Egyptian icon Umm Kulthum: An eternal star who won hearts from East to West

Egyptian icon Umm Kulthum: An eternal star who won hearts from East to West
Iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum performing at a concert in Cairo in 1975. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2022

Egyptian icon Umm Kulthum: An eternal star who won hearts from East to West

Egyptian icon Umm Kulthum: An eternal star who won hearts from East to West
  • In the first of our new series focusing on Arabic cultural icons, we profile the incomparable vocalist known as The Star of the East 

DUBAI: With her voluminous hairstyle and diamond-studded sunglasses, the iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum has one of the most instantly recognizable silhouettes in modern pop culture.

The singer’s storied career saw her pack out venues for 50 years until just before her death in 1975. Such was her status that she is often referred to as “The fourth pyramid” by Arabs, as well as “The star of the East,” “Mother of the Arabs” and “Lady of Arabic song.”

Umm Kulthum was born Fatima Ibrahim as-Sayed El-Beltagi in the village of Tamay e-Zahayra in the Nile Delta in 1898. The daughter of an imam, she learned to recite the Qur’an at a young age and regularly sang with her father at village weddings.

Because of her father’s religious upbringing — and cultural norms — Umm Kulthum often had to dress as a boy when she performed in her youth. She did this at numerous festivals, weddings and other events in order to provide for her family.




The singer’s storied career saw her pack out venues for 50 years. (AFP)

A star is born 

After moving to Cairo in 1923, Umm Kulthum was fortunate to land the well-known singer and composer Shaykh Abu Al-Aila Muhammad as her teacher and mentor.

She signed her first recording contract in 1926 and began to put together her own ensemble of musicians. As she started to mingle in Cairo’s cultural scene, she met several poets — most notably Ahmad Rami, who wrote the lyrics for 137 of her songs.

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.

Umm Kulthum recorded an estimated 300 songs over her career — tracks that covered universal themes of love, loss and desire.

She thrilled audiences with marathon performances (often a single song would last for an hour or more), which would include songs such as “Enta Omri,” “Alf Leila w Leila,” “Seret El Hob” and “Al Atlal,” packed with such raw emotional power that they continue to hold sway over great swathes of the Arab world.




Saudi playwright and arts patron Mona Khashoggi, who created a West End musical dedicated to Umm Kulthum. (Supplied)

“Her music is so empowering and nostalgic. She reminds us of home,” Saudi playwright and arts patron Mona Khashoggi, who created a West End musical dedicated to the star — “Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era” — that premiered in London in 2020, told Arab News. “I left Saudi Arabia when I was young... Every time I’m sad, I listen to Umm Kulthum, and I think everybody else does that. She is in every home for every age. She is timeless.”

Global impact

The star had close connections to political leaders including King Farouk of Egypt and former President Gamal Abdel Nasser. She also met Tunisia’s first President Habib Bourguiba during one of her concerts in Tunis and to Charles de Gaulle, the former president of France, she was simply “the Lady.”




Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (C) and his successor Anwar Al-Sadat (R) pose with Umm Kulthum and Egyptian composer Mohamed Al-Mogi in Cairo in the late 60s. (AFP)

A number of influential Western singers, including Bob Dylan and Maria Callas have proclaimed themselves admirers. The latter described her voice as “incomparable.” Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest rock singers, told the Independent in 2010 that he was visiting Marrakech in 1970 when he first heard Umm Kulthum’s voice and that the experience had “blown a hole in the wall of my understanding of vocals.”

“When I first heard the way she would dance down through a scale to land on a beautiful note that I couldn’t even imagine singing, it was huge,” Plant said.




Egyptian composer and conductor Hisham Gabr. (AFP)

“Everything about Umm Kulthum stands out,” Egyptian composer and conductor Hisham Gabr told Arab News in 2018. “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.”

Khashoggi, whose father was a friend of the singer’s family, said: “She inspires me as an artist. She is an idol for me and I think for every woman. She stands for the empowerment of women, for working hard and perseverance. I’m a big fan.” 

