Umm Kulthum

Umm Kulthum
Oum Kalthoum
Background information
Birth name Umm Kulthum Ebrahim Elbeltagi
Born December 31, 1898(1898-12-31)
Tamay Ez-Zahayra, El Senbellawein, Dakahlia Governorate, Egypt
Died February 3, 1975(1975-02-03) (aged 76)
Cairo, Egypt
Genres Arabic classical music
Occupations Singer, actress
Years active c. 1924–73
Labels EMI Arabia
Associated acts Fairuz
Abdel Halim Hafez
Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Maria Callas
Website (unofficial)

Umm Kulthum (Arabic: أم كلثومʾUmm Kulṯūm; Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [omme kælˈsuːm]; born فاطمة إبراهيم السيد البلتاجي Fātimah ʾIbrāhīm as-Sayyid al-Biltāǧī, [ˈfɑtˤmɑ (ʔe)bɾˤɑˈhiːm esˈsæjjed elbelˈtæːɡi]; see Kunya) (December 31, 1898–February 3, 1975) was an Egyptian singer, songwriter, and actress. Born in Tamay ez-Zahayra village that belongs to El Senbellawein, she is known as "the star of the East" (kawkab el-sharq). More than three decades after her death, she is widely regarded as the greatest female singer in Arab music history.[1]

Various spellings of her name include Om Kalsoum, Om Koulsum, Om Kalthoum, Oumme Kalsoum and Umm Kolthoum.



Early life

Umm Kulthum was born in Tamay ez-Zahayra village in El Senbellawein, Dakahlia Governorate, Egypt, in Dakahlia, in the Nile Delta, near the Mediterranean Sea. Her birth date is unconfirmed as birth registration was not enforced throughout the Arab world. The Egyptian Ministry of Information seems to have given either December 31, 1898, or December 31, 1904.[2] She was likely born some time between these two dates.

At a young age, she showed exceptional singing talent. Her father, an Imam, taught her to recite the Qur'an, and she is said to have memorized the entire book. When she was 12 years old, her father disguised her as a young boy and entered her in a small performing troupe that he directed. At the age of 16, she was noticed by Mohamed Aboul Ela, a modestly famous singer, who taught her the old classical repertoire. A few years later, she met the famous composer and oudist Zakariyya Ahmad, who invited her to come to Cairo. Although she made several visits to Cairo in the early 1920s, she waited until 1923 before permanently moving there. She was invited on several occasions to the house of Amin Beh Al Mahdy, who taught her how to play the oud, a type of lute. She developed a very close relationship to Rawheya Al Mahdi, daughter of Amin, and became her closest friend. Kulthum even attended Rawheya's daughter's wedding, although she always tried to avoid public appearances.

Amin Al Mahdi introduced her to the cultural circles in Cairo. In Cairo, she carefully avoided succumbing to the attractions of the bohemian lifestyle, and indeed throughout her life stressed her pride in her humble origins and espousal of conservative values. She also maintained a tightly managed public image, which undoubtedly added to her allure.

At this point in her career, she was introduced by friend Robert McClure to the famous poet Ahmad Rami, who wrote 137 songs for her. Rami also introduced her to French literature, which he greatly admired from his studies at the Sorbonne, Paris, and eventually became her head mentor in Arabic literature and literary analysis. Furthermore, she was introduced to the renowned oud virtuoso and composer Mohamed El Qasabgi. El Qasabgi introduced Umm Kulthum to the Arabic Theatre Palace, where she would experience her first real public success. In 1932, her fame increased to the point where she embarked upon a large tour of the Middle East, touring such cities as Damascus, Syria; Baghdad, Iraq; Beirut and Tripoli, Lebanon.


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.

Virginia Danielson Harvard Magazine[3]

Umm Kulthum's establishment as one of the most famous and popular Arab singer was driven by several factors. During her early career years, she faced staunch competition from two prominent singers: Mounira El Mahdeya and Fathiyya Ahmad, who had equally beautiful and powerful voices. However, Mounira had poor control over her voice, and Fathiyya lacked the emotive vocal impact that Umm Kulthum's voice had. The presence of all these enabling vocal characteristics attracted the most famous composers, musicians, and lyricists to work with Umm Kulthum.

