Om Kalsoum – Star of the Orient

Om Kalsoum

In Egypt, the one outstanding voice and image of the Egyptian music scene has been that of Om Kalsoum. She is the legendary singer who is called the “Star of the Orient.” It would be a rare day anywhere in Egypt that one would not encounter her music. She is played in homes, coffee shops and taxi-cabs. You can hear her everywhere you go. There are many coffee shops that bear her name in Cairo along. It is truly a sign that she is the one female Egyptian whose presence is immortal. It is impossible to fully understand modern Egyptian culture without acknowledging the influence of the magical singer Om Kalsoum. There is no superlative is too strong to describe how she captured Egypt’s heart in her music and her spirit. Om Kalsoum is the Star of the Orient.

Om Kalsoum’s expressive and enchanting vocals combined with her powerful stage presence wowed the nation. Her voice had a phenomenal perfect range from Baritone across to Soprano. Its strength allowed her to perform to massive auditoriums without the aid of a microphone. The lyrics of her songs, which were largely of unrequited love, the agony and ecstasy of a relationship and of a parents love for a child seemed to reflect back to the audience their own confused human emotions which they found so difficult to articulate. Grown men would burst into tears at the poetry of the words and the way her voice expressed them. The language of her songs was sometimes in highly classical Arabic which would need a linguist to fully understand. Other songs were written in the ordinary language of street-sellers, bus-drivers and boatmen. Both of her styles earned Om Kalsoum her scores of admirers. The poetry of her lyrics was delivered with a sometimes celestial-sometimes-earthy voice which firmly entered the heart of millions.

Om Kalsoum was born into a humble home in the rural area known as Daqahleyya. “Thuma”, as she was known to her loved ones, spent her childhood playing in the dust and riding donkeys among the lush fields alongside the Nile . Although blissfully unaware of the greatest she would one day achieve, Om Kalsoum did become well-known in her local area as a child who could recite the Qu’ran beautifully. She would often sing Islamic ballads or long Qur’anic verses to large gatherings in the villages, dressed as a boy, as it is against Islamic custom for a girl to perform recitations in public.

When the family moved to Cairo she quickly began to record songs and perform with the best Egypt had to offer, moving away from religion to sing the romantic songs she became famous for. She learned very quickly the words of her songs, crafted by Egypt’s finest poets, and performed with musicians who were usually not only top class performers with their oriental instruments.

Om Kalsoum’s weekly performances which were broadcast on the national radio were so popular that shops would close and towns became ghost-towns as people rushed home to gather with their families around the radios.

At her funeral millions thronged the streets in the biggest ever national mourning. Although dead, her music remains immortally at the centre of Egyptian life. In Egypt, Om Kalsoum is the Queen who will live forever.

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