A theatrical tribute to Umm Kulthum

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Updated 14 March 2023
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A theatrical tribute to Umm Kulthum

A theatrical tribute to Umm Kulthum
  • ‘Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era’ transports Saudi audiences to Egypt’s glamorous ‘60s

DHAHRAN: This month, the lush Ithra Theater in Dhahran has been transporting guests to Egypt’s glamorous 1960s. Elegantly-draped guests end each night with a standing ovation for “Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era,” an artfully created show that pays homage to the unforgettable and melodious Egyptian singing legend.

For Mona Khashoggi, inviting the audience in is just like welcoming people into her own home. The art show is a passion project born out of her nostalgic love for the iconic singer.

Having worked as a theater producer, playwright and prominent patron of the arts for the last two decades, Khashoggi’s attention to detail is superb. Her specialization has been in reviving the various intricate cultural narratives from the Middle East and North Africa region and exporting them to a refined global audience.

Exactly three years ago in 2020, she premiered the unique musical and theatrical “Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era” production at the London Palladium. In 2022, the show was brought to the Dubai Opera.

Now, for the very first time, “Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era” graces the Saudi stage at Ithra.




The stunning attention to detail in Mona Khashoggi’s musical and theatrical production has captivated Umm Kulthum fans and Saudi theater-lovers. (Supplied)

For Khashoggi, bringing this story to her home country is a momentous occasion. “I’m from Saudi Arabia but I grew up in England and Beirut and was brought up watching many musicals in the West End. My father was the first doctor and physician to King Abdulaziz,” she said.

Because of her father’s keen interest in the arts, Umm Kulthum’s songs would play at home and became the soundtrack of her childhood. The melodious voice has been etched in Khashoggi’s memory and she listens to Umm Kulthum songs of love, longing and loss whenever she feels the need to reconnect with the past.

“Umm Kulthum sang, as everybody knows, the same sentence 100 times with different emotions,” Khashoggi told Arab News.

To Khashoggi, the singer symbolizes the essence that all women should aspire to be — confident, stylish, true to herself and brimming with the drive to improve herself and perfect her voice.

She recalls that Thursdays were reserved for listening to Umm Kulthum, and that even military men listened to her as she commanded their attention.

A young girl’s journey

The “Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era” show captures the rise of the Egyptian national treasure from her modest beginnings. Khashoggi explained: “The play is about the great lady who came from humble beginnings and became the most important woman in the Arab world. It’s also about the era of other powerful women. It is all about women’s empowerment and all of us who looked up to Umm Kulthum from a very young age. Her music is timeless.”

The play is about the great lady who came from humble beginnings and became the most important woman in the Arab world. It’s also about the era of other powerful women. It is all about women’s empowerment and all of us who looked up to Umm Kulthum from a very young age. Her music is timeless.

Mona Khashoggi, Theater and film producer

The sold-out show at Ithra welcomes visitors from various generations. Some re-live the glory days of their youth and some are introduced to the story of the Kawkab Al-Sharq, or Star of the East, for the first time.

The show begins in Paris, with an established Umm Kulthum casually requesting that her pay be doubled, as her voice will fill the room and three songs in three hours is perfectly reasonable.




The stunning attention to detail in Mona Khashoggi’s musical and theatrical production has captivated Umm Kulthum fans and Saudi theater lovers. (Supplied)

Then the play goes back in time to prove her point.

This original production follows the earlier journey of the iconic figure in Arab pop culture who we have come to know by merely “Umm Kulthum.” Everything about her reflects her status as a style icon; from her darkened sunglasses and hair fastened in a retro beehive, to the floor-length modest dress, shiny chandelier earrings and elegant handkerchief dangling from the side.

At the turn of the 20th century, a young girl born into humble beginnings transforms herself into the Kawkab Al-Sharq, shining her talent over the entire Arab-speaking world. Born into relative poverty, her father, a sheikh,  recognized her musical ability at a young age and disguised her as a young boy so they could use her talent to feed the family. The village listened to the songs and paid her back in coins and sometimes sweets. Her father was able to also partially bribe her by saying she could have blancmange or mohalabiya, a milky sweet dessert, as a reward.

