused of whitewashing.  

“It familiarizes people with the culture of who we are and with seeing us in a different light… we are telling and controlling the storyline,” said Lewis Tan, who portrays series newcomer Cole Young. “I think that that will have an ever-lasting impact eventually, but there’s obviously a lot more that needs  to be done.”


Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal

Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal
The BTS meal is coming to McDonald's in May. File/AFP
Updated 20 April 2021

Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal

Happy meal: Arab K-Pop fans share excitement over McDonald’s new BTS deal

DUBAI: US fast food giant McDonald’s has tapped Korean pop sensation BTS to promote a new meal, and Arab fans of the boy band can hardly contain their excitement.

Many supporters of the seven member group took to their social media to express their anticipation for the Grammy-nominated boy band's meal that will be launching starting next month in nearly 50 countries, including Oman, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Morocco in addition to the US, India, Singapore and more.

“From today, I will just eat at McDonalds,” wrote one Twitter user in Arabic.

Another user from Saudi Arabia mentioned McDonalds in their Tweet, urging them to make the meal available in the Kingdom.

“I am not a fan of McDonald’s, but I changed my mind because of this meal. Provide it to us like you did for the Arab countries on the list,” the user wrote.

Another Twitter user wrote in Arabic: “Wait a minute, I discovered something. A few days back, Suga said he is hungry and a few days later, they collaborated with McDonald’s. He was probably giving us a hint, but we were clowns. WE WANT THE BTS MEAL IN EGYPT (sic).”

Dubbed the “BTS meal,” it will include chicken McNuggets, fries and two dips.

The burger chain has seen its revenue outside the United States drop during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company is tapping on promotional campaigns through celebrity endorsements and limited-time menu items to get customers back into restaurants as economies reopen with the roll-out of vaccines.

The BTS meal follows similar US-only deals with singers J Balvin and Travis Scott, which McDonald’s says boosted sales in the later half of last year.

The spike in demand during the Travis Scott promotion caused the company to temporarily run short of ingredients to assemble its signature Quarter Pounder burgers at some restaurants.


Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children

Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children
Lebanese influencer and designer Karen Wazen stars in new Polo Ralph Lauren campaign with her children. Instagram
Updated 20 April 2021

Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children

Lebanese style icon Karen Wazen fronts Ralph Lauren campaign with her children

DUBAI: Lebanese influencer and designer Karen Wazen was recently tapped to front a new campaign for Polo Ralph Lauren, and she is sharing the spotlight with her family. Wazen features in the campaign images with her three children, twin girls Karlie and Kay, and her son George.

“Ah so happy to share with you our Family Campaign for @PoloRalphLauren!!” exclaimed the Dubai-based fashion blogger on Instagram, alongside the campaign images. “There are no words to explain the love and emotions I have for my family... they’re my biggest blessing and pride,” she added, thanking Polo Ralph Lauren for “capturing these beautiful moments together.”

It’s not the first time that the American brand has shone a spotlight on an Arab family for a major campaign.

Back in December, the label released a campaign titled “Family is Who You Love,” featuring a diverse cast of siblings, parents and children, among them Saudi sisters Sakhaa and Thana Abdul as well as British-Moroccan model Nora Attal and her family.


Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row

Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row
Jameela Jamil is well known for her body positivity organization ‘I Weigh.’ File/ AFP
Updated 20 April 2021

Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row

Actress Jameela Jamil defends US singer Demi Lovato in body positivity row

DUBAI: British actress Jameela Jamil took to her social media account to defend US singer and actress Demi Lovato due to a body positivity controversy this week. 

Lovato, who is best known for her role in Disney’s musical “Camp Rock,” recently called out a popular Los Angeles-based frozen yogurt shop The Bigg Chill, stating that the store’s diet options could lead some people to feel uncomfortable.  

"Finding it extremely hard to order froyo from @thebiggchillofficial when you have to walk past tons of sugar free cookies (and) other diet foods before you get to the counter,” said the “Cool for the Summer” singer, who has been vocal about her struggles with eating disorders in her documentary “Dancing With The Devil.” The 28-year-old urged the business to “do better” along with the hashtag #dietculturevulture.  

Jamil was quick to come to Lovato’s support, after the singer’s comments garnered some backlash online. Taking to her Instagram Stories, the “The Good Place” star wrote, “Ok, I want to try to avoid making the story bigger than it already is. But if an eating disorder advocate says she sees products that are positioned as guilt free, and it is potentially triggering, that doesn’t mean she’s too stupid to remember that diabetics exist. It just means that we need to change the marketing of products that are for people’s medical needs.”

She added: “That’s all @ddlovato was asking for. It doesn’t make her a monster. It doesn’t mean she disregards people’s illnesses. She’s just one of few celebrities reminding us to look out for mental illness. Guilt free is diet culture terminology.”

The British-Pakistani-Indian actress is a major advocate for body positivity.

The 34-year-old, who became a household name with her activism and role as Tahani Al-Jamil on NBC’s “The Good Place,” routinely takes to her platform to encourage people to respect their bodies and often gets candid about her struggles with eating disorders and body dysmorphia that she grappled with in her teenage years.

Jamil is also well known for her body positivity organization “I Weigh,” that focuses on self-worth and body positivity beyond weight, encouraging people to weigh themselves by their positive attributes, as opposed to numbers on a scale.