Celebrating the Egyptian Diva: Oum Kalthoum
As the Divas exhibition in the Arab World Institute came to an end a few days ago, let’s take the time to appreciate one of the most powerful female Arab singers and learn more about her and her huge history.
From the May 19 to September 26 2021, there happened to be a magical exhibition that took place in the Arab World Institute in the 5th Arrondissement in Paris. The exhibition shed light on female Arab icons that inspired future generations to grow their confidence and flourish including Dalida, Feyrouz, Souad Hosny, and Warda. This article will solely focus on the fourth pyramid: Oum Kalthoum.
Oum Kalthoum 1898–1975 (الست)
Kawkab Al Sharq (Star of the East) aka Oum Kalthoum was active and dominating the music industry in Egypt and the Middle-East for as long as she lived. Her father was an Imam who sang traditional and religious songs in events, she followed his steps and he encouraged her when he discovered her talent. She started dressing up as a boy when she began singing; her father was worried for her. By the mid-1920s she had released her debut recordings and had already created an authentic and refined style that suited her personality. As the 1920s were coming to an end, she had become an unstoppable mega-star and was the most-paid singer in Al-Qahera (Cairo).
Starting 1937, she began to sing on the first Thursday of every month; the reason she sang on Thursdays is that in Egypt and Islamic countries, Thursday is the last working day of the week, like Fridays in the West. Oum Kalthoum collaborated with Mohamed Abdel Wahab on ten songs, including the all-time classic “Enta Omri” (You are My Life), she herself is an all-time classic and icon of Egyptian culture.
Oum Kalthoum was not just known for her extraordinary voice, but also for her very specific personality and love for her country. When Egypt was at its worst, without any wasted time Oum Kalthoum planned her first concert beyond the Arab world, and performed in Paris to fundraise Egyptian military and army, especially that she had a strong relationship with Gamal Abdel Nasser; he greatly admired her (see the right picture at the bottom of 3).
She traveled to Paris, arrived to Orly airport and still at that time the tickets were still available as everyone felt like it was unrealistic, but once she confirmed her appearance that night via media, all tickets were sold out by the time she arrived to her hotel of residence (The Ritz). On November 14th 1967, Oum Kalthoum performed in the Olympia in Paris, and it was a historical night. She was paid double the amount of the highest artist that ever sang there and donated it all to the Egyptian military to strengthen her country; thus, she will always be a symbol of patriotism.
Finally, let’s take a moment to speak about Oum Kalthoum’s iconic fashion style. Oum Kalthoum is a mysterious woman who was able to establish herself in a male universe. At the same time, she left a mark in the world of fashion with her emblematic sense of style that consisted of a beautiful gown typically designed by Madame Vasso, her diamonds, her bun, her glasses, her pearls and of course her silk scarf (a must to complete the look).
If you are interested to know more about the iconic Oum Kalthoum, check out this podcast episode exploring her life and career, unveiling the beauty of her mysteriouness.