HIGHLIGHT

Khashoggi’s production elegantly depicts the plight of the young Umm Kulthum and how she overcomes the challenges before her. The cast consists of the phenomenal voices of Agfan Afifi and Maha Khlifi as the singers of Umm Kulthum’s songs. Young Umm Kulthum is played by Sara Masry, a Saudi actress. The orchestra maestro Mostafa Fahmy leads the violin by Tamer Ismail, oud by Islam Tasha and cello by Amr Ahmed.

Umm Kulthum’s passion and talent was so immense that she broke all convention. Although she was a reluctant performer at first, she soon blossomed with the help of some friends. She received mentorship from some of the best composers, poets and writers of the era and transformed herself into the legend with a unique style and voice.

Fondly known as the “fourth pyramid of Egypt,” she is beloved by Arabic and non-Arabic speakers alike.

During her life, she was scorned by the upper classes and had to work hard to constantly prove her greatness to the world. Umm Kulthum was subjected to the horrors of war, false rumors, and bouts of jealousy from powerful people who wished her ill — but without ever relenting or sacrificing her integrity and voice. She prevailed.

Her workaholic tendencies were fed by her need to nourish the people of Egypt by providing them with an escape with her musical melodies. Her admirers stretch far and wide and across generations.




Umm Kulthum’s story captivates audiences at the Ithra Theater in Dhahran. (Supplied)

Khashoggi’s vision for “Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era” elegantly depicts the plight of the young Umm Kulthum and how she overcomes her plight.

The cast consists of the phenomenal voices of Agfan Afifi and Maha Khlifi as the singers of Umm Kulthum’s songs. Young Umm Kulthum is played by Sara Masry, a Saudi actress. The orchestra maestro Mostafa Fahmy leads the violin by Tamer Ismail, oud by Islam Tasha and cello by Amr Ahmed.

Nostalgia hits hard as some of the older generations in the audiences have been seen mouthing the words from their seats mid-performance. Moved audience members of all ages clap along to the songs as they sway their necks in unison.

Just like in its earlier iterations, the bilingual show is meant to attract all audiences. The singing is all in Arabic, while the dialogue includes simple English and a sprinkling of French.

Although Umm Kulthum died 50 years ago, her music still brings people from different parts of society together. Khashoggi hopes this revival of classical Arabic music will go beyond Umm Kulthum and ignite the desire in other creatives to pay homage and to craft other tributes to the great musicians, composers, and poets of the past.

Even in death, Umm Kulthum rose like a phoenix from the ashes. Her songs are still sampled by some of the most accomplished musicians of our time. US singers Beyonce, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and others consider her as among their top influences.

“When she died, there were 4 million mourning her in Egypt,” Khashoggi adds.

Even today, when Khashoggi goes to Cairo, she finds young taxi drivers listening to Umm Kulthum while driving.

“I always ask them, ‘why do you listen to her music?’ and they say ‘because we’re always stuck here for hours in the car and she makes us forget time’ … her music is still alive,” shares

“Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era” will run until March 17 at the lush Ithra Theater in Dhahran.


Saudi source denies reports that commerce minister met Israeli counterpart

Saudi source denies reports that commerce minister met Israeli counterpart
Updated 27 February 2024
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Saudi source denies reports that commerce minister met Israeli counterpart

Saudi source denies reports that commerce minister met Israeli counterpart

RIYADH: An official Saudi source denied on Monday allegations circulating on social media platforms regarding a meeting between Majid Al-Qasabi, Minister of Commerce, and an Israeli occupation official, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The same source said in a statement carried by SPA that the video circulated was while Al-Qasabi was standing with his Nigerian counterpart, prior to the opening of the thirteenth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Abu Dhabi.

“The individual shook (the Saudi minister’s) hand and then was introduced, without (Al-Qasabi’s) prior knowledge,” the source told SPA.

This was followed by Israeli media reports claiming that the two discussed peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel, with one Israeli outlet running a picture of the two under the heading: “Israeli minister and Saudi counterpart shake hands and discuss ‘making history together.’”

The source also affirmed to SPA Saudi Arabia’s firm position on the Palestinian issue and its steadfast support for the Palestinian people against Israeli aggression.


