September 10, 2002
From Virginia Louise Danielson's "Shaping tradition
in Arabic song: The career and repertory of Umm Kulthum":
Umm Kulthum was born in a small rural village to a poor
family. Her background typified that of the mashayikh and did not differ substantially
from that of many of her contemporaries. Her father, al-Shaykh Ibrahim al-Sayyid
al-Baltaji (d. 1932), was the imam of the local mosque, and her mother, Fatmah al-Maliji
(d. 1947), was a housewife. Her date of birth is not known for certain, but the most
reliable suggestion is May 4, 1904, given on a page from the Daqahliyah provincial
birth records for Tammay al-Zahayrah.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Umm Kulthum began to make commercial
recordings and launched her life-long involvement with mass media, essential to her
long and extensive popularity. Her commitments later expanded to include radio, from
the inception of Egyptian National Radio in 1934, films, which she began in 1935,
and television in 1960.
Her increasing musical skill and financial stability in
the 1930s allowed her to assume great control over all aspects of her performances.
As sis most entertainers who were able, Umm Kulthum eliminated the theatrical agent
from her professional life as soon as possible. She used her circle of carefully
chosen friends as advisors and sometimes representatives and, by 1938, became the
producer of her own concerts and negotiator of her own contracts. She was able to
obtain extraordinary contracts that called for her approval of virtually every aspect
of a performance, including selection of accompanists, and actors and technicians
for her films.
During the 1930s, her repertory 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 Muhammad al-Qsabji, who's songs incorporated European instruments
such as the violoncello and double bass as well as harmony.
Umm Kulthum's musical directions in the 1940s and early
1950s and her mature performing style caused this period to be popularly called 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 Bayram al-Tunisi cast in styes considered
to be indigenously Egyptian. This represented a dramatic departure from the modernist
romantic songs of the 1930s. The result was a populist repertory that had lasting
appeal for the Egyptian audience.
She died of heart failure on February 3, 1975.
to "Ya Mesahharni" album (RealAudio)
Thanks to Aryan and Azam
Nemati for sending this album
-- Al Mashriq's page
on Umm Kulthum
-- A collection
of Umm Kulthum mp3 songs, lyrics, films, videos and more.
Purchase Umm Kulthum CDs
Diva of Arabic Music Vol. 1
Diva of Arabic Music Vol. 2