In the mid-1920s, Mohammad el Qasabgi, who was the most virtuosic oud player and one of the most accomplished yet understated Arab composers of the 20th century, formed her small orchestra (takht) composed of the most virtuosic instrumentalists. Furthermore, unlike most of her contemporary artists who held private concerts, Umm Kulthum's performances were open to the general public, which contributed to the transition from classical, and often elitist, to popular Arabic music.

By 1934, Umm Kulthum must have been one of the most famous singers in Egypt to be chosen as the artist to inaugurate Radio Cairo with her voice on May 31. Over the second half of the 1930s, two initiatives sealed the fate of Umm Kulthum as the most popular and famous Arab singer: her appearances in musical movies and the live broadcasting of her concerts performed on the first Thursday of each month of her musical season from October to June. Her influence kept growing and expanding beyond the artistic scene: the reigning royal family would request private concerts and even attend her public performances.

In 1944, King Farouk I of Egypt decorated her with the highest level of orders (nishan el kamal), a decoration reserved exclusively to members of the royal family and politicians. Despite this recognition, the royal family rigidly opposed her potential marriage with the King's uncle, a rejection that deeply wounded her pride and led her to distance herself from the royal family and embrace grassroots causes, such as her answering the request of the Egyptian legion trapped in Falujah during the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict to sing a particular song. Among the army men trapped were the figures who were going to lead the bloodless revolution of July 23, 1952, prominently Gamal Abdel Nasser, arguably he was a fan of Umm Kulthum and who would later become the president of Egypt.

Early after the revolution, the Egyptian musicians guild of which she became a member (and eventually president) rejected her because she had sung for the then-deposed King Farouk of Egypt. When Nasser discovered that her songs were forbidden from being aired on the radio, he reportedly said something to the effect of "What are they, crazy? Do you want Egypt to turn against us?"[4] It was his favor that made the musicians' guild accept her back into the fold. But it is uncertain if that happened. In addition, Umm Kulthum was a dedicated Egyptian patriot since the time of King Farouk. Some claim that Umm Kulthum's popularity helped Nasser’s political agenda. For example, Nasser’s speeches and other government messages were frequently broadcast immediately after Umm Kulthum's monthly radio concerts. Umm Kulthum was also known for her continuous contributions to charity works for the Egyptian military efforts. Umm Kulthum’s monthly concerts took place on the first Thursday of every month and were renowned for their ability to clear the streets of some of the world's most populous cities as people rushed home to tune in.

Her songs deal mostly with the universal themes of love, longing and loss. They are nothing short of epic in scale, with durations measured in hours rather than minutes. A typical Umm Kulthum concert consisted of the performance of two or three songs over a period of three to four hours. In the late 1960s, due to her age and weakened vocal abilities, she began to shorten her performances to two songs over a period of two and a half to three hours. These performances are in some ways reminiscent of the structure of Western opera, consisting of long vocal passages linked by shorter orchestral interludes. However, Umm Kulthum was not stylistically influenced by opera and she sang solo most of her career.

During the 1930s, her repertoire took the first of several specific stylistic directions. Her songs were virtuosic, as befit her newly trained and very capable voice, and romantic and modern in musical style, feeding the prevailing currents in Egyptian popular culture of the time. She worked extensively with texts by romantic poet Ahmad Rami and composer Mohammad El-Qasabgi, whose songs incorporated European instruments such as the violoncello and double bass, as well as harmony.

Golden age

Umm Kulthum's musical directions in the 1940s and early 1950s and her mature performing style led this period becoming popularly known as 'the golden age' of Umm Kulthum. In keeping with changing popular taste as well as her own artistic inclinations, in the early 1940s, she requested songs from composer Zakariya Ahmad and colloquial poet Mahmud Bayram el-Tunsi cast in styles considered to be indigenously Egyptian. This represented a dramatic departure from the modernist romantic songs of the 1930s, mainly led by Mohammad El-Qasabgi. Umm Kulthum had abstained from singing Qasabgi's music since the early 1940s. Their last stage song collaboration in 1941 was "Raq el Habib" ("The Lover's Heart Softens"), one of her most popular, intricate, and high-caliber songs.