King Salman given award for services to Arab security

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud receives the award on behalf of King Salman in Tunis. (SPA)
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud receives the award on behalf of King Salman in Tunis. (SPA)
Updated 26 February 2024
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King Salman given award for services to Arab security

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud receives the award on behalf of King Salman in Tunis. (SPA)
  • The award was received by the Kingdom’s Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud
  • Interior minister said the council is keen to achieve stability and development in the Arab world

RIYADH: King Salman was given the Prince Naif Award for Arab Security on Monday for his services to the security of the Arab community, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Arab Interior Ministers Council conferred the award and it was received by the Kingdom’s Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud in Tunis during a council meeting.  

The minister said the meeting was being held at a time when the Palestinian people are experiencing an unstable security situation which has caused the suffering of thousands of children, women, and the elderly. 

He said that the council, since its inception, is keen to achieve security for Arabs and bring about stability and development.

Prince Abdulaziz said the world is witnessing developments in cyber crime, the misuse of artificial intelligence, and advanced drug trafficking methods. 

These developments have “created fertile ground for the spread of multiple types of organized crime,” armed organizations, and terrorist groups which requires developing plans to invest in infrastructure and support development, education, and capacity building to confront these threats. 

He added that Arab coordination to deal with these threats is important in order to mitigate the possible negative repercussions from such threats. 


Saudi crown prince receives chairman of Russia’s State Duma

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives the Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives the Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin in Riyadh.
Updated 26 February 2024
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Saudi crown prince receives chairman of Russia’s State Duma

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives the Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin in Riyadh.
  • During the reception, the crown prince and Vyacheslav Volodin discussed the friendly relations between their countries

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received the chairman of Russia’s State Duma in Riyadh on Monday.

During the reception, the crown prince and Vyacheslav Volodin discussed the friendly relations between the Kingdom and Russia.

They also reviewed prospects for parliamentary cooperation and discussed issues of common interest.


Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival

Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival
Updated 26 February 2024
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Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival

Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival
  • French-Egyptian opera singer Farrah El-Dibany pays tribute to Fayrouz, Dalida and Farid Al-Atrash
  • Month-long event will have events organized by French-speaking nations

JEDDAH: French-Egyptian opera singer Farrah El-Dibany opened the Francophonie Festival on Sunday here with soulful tributes to Arab legends including Fayrouz, Dalida and Farid Al-Atrash.

Dressed in white and gold attire, reminiscent of the clothing of the ancient Egyptians, El-Dibany, accompanied by Mina Barsoum on piano, Ahmed Boustaji on oud, and Aymen Attitallah on percussion, took the audience on a musical journey transcending borders and cultures.

El-Dibany’s repertoire included iconic French tunes such as “Je suis malade” and Arabic classics.

Diplomats, French expats, and cultural enthusiasts from Saudi Arabia and France attended the launch event. (Supplied)

El-Dibany said: “I am so thankful for being here in Jeddah for the first time,” encapsulating the spirit of cultural exchange and collaboration that defines the Francophonie Festival.

Prior to the performance, the French consul-general in Jeddah, Mohammed Nehad, spoke about the festival’s significance.

FASTFACTS

● The Francophonie Festival’s aim is to promote French and foster education, cultural and business ties with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world.

● For the opening performance, Farrah El-Dibany was accompanied by Mina Barsoum on piano, Ahmed Boustaji on oud, and Aymen Attitallah on percussion.

● The launch event was attended by diplomats, French expatriates, and cultural enthusiasts, as well as Saudi Arabian officials and citizens.

He said the aim was to promote French and foster education, cultural and business ties with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world.

“Through this festival, we aim to bring people together … francophone itself is a great example for cultural exchange,” he told Arab News.

The launch event was attended by diplomats, French expatriates, and cultural enthusiasts, as well as Saudi Arabia officials and citizens.

Cultural exchange and education are the main purposes of the festival in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

Among those in attendance was Larry Lamartiniere, the director of Alliance Francaise in Jeddah, who lauded El-Dibany’s performance as a fitting inauguration of the month-long Mois de la Francophonie 2024 in Saudi Arabia.

He told Arab News: “During March, the French Embassy and Alliance Francaise Saudi Arabia alongside other French-speaking countries and partners will organize events celebrating the rich diversity of francophone cultures.”

Established in 1970, the month is aimed at promoting cultural ties and human development across French-speaking nations worldwide. In Saudi Arabia, the festival acts as a platform for cultural exchange and education.

