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Umm Kulthoum … The Voice of Eternity

by Ali Mandalawi

by Moncef Al-Mazghani

1. Umm Kulthoum was born Fatima Ibrahim al-Sayyid al-Beltaghi. Her father lead the local mosque in Tamai al-Zahaira, a rural village in Egypt’s Nile Delta. She was born in 1898 but her birth was officially registered in 1908. She died in 1975 but her voice, which occupied much of the 20th century, lived on.

2. She was known as the voice of the Arab world, as the “planet of the east” and as “the lady” – no compliment was too extravagant to describe the Egyptian singer.

3. Fatima was different compared to other girls her age. Girl’s education was not easily accessible in a conservative Egyptian village in those days, but Fatima’s mother made sure that her daughter was educated as she was illiterate herself. Fatima was ready to absorb knowledge and celebrate the world. She memorized the Quran at an early age and began learning the lyrics of songs and their meanings, and she learnt about the origins of music.

4. Fatima’s father noticed her unusual talents and she started working with him in his band. She disowned the boyish clothes and wore headbands and outfits of 12-year-old girls. Because the fate of a star is to make its way toward the light, Fatima was greeted by helpful people and outstretched hands, such as Sheikh Abu El-Ala Mohammed and Zakaria Ahmed, who convinced her father that Umm Kulthoum should not be bound by the limitations of the countryside and that her place is in the capital, Cairo.

5. Her audience grew with every performance until she became the name on everybody’s lips: from the citizens Egypt and the Arabs spread across the five continents and to all the leaders of Egypt and other Arab countries.

6. Umm Kulthoum’s career can be summed up in the spirit of a legitimate ambition to rise. Her concert tickets were expensive and she came out of poverty quickly. She is a unique singer and her spirit and ambition are unmatched. Not only did Umm Kulthoum only work with specific composers or poets, but she was an ambitious lady and her hopes were limitless.

7. There was nothing stopping the flow of this river named Umm Kulthoum which carried generations of composers, among them Abu al-‘Ala Muhammad, Muhammad al-Qasabji, Riad al-Sunbati, Muhammad Abdul Wahab, and Baligh Hamdi, the youngest of the great composers. The words of the poets and the melodies of the composers embraced her voice and gave it warmth.

8. I asked a taxi driver in Cairo, “How do you listen to Umm Kulthum at this early time of the day? Her songs are should only be listened to at night.” He said to me,” Wrong, who told you this? She is the lady of every hour, from night to day.”

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