The reason for the separation is not clear. It is speculated that this was due in part to the popular failure of the movie Aida, in which Umm Kulthum sings mostly Qasabgi's compositions, including the first part of the opera. Qasabgi was experimenting with Arabic music, under the influence of classical European music, and was composing a lot to Asmahan, a singer who immigrated to Egypt from Lebanon and was the only serious competitor for Umm Kulthum before her tragic death in a car accident in 1944.

Simultaneously, Umm Kulthum started to rely heavily on a younger composer who joined her artistic team a few years earlier: Riad El-Sombati. While Sombati was evidently influenced by Qasabgi in those early years, the melodic lines he composed were more lyrical and more acceptable by Umm Kulthum's audience. The result of collaborations with Rami/Sombati and al-Tunisi/Ahmad was a populist and popular repertoire that had lasting appeal for the Egyptian audience.

Umm Kulthum singing around 1960.

In 1946, Umm Kulthum defied all odds by presenting a religious poem in classical Arabic during one of her monthly concerts, Salou Qalbi ("Ask My Heart"), written by Ahmad Shawqi and composed by Sonbati. The success was immediate. It reconnected Umm Kulthum with her early singing years, defined Sombati's unique style in composing and established him as the best composer of music for poems in classical Arabic, toppling Mohammed Abdel Wahab. Similar poems written by Shawqi were subsequently composed by Sombati and sung by Umm Kulthum, including Woulida el Houda ("The Prophet is Born"; 1949), in which she raised eyebrows of royalists by singing a verse that describes the Prophet Mohammad as "the Imam of Socialists".

At the peak of her career, in 1950, Umm Kulthum sang Sombati's composition of excerpts of what Ahmad Rami considered the accomplishment of his career: the translation into classical Arabic of Omar Khayyám's quartets (Rubayyiat el Khayyam). The song included quartets that dealt with both epicurism and redemption. Ibrahim Nagi's poem Al-Atlal ("The Ruins"), composed by Sonbati and premiered in 1966, is considered by many[who?] as Umm Kulthum's best song. While this is debatable as Umm Kulthum vocal abilities had regressed considerably by then, the song can be viewed as the last example of genuine Arabic music at a time when even Umm Kulthum had started to compromise by singing Western-influenced pieces composed by her old rival Mohammed Abdel Wahab.

The duration of Umm Kulthum's songs in performance was not fixed, but varied based on the level of emotive interaction between the singer and her audience and Umm Kulthum's own mood for creativity. An improvisatory technique, which was typical of old classical Arabic singing and that she wonderfully executed for as long as she could have (both her regressing vocal abilities with age and the increased Westernization of Arabic music became an impediment to this art), was to repeat a single line or stance over and over, subtly altering the emotive emphasis and intensity and exploring one or various musical modal scales (maqām) each time to bring her audiences into a euphoric and ecstatic state."[citation needed] For example, the available live performances (about 30) of Ya Zalemni, one of her most popular songs, varied in length from 45 to 90 min, depending on both her creative mood for improvisations and the audience request for more repetitions, illustrating the dynamic relationship between the singer and the audience as they fed off each other's emotional energy.

The spontaneous creativity of Umm Kulthum as a singer is most impressive when, upon listening to these many different renditions of the same song over a time span of 5 years (1954–1959), the listener is offered a totally unique and different experience. This intense, highly personalized relationship was undoubtedly one of the reasons for Umm Kulthum's tremendous success as an artist. Worth noting though that the length of a performance did not necessarily reflect either its quality or the improvisatory creativity of Umm Kulthum. Some of her best performances were 25-45 min in duration, such as the three available renditions, including the commercial version of El Awwila Fi'l Gharam ("First in Love"), and Ana Fi Intizarak("I am waiting for you"), (commercial and 3-3-1955 performance). On the other hand, her songs as of the mid 1960s would extend sometimes over a duration of two hours (premiere of Enta Omri, Enta el Hobb, etc.); however, the repetitions, mostly executed upon the request of the audience, were often devoid of creative musical improvisations and limited to vocal colorful variations on a syllable, letter or word.