A unique talent

Apart from the astonishing power of her voice, one thing that set the singer apart from her peers was her renowned diction. Arabic language experts have said that Umm Kulthum’s pronunciation of lyrics was unlike any other artist.

“She was like a professor of Arabic pronunciation,” the late Egyptian radio commentator Amal Fahmy previously said in an interview.




Kassem Wahba, an associate professor of Arabic at the American University in Dubai. (AUD)

Kassem Wahba, an associate professor of Arabic at the American University in Dubai, told Arab News: “Because she learned the Qur’an, her pronunciation was perfect. Most of her songs were poems in fusha (classical Arabic).”

Khashoggi echoed Wahba’s words. “She spoke Arabic perfectly because of (reciting the Quran). Her Arabic was excellent,” she said. “I don’t think there is anybody like her.”




Iraqi men gather and socialise at Umm Kulthum Cafe on Rasheed street, the oldest street in Baghdad in 2019. (AFP)

The playwright also noted the onstage charisma that Umm Kulthum radiated with seemingly little effort. “I don’t know what she did, but she was amazing,” Khashoggi said. “She sang with such confidence — it’s 100 emotions in a second. And she basically stood still. But even with a gesture… if she just moved her hand, everyone would get excited.”

If reports are to be believed, after Umm Kulthum’s death in 1975 aged 77, four million people attended her funeral — around 10.5 percent of Egypt’s population at the time, which was around 38.55 million.




If reports are to be believed, after Umm Kulthum’s death in 1975 aged 77, four million people attended her funeral. (AFP)

Enduring legacy 

Umm Kulthum’s legacy lives on. In recent years, events companies have staged concerts in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE in which the singer “appears” as a hologram.

The Arab World Institute (IMA) in Paris hosted an exhibition last year titled “Arab Divas: From Umm Kulthum to Dalida” to honor the “Star of the East” and other renowned singers, and the show will next appear in Amsterdam in March 2023.




An area is dedicated to the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum as part of the 'Divas' exhibition at the Arab World Institute (IMA) in Paris in 2021. (AFP)

The exhibition’s curator Elodie Bouffard said this week that the exhibition in France was “an exceptional moment for the IMA.” 

“We received an impressive number of guests — we were fully booked every day,” she said. “And compared to other exhibitions this one had a very young age range — mothers with their kids.”

Forty-seven years after her death, Umm Kulthum continues to inspire new generations with her unique and timeless talent.
 


Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 
Updated 7 sec ago

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 
  • Archeologists uncover possible Omani bishop’s palace near Umm Al-Quwain’s recently discovered Christian monastery

DUBAI: Fresh findings by archeologists suggest the existence of a possible bishop’s palace — potentially Omani — near a recently discovered Christian monastery on the UAE’s Siniyah Island, off the coast of the state of Umm Al-Quwain.

A series of walls and rooms were uncovered last year that intrigued archeologists and historians involved in the excavation process on Siniyah Island, according to Tim Power, an archeology professor at UAE University.  

“This year, we came back to expand the trenches to try to understand what’s going on there,” said Power. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

“It seems that we really have an interesting building that might be interpreted as an abbot’s house or perhaps even a bishop’s palace,” he continued.  

The archeology professor explained that similar buildings had been found in the Arabian Gulf over the years, which has helped historians and archeologists create parallels.  

Power added that recently what is thought to be a bishop’s palace was uncovered in Bahrain that had similar characteristics to the structure discovered on Siniyah Island.  

The newly discovered structure on Siniyah Island believed to be a bishop's palace. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

“Historical sources, in particular the acts of the synods of the Nestorian church, mention a bishop of Oman between the fifth and seventh centuries,” said Power.  

Oman during that period included the region that later became the northern emirates of the UAE, so it is possible this was the actual palace of a bishop, he added.  

This year, the focus has shifted to excavating a different part of the island, with extensive work carried out on settlements and other structures surrounding the monastery.  

Findings on the island suggest the presence of both Christian and Muslim communities, who are believed to have coexisted during a period of time.  

They also shed light on the transition from late antiquity to early Islam, just before the Arab conquest.  