Cultural exchange and education are the main purposes of the festival in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

Several upcoming events include Benjamin Piat performing at NougCafe on Feb. 28, and the French University Graduates’ Night on March 27.

The Alliance Francaise will host a children’s workshop on Feb. 29, featuring culinary and visual arts programs. This will take place alongside a screening of the 2022 French film “Divertimento” that is the story of twin teenage sisters who dream of forming their own orchestra and making classical music available to everyone.

Senegal’s consulate will have discussions and cultural exchanges, the Francophonie Village will have a celebration of food, clothing and folk dance; and there will also be films shown at various schools, consulates and French clubs.

 


Saudi jewelry designer dazzles at Saudi Cup

Saudi jewelry designer dazzles at Saudi Cup
Updated 27 February 2024
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Saudi jewelry designer dazzles at Saudi Cup

Saudi jewelry designer dazzles at Saudi Cup
  • Raghad Al-Hogail’s jewelry creations are inspired by Saudi heritage, Arab identity

RIYADH: Los Angeles-based Saudi jewelry designer Raghad Al-Hogail brought showstopping looks to the Saudi Cup, accentuating her style statement with select pieces of jewelry she designed.

The founder of Ragail Jewelry spoke to Arab News about the thought that went into the pieces she was wearing: “I chose the most relatable piece — the Sun Orchid flower — because this flower when planted anywhere, it helps the other plants around them to grow and this is how I feel about Saudi people, they help each other grow.”

The brand’s origin began when Al Hogail was asked to participate in an exhibition in 2007. (Supplied)

Ragail Jewelry, a Saudi brand founded in 2014, features collections that emphasize the Saudi and Arab identities. Al-Hogail is proud of her identity and heritage, which is why she incorporates motifs such as Arabic lettering, camels, and Saudi coffee dallah in her designs.

The brand’s origin began when Al Hogail was asked to participate in an exhibition in 2007. It was her first time designing and presenting a collection, and she was surprised when every piece sold.

“In high school, my pieces were just brass, ribbon, and plastic and when my entire inventory was sold, I realized I had something special when it came to jewelry.

HIGHLIGHTS

● Ragail Jewelry was founded by Saudi designer Raghad Al-Hogail in 2014.

● The designs incorporate motifs such as Arabic lettering, camels, and Saudi coffee dallah.

● The designer hopes to create an art gallery in Saudi Arabia where people can engage and create art pieces.

“I participated in galleries and exhibits inside and outside the Kingdom and went to 40 shows around the world, including Paris Fashion Week, the Doha Jewelry Show, and more. I also started using materials like diamond, silver, and gold,” she said.

She exhibited her collections in Personage concept store from 2018 to 2020 and recalls it as a “a good experience.”

A piece inspired by the silver frame around the Black Stone located in the corner of the Kaaba in Makkah. (Supplied)

Al-Hogail relocated to California in 2014, attended a jewelry design school, and launched her own business in the downtown district of Los Angeles.

Speaking about her process and what inspires her collections, she added: “We don’t create collections for the summer or winter, but I do artwork whenever I get inspired. Stories served as inspiration for the pieces we created. It can occur at any moment, just like when writing a poem.”  

The brand’s origin began when Al Hogail was asked to participate in an exhibition in 2007. (Supplied)

According to Al-Hogail, each piece has a story, and the main reason for this is that she wants people to be able to relate to the story— when they wear the jewelry, they experience and become a part of it.

The pieces are made in Los Angeles and start at $400. She has also designed a piece that sold for $400,000, her most expensive creation.

I believe that when creative people come together … they flourish, and I want Saudi Arabia to have such an environ-ment.

Raghad Al-Hogail, Saudi jewelry designer

Al-Hogail said that her most sentimental collection is the Organic line, which she designed during a period of homelessness. The collection was inspired by the silver frame around the Black Stone located in the corner of the Kaaba in Makkah.

Despite being based in Los Angeles, the designer hopes to create an art gallery in Saudi Arabia where people can engage and create art pieces. She also hopes to take part in additional exhibitions within the Kingdom.

Speaking about why this dream is important to her, she said: “I enjoy being in creative environments because I believe that everyone is creative in some capacity. I believe that when creative people come together, whether they be authors, musicians, designers, or something else entirely, they flourish, and I want Saudi Arabia to have such an environment. A gathering place for all artists.”