A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Remembering Oum Kulthum 35 Years Later

Back when I was posting Arabic Christmas carols by Fairuz, I noted that she was perhaps the greatest living Arabic female vocalist, but that Oum Kulthum, an Ascended Master, would be discussed another time.

One of my readers has nudged me with the reminder that February 3, 1975, 35 years ago today, was the date Oum Kulthum left the building. (And Elvis references are not at all out of line: she was that big in the Arab world, perhaps bigger. Though a lot different to be sure.) Certainly during her lifetime she was a superstar unlike any other, and Arab Gulf potentates would fly to Cairo to hear her concerts. Here's her Wikipedia entry in English. Here's Arabic Wikipedia. And here's an article called "Oum Kalthoum for Non-Arab Ears."

Her name can appear as Umm Kulthum, Oum Kalthoum, Oum Kulsum, and so on, for reasons we have discussed before. She was born Fatima Ibrahim al-Baltagi. She's still called Kawkab al-Sharq, the Star of the East, and Cairo has a museum devoted to her.

She also made movies, which I haven't seen but I suspect that, like Elvis' movies, they were mostly vehicles for letting her break into song. (I'm pretty sure they're not like Elvis movies in any other ways.)

Since some of her songs could go on for an hour or more, she's not necessarily ideal for short sampling, and my own lack of sophistication in Arab music probably makes me a poor commentator anyway. So I'll let YouTube do it. [Note: the second one I posted earlier had no vocals, so I've substituted one that does.]


Jillian said...

The second clip includes no vocals whatsoever!

Michael Collins Dunn said...


I've replaced it with one that does. Thanks.