Power, who was invited by the Tourism and Archeology Department of Umm Al-Quwain to put together a “dream team of leading experts,” chose individuals who can contribute to the project.  

“The goal of this season will be to outline the context of the monastery so it’s not just an isolated structure in the middle of this sand pit,” said Michele Degli Esposti, a researcher at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences.  

(AN Photo/Maria Botros)

Esposti, who sat categorizing artifacts and materials found during the dig, explained why the site of the alleged bishop’s palace was different than other structures.  

“This area, contrary to what happens in the settlement, is quite poor in material remains,” he said.  

“One reason is that the core complex, which had a very nice plaster floor, was constantly kept swept and clean, so we found very little materials left behind.”  

A possible warehouse was found in the vicinity of the structure thought to be the bishop’s palace, containing further clues for archeologists to draw conclusions.  

“The bulk of the materials are made of pottery, quite remarkable quantities of glass as seen in the settlements, and a few stone vessels, which are quite interesting,” said Esposti. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

Radiocarbon dating used to assess the pottery excavated suggests that the community believed to have occupied the island was there between the seventh and eighth centuries.  

Esposti said similar methodologies will be used to determine the age of the objects recently found to further narrow down the window of the predicted time period.  

Findings will allow archeologists and researchers to better understand the pattern of occupation in the new site discovered on the island in order to draw relevant conclusions. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

The excavation process, which has a more multidisciplinary approach, involves experts and materials from around the world to aid archeologists on site. 

It is also the first time that TAD UAQ is hosting students from the New York University of Abu Dhabi to participate in the excavation process.  

Hoor Al-Mazrouei, an Emirati biology student at NYUAD, participated in the excavations taking place in the settlements where she helped find a pot potentially used for cooking.   

“While we were digging, we found that it doesn’t have a base, and that’s probably why it’s not used for storage but used for baking bread or used as a cooking base,” said Al-Mazrouei. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

NYUAD students were involved in the process from Jan. 4-20, alongside archeologists from TAD UAQ such as Ammar Al-Banna.  

Al-Banna, who predicts that the island will welcome visitors in the foreseeable future, said the first step is to uncover all findings to proceed.  

“By uncovering them, we hope to understand why they are here and what the relationship between all the structures and the sites next to them is,” he said. “Of course, with the finds, some will be studied, some will be exhibited.”  

Excavation work on the island will continue until March and will end before the Ramadan fast begins.  

Siniyah Island’s monastery is the second to be found in the UAE, with the first discovered in Abu Dhabi’s Sir Bani Yas Island in the 1990s.


Arab celebrities star in Hugo Boss’s new campaign 

Arab celebrities star in Hugo Boss’s new campaign 
Updated 27 January 2023

Arab celebrities star in Hugo Boss’s new campaign 

Arab celebrities star in Hugo Boss’s new campaign 

DUBAI: Germany fashion label Hugo Boss has released a star-studded spring/summer 2023 campaign, featuring Arab celebrities. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by BOSS (@boss)

The massive digital campaign features US Palestinian producer DJ Khaled, Dutch Palestinian model Gigi Hadid, Syrian Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, Lebanese influencer and entrepreneur Karen Wazen, Emirati host Anas Bukhash, Lebanese-Australian model and humanitarian Jessica Kahawaty and Iraqi para-athlete Zainab Al-Eqabi. 

In the new advert, each of the stars shared a photo collage featuring two images — one from their childhood and one present-day photo while wearing Boss sweatshirts or blazers from the new collection.

According to the brand, the new collection showcases a bold aesthetic, combining a city-inspired spirit with a summery, off-court lifestyle in the brand’s signature color palette of black, white and camel. 

The campaign aims “to inspire the world to live up to its full potential,” the brand’s statement said. “The journey to living life on one’s own terms, begins with finding one’s power, purpose, and perseverance. Despite its highs and lows, twists and turns, the journey is lived with confidence, style, and a forward-looking vision.” 