Around year 1965, Umm Kulthum started cooperating with composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab. Her first song composed by Abdel Wahab "Enta Omri" (You are my Life") was condiered the "summit meeting". Several beautiful songs composed by Abdel Wahab followed such as "Amal Hayati" ("The Hope of my Life"), "Fakkarouni" ("They reminded Me"), and others.

Umm Kulthum also sang for composers Mohammad El Mougi and Sayyed Mikkawi.


Monument to Umm Kulthum in Zamalek, Cairo. It is located on the site of the former house of the singer.

Umm Kulthum has been a significant influence on a number of musicians, both in the Arab World and beyond. Among others, Jah Wobble has claimed her as a significant influence on his work. Bob Dylan has been quoted as saying, "She's great. She really is. Really great."[5][6] Maria Callas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marie Laforêt, Salvador Dalí, Nico, Bono, Farin Urlaub, and Led Zeppelin are also known to be admirers of Kulthum's music.[citation needed] Youssou N'Dour, a fan of hers since childhood, recorded his 2004 album Egypt with an Egyptian orchestra in homage to her legacy.[7] One of her best known songs, "Enta Omri," has been the basis of many reinterpretations, including one 2005 collaborative project involving Israeli and Egyptian artists.

She was referred to as the Lady by Charles de Gaulle, and is regarded as the Incomparable Voice by Maria Callas. Umm Kulthum is remembered in Egypt, the Middle East, and the Arab world as one of the greatest singers and musicians to have ever lived. It is difficult to accurately measure her vocal range at its peak, as most of her songs were recorded live, and she was careful not to strain her voice due to the extended length of her songs. Even today, she has retained a near-mythical status among young Egyptians. She is also notably popular in Israel among Jews (of Mizrahi/Arab background) and Arabs alike, and her records continue to sell about a million copies a year. In 2001, the Egyptian government opened the Kawkab al-Sharq (Star of the East) Museum in the singer's memory. Housed in a pavilion on the grounds of Cairo's Manesterly Palace, the collection includes a range of Umm Kulthum's personal possessions, including her trademark sunglasses and scarves, along with photographs, recordings, and other archival material.[8]


Kulthum had a contralto vocal range.[9] It is known that she had the ability to sing as low as the second octave, as well as the ability to sing as high as between the seventh and the eighth octaves at her vocal peak;[citation needed] yet she also could easily sing over a range surpassing two octaves near the end of her career. Her ability to produce approximately 14,000 vibrations per second with her vocal cords[citation needed], her unparalleled vocal strength (no commercial microphone utilized for singing could withstand its strength, forcing her to stand at a 1- to 3-meter radius away from one[citation needed]), and her voice surpassed convention arguably made her one of the most incomparable voices in the world. Her ability and capability to sing every single Arabic scale made her one of only five women in the history of the Arab world to be able to do this, along with Asmahan, Fairouz, Sabah, and the late Thekra.[citation needed]

Selected discography

  • Aghadan alqak ("Shall I see you tomorrow?") maqam ajam (1971)
  • Ana Fi Entezarak (" I am waiting for you") (1943)
  • Alf Leila wa Leila ("One Thousand and One Nights").....maqam nahawand (1969)
  • Arouh li Meen or Arook Lemeen ("Whom Should I Go To").......maqam rast (1958)
  • Al Atlal ("The Ruins")......maqam huzam (1966)
  • Amal Hayati"; Sono ("Hope of My Life") (1965)
  • Ansak Ya Salam ("Forget you? Come on!") (1961)maqam rast
  • Aqbal al-layl ("Night has arrived") (1969)
  • Araka asiya al-dam ("I see you refusing to cry") (1964)
  • 'Awwidt 'ayni ("I accustomed my eyes") (1957) maqam kurd
  • Baeed Anak ("Away From You").......maqam bayyati (1965)
  • Betfaker fi Meen ("Who Are You Thinking Of?").....maqam bayati (1963)
  • Dalili Ehtar ("I am lost") (1955) maqam kurd
  • Dhikrayatun (Qessat Hobbi or the story of my love) ("memories")(1955)
  • El Hobb Kolloh ("All The Love").......maqam rast (1971)
  • Ental Hobb ("You Are The Love").......maqam nahwand (1965)
  • Enta Omri – Sono ("You Are the love of my life")........ maqam kurd (1964)
  • Es'al Rouhak ("Ask yourself")maqam hugaz kar (1970)
  • Fakarouni ("They reminded me").......maqam rast (1966)
  • Fit al-ma' ad ("It Is Too Late"or "the rendezvous is over") Sono Cairo.......maqam sikah (1967)
  • Gharib' Ala Bab erraja ("Stranger at the door of hope") (1955)
  • Ghulubt asalih ("Tired of forgiving") (1946)
  • Hadeeth el Rouh ("The Talk of The Soul")......maqam kurd (1967)
  • Hagartek or Hajartak ("I left You") EMI (1959)
  • Hasibak lil-zaman ("I will leave you to Time") (1962)
  • Hathehe Laylati ("This is My Night")......maqam bayyati (1968)
  • Hayart Albi Ma'ak ("You Confused My Heart")......maqam nahwand (1961)
  • Hakam 'alayna al-haw'a ("Love has ordered me") (1973)
  • Hobb Eih ("Which Love").....maqam bayyati (1960)
  • Howwa Sahih El-Hawa Ghallab ("Is love really stronger?") (1960)maqam saba
  • Kull al-ahabbah ("All the friends") (1941)
  • La Diva – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998
  • La Diva II – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998
  • La Diva III – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998
  • La Diva IV – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998
  • La Diva V – CD, EMI Arabia, 1998
  • Leilet Hobb ("a Night of Love") (1973)maqam nahawand
  • Lel Sabr Hedod ("Patience Has Limits")......maqam sikah (1964)
  • Lessa Faker ("You Still Remember").......maqam ajam (1960)
  • Men Agl Aynayk ("For your eyes") (1972)
  • Othkorene ("Remember Me") (1939)
  • Raq il Habeeb ("My Beloved Tendered Back") (1941)
  • Retrospective – Artists Arabes Associes
  • Rihab al-huda (al-Thulathiyah al-Muqaddisah) ("the paths to repentance or the holly trinity")(1972)
  • Rubaiyat Al-Khayyam ("Quatrains of Omar Khayyám").......maqam rast (1950)
  • Sirat el Houb ("Tale of Love").......maqam sikah (1964)
  • Toof we Shoof ("Wander and wonder") (1963)
  • The Classics – CD, EMI Arabia, 2001
  • Wi-darit il-ayyam ("And Time Passed By").......maqam nahwand (1970)
  • Ya Karawan ("O Plover") (1926)
  • Yali Kan Yashqiq Anini ("You who enjoyed my cries") (1949)
  • Ya Msaharny ("You that keeps me awake at night") (1972) maqam rast
  • Ya Zalemny ("You who were unjust to me") (1954)maqam kurd
  • Zalamna El Hob ("We Have Sinned Against Love") (1962)

Anthology by modern artists

  • Various artists, Tribute to Oum Kalsoum, (2009)