The campaigns stars celebrities, photographers, entrepreneurs, social advocates and more. Each of the stars will take to their own social media channels to share their inspiring stories.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by BOSS (@boss)

Lensed by Swedish photographer Mikael Jansson, the campaign also stars A-list celebrities, sports personalities and influencers including Demi Lovato, Pairs Hilton, Maluma, Bella Throne, Naomi Campbell, Lee Minho, Khaby Lame, Matteo Berrettini, Anne-Marie, BamBam, Stella Maxwell, Stefflon Don, Macaulay Culkin, Christina, Naomi Watanabe, NikkieTutorials, Cameron Dallas, Aaron Rose Philip, Gottmik, Ox Zung, Nic Kaufmann, Akam, Paola Locatelli, Juanpa Zurita, David Dobrik, Richarlison, Karl-Anthony Towns, Fernando Alonso, Xavi Simons, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, Suresh Raina, Anthony Santos and Zaire Wade.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by BOSS (@boss)

The stars all tagged their posts: “‘BOSSES AREN’T BORN, THEY’RE MADE’ @boss #beyourownboss.”

“Conviction, effort, and faith in the process. BOSSes aren’t born. They’re made,” the brand shared on its Instagram account. 


Netflix releases first trailer of Gigi Hadid, Tan France’s ‘Next in Fashion’

Netflix releases first trailer of Gigi Hadid, Tan France’s ‘Next in Fashion’
Updated 27 January 2023

Netflix releases first trailer of Gigi Hadid, Tan France’s ‘Next in Fashion’

Netflix releases first trailer of Gigi Hadid, Tan France’s ‘Next in Fashion’

DUBAI: Giant streaming service Netflix on Friday unveiled the first trailer of the second season of “Next in Fashion,” which Part-Palestinian catwalk star Gigi Hadid co-hosts alongside British TV personality Tan France. 

The new season will be released on March 3, Hadid said in her Instagram post. 

“So excited to join Tan France,” she wrote to her 77 million followers. “We had the most special and fun time with these designers and can’t wait for you to meet them!”

 

 

The first season of the fashion competition show, which premiered in January 2020, featured 18 designers who faced weekly design challenges to win a $250,000 prize and a chance to have their collection sold on Net-a-Porter.

This season will feature a group of up-and-coming talents who will compete to win $200,000, and “the chance to share their designs with the world,” the streaming service said. 

 “Hey, hey! Nobody booked you to model, dear,” France tells Hadid, who enters the room twirling as a catwalk star, in the trailer. “You’ve got an actual job to do.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)

 

The short trailer shows separate scenes of Hadid speaking to the designers. “Are you guys ready?” she said in one clip, while in another she motivated the competitors saying: “Fashion should be fun.” 

In another scene, she was seen wearing her iconic red Versace skintight catsuit that consisted of a leather corset paired with pointed-toe knee-high boots and a voluminous, billowing red coat, which she wore to the Met Gala in 2022. 

“Tanny?” she says. “I’m gonna need some help getting down from here.” 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)

 

 Hadid first announced that she will take part in the new season in February 2022. 

“Netflix is casting designers now for season 2. I know there are many designers out there that deserve a platform like this. Second-guessing yourself? Please just go for it. This is your sign and your chance. Show us your creations,” she told her followers at the time, sharing a poster that featured her and France.

Filming for the show began in April 2022, according to the model. 

Hadid took to Instagram to share her excitement over the forthcoming episodes at the time and talk about her co-host, calling the British reality television star her “brother” and saying that shooting the new show together has been “a joy of my life.”

France also lauded his “Next in Fashion” co-host and dubbed her an “amazing mom.”


Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay

Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay
Updated 27 January 2023

Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay

Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora’s work finds the beauty in decay

DUBAI: March 2023 will mark the 20th anniversary of US-led invasion of Iraq, which led to destruction, displacement, and prolonged political instability. One of the millions who witnessed the chaos unfold is the Iraqi-American painter Vian Sora. “There is nothing that I don’t remember,” she says from her atelier in Louisville, Kentucky. 

On the night before the bombing began, Sora, who is of Kurdish origin, drove with her family from Baghdad to the town of Balad Ruz, around 120 kilometers away. “It was so visceral and scary,” she tells Arab News. “We all lived in just one house there — 30 of us slept in one room. We watched the B-52’s bomb Baghdad.”