  1. ^ "Umm Kulthum (1898–1975)". Your gateway to Egypt. Egypt State Information Service. Archived from the original on 2009-11-24. 
  2. ^ "Floccinaucinihilipilification: The Best". 2007-11-20. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  3. ^ Harris, Craig (1975-01-21). "((( Umm Kulthum > Biography )))". allmusic. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  4. ^ Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt. Dir. Michal Goldman. Narr. Omar Sharif. Arab Film Distribution, 1996.
  5. ^ Playboy Interview: Bob Dylan
  6. ^ PIAZZA, TOM (July 28, 2002). "Bob Dylan's Unswerving Road Back to Newport". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-29. [dead link]
  7. ^ Pascarella, Matt. "A Voice from Senegal: Youssou N'Dour". Retrieved 2010-10-23. "'Umm Kulthum was something that we could all share - throughout the Muslim world, despite our differences, her music brought people together,' he says. 'Although I haven't done anything close to what Umm did in music, I'm trying to be part of that musical tradition. For me, through Umm, Egypt became more than a country, it is a concept of meeting, of sharing what we have in common.' 'The Egypt album was my homage to Umm's legacy.'" 
  8. ^ Rakha, Youssef and El-Aref, Nevine, "Umm Kulthoum, superstar", Al-Ahram Weekly, December 27, 2001 - January 2, 2002.
  9. ^ Funeral for a Nightingale


  • Danielson, Virginia. The Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
  • Halfaouine: Boy of the Terraces (1990) (film). This DVD contains an extra feature short film that documents Arab film history, and it contains several minutes of an Uum Kulthum public performance.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

См. также в других словарях:

  • Umm Kulthum — (* zwischen 1898 und 1910, vermutlich am 4. Mai 1904 in Tammai az Zahaira; † 3. Februar 1975 in Kairo; arabisch ‏أمّ كلثوم‎, DMG ʾUmm Kulṯūm …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Umm Kulthum — Religion religions abrahamiques : judaïsme · christianisme · islam …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Umm Kulthûm — Umm Kulthum Religion religions abrahamiques : judaïsme · christianisme · islam …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Umm Kulthum — (en árabe: أم كلثوم ; el nombre se encuentra transcrito también como Oum Kalsoum, Oum Kalthum, Omm Kolsoum, Umm Kolthoum, etc.) (n. 4 de mayo de 1904 3 de febrero de 1975) Música y cantante egipcia. Una de las cantantes mas conocidas y queridas… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Umm Kulthum — ou Oum Kalsoum (Fâtima Ibrâhîm Umm Kultûm) (1898 1975) chanteuse égyptienne, la plus populaire du monde arabe …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Umm Kulthūm — ▪ Egyptian musician also spelled  Oum Kulthoum  or  Om Kalsoum  born May 4, 1904?, Tummāy al Zahāyrah, Egypt died February 3, 1975, Cairo       Egyptian singer, who mesmerized Arab audiences from the Persian Gulf to Morocco for half a century.… …   Universalium

  • Umm Kulthum — Ụmm Kulthum   [ suːm], Ọm Kalsoum [ suːm], ägyptische Sängerin, * Tamay az Zuhaira (Nildelta) 31. 12. 1902, ✝ Kairo 3. 2. 1975; bereicherte die moderne arabische Musik durch die Rückbesinnung auf das klassische arabische Lied. Sie hinterließ… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Umm Kulthum (name) — Umm Kulthum or Umme Kulsum (Arabic: أم كلثوم‎) is a female given name that means Mother of Kulthum . People who had this name: Umm Kulthum (singer), famous Egyptian singer (1904 1975) Umm Kulthum bint Ali, a daughter of Ali Umm Kulthum bint Abu… …   Wikipedia

  • Umm Kulthum bint Ali — (Arabic: أم كلثوم بنت على ) was the fourth child of Ali ibn Abu Talib (the first Shi’a Imam and fourth Sunni Caliph) and Fatima Zahra, the daughter of Muhammad.Umme Kulsoom bint Ali was the 4th child of Ali and Fatima. Her believed marriage to… …   Wikipedia

  • Umm Kulthum bint Jarwila Khuzima — (ArB| أم كلثوم) was a sahaba of Muhammad. She was one of Umar ibn al Khattab s wives.Her actual name was Maleeka. Umm Kulthum was her also*Umm Kulthum (name)External links* [http://www.answering… …   Wikipedia

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