Vian Sora, Hanging Gardens, 2022. Oil and mixed media on canvas 70 x 55 in (177.8 x 139.7 cm). (Supplied)

Sora was born in Baghdad in 1976, three years before Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq, changing the course of political affairs in the Middle East. “Really, ever since I was a child, there was war and bombing,” she says.

Amid all the unrest, however, Sora discovered a passion for art. Her mother’s family owned a prominent auction business in Baghdad, where modernists like Faiq Hassan and Shakir Hassan Al-Said gathered, and Sora says she read as much as possible growing up about the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, in particular. “This was what (was) around,” she recalls. “I grew up in this kind of dreamy world that was parallel to the bombing.” 

Sora is of Kurdish origins. (Supplied)

In 2006, Sora left Iraq through the Kurdish/Turkish border, ending up in Istanbul. From there, she moved to the UK, the UAE and finally, the US, where she arrived in 2009. She hasn’t been back to Iraq since leaving, and says it was not an easy transition to life in the country that had invaded her own. 

“It was a culture shock. I felt like I always had to dumb down who I am to be accepted, but I also met some amazing people who supported me and my practice,” she says. “They were so hungry to learn more about us. I feel like I don’t just represent Iraq, I represent the whole region.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Vian Sora (@viansora)

The experience of surviving “29 years of war” has definitely seeped into Sora’s expressive canvases, housed in private and public collections in Iraq, the US, France, and Turkey. “Iraq affects everything in my work; it’s my DNA,” she says. “Once you’ve lived through the first three decades of your life in a country like Iraq, witnessing four or five wars, that cannot leave you.” 

The self-taught artist tries to leave that which she has endured in the background, like “a dead grandmother who protects you,” she says. Her work is inspired by both her own life and by global issues such as climate change and cultural destruction. She quotes what the German artist Anselm Kiefer once said about the role of an artist: To observe and do the work. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Vian Sora (@viansora)

She describes her large paintings, inspired by Middle Eastern history and aesthetics, as a form of ‘gestural abstraction.’ They are full of rich colors, floating shapes, dreamlike landscapes, and curious figures. There are portrayals of chaos, explosions, life and death — and of the moment after death, reaching the sublime. Decay, and seeing the beauty in it, is Sora’s obsession. 

“It’s an equivalent of my own life,” she says. “I feel like, the older we get, the more refined we’re supposed to be. I feel the decay that has happened within me is equivalent to the physical decay I see in artworks and palaces. We persevere through certain things, or we fail. We might be destroyed in the process, and that’s what interests me.”    

The physical act of painting is a way of staying whole. “I come to the studio super-early in the morning, shut the world off and put on my music. I’m immersed in that moment. It’s the best feeling,” she says. It is also a way of dealing with her post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by escaping near-death experiences. 

“The only way to get it out of me somehow, or to work with this, is to continuously repeat that feeling,” she explains. “In the end, I don’t want the work to be about death or terribleness. It will be, somehow, but I also want to create elements of beauty.” 


French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 
Updated 26 January 2023

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 

French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri nominated at Cesar Awards 

DUBAI: French Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category at the 48th Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars. 

Khoudri has been nominated for her role in filmmaker Cedric Jimenez's “Novembre,” which tells the story of the terrorist attacks in Paris on the night of Nov. 13, 2015. She plays Samia, a charitable young woman who volunteers at a homeless camp. Her flat mate is bankrolling her cousin, one of the terrorists. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by lynakhoudri (@lynakhoudri)

The actress is no stranger to starring in films based on real-life incidents. In November 2022, she premiered “Nos Frangins” or “Our Brothers.” The movie tells the harrowing true story of French Algerian student Malik Oussekine who died in police custody in 1986 following several weeks of student protests against a university reform bill. Khoudri plays the role of his sister. 

Meanwhile, Louis Garrel’s “The Innocent” and Dominik Moll’s thriller “The Night of the 12th” are leading the race at the Cesar Awards, with 11 and 10 nods, respectively.