Was Umm Kulthum’s voice her only true impact on the People of Egypt?[The 3 pieces to the impact puzzle]
If you search for Umm Kulthum on Google, you will find a plethora of articles talking about her ever rising success up until today in the year of 2021. As a person born in 1904, who rose to fame in the mid 1940’s, one can truly believe that the only reason for her extremely successful career is her unique voice. Why else would her reign of popularity be referred to as “The Golden Age of Umm Kulthum”? However, why did her unique voice resonate so much with Egyptians? How did Umm Kulthum solely impact, not only the people of Egypt, but the people of the Middle East? With these questions in mind, I turned to the documentary titled Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt. A documentary produced, directed, and written by Michael Goldman in the year 1996. This documentary touches on many aspects of Umm Kulthum’s life, but we will focus on 3 main ones- which we will soon call, “the impact puzzle”. Once we talk about all the “puzzle pieces” individually, we will put them together and figure out Umm Kulthum’s true impact on the people of Egypt. Let’s get started!
The documentary took the time to allow us into Umm Kulthum life as an artist; who she was, her upbringing, and what provoked her to start singing. Using a narrator to mimic the voice of Umm Kulthum, she stated “people say I began to sing for the love of the art of singing, but that is not true. In the beginning, I began singing because we were in need”. Thirteen minutes into the documentary, and we already are able to see Umm Kulthum in the rawest form. The women who only performed on stage in expensive, high-end gowns was not always a part of that socioeconomic class growing up. We can see that she can relate to Egyptians down to the lowest level of wealth because she too, was once at that level. But what does Umm Kulthum’s socioeconomic class have to do with her true impact on the Egyptian people? It does! We must continue the review and put the pieces of the impact puzzle together.
Tarab, or ‘musical ecstasy’ as described in the documentary, is the main objective of arabic music. When combined with the correct artist, poetry, and emotion, it can be reached. Tarab is also an aspect of music that Umm Kulthum is easily able to achieve. Her singing is so articulate and sweet, yet strong and assertive that the audience cannot hold back. A fifteen minute song usually yields about two hours of repetition and improvisation to the audience’s likings. You may be thinking, ‘well of course. This is why she is famous- it’s because of her voice’. But I am here to tell you that Umm Kulthum had an impact on the people of Egypt with her singing and tarab in another way than just entertainment. However, we must look at the last piece of the impact puzzle to figure it out.
Nationalism. Umm Kulthum was a very loyal Egyptian citizen. She believed in the Egyptian government to the extent that she became close friends with the president at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who supported her and her art just as much. President Nasser understood the power behind Umm Kulthum’s ability to reach millions of people directly, and so, he gave her every possible honor. In return, Umm Kulthum supported Egypt and the revolution. Of course you are wondering ‘what does Umm Kulthum’s nationalism and her association with President Nasser have to do with her impact on the people of Egypt?’ Well, this was finally the last piece to the impact puzzle, so let’s put it together.
For an artist to have the type of impact Umm Kulthum had, they must have done more in their lifetime than just have a unique voice. And this is something that we were able to extract through this documentary. We first talked about her coming from a low socioeconomic class. She remained humble throughout her lifetime- donating to charities, helping those in need. A scholar in the documentary mentioned how Umm Kulthum would “give benefit concerts for the poorer students at colleges without receiving any pay in return”. In dong acts like so, Umm Kulthum gained the love of many Egyptian citizens; and she physically changed many lives.
Secondly, we talked about tarab and how this word is literally translated to musicalecstasy in english. But, how does Umm Kulthum’s use of tarab while singing impact the Egyptian people? Everytime Umm Kulthum sang, people believed those songs to be about them and it resonated with them and only them. Umm Kulthum’s use of tarab freshens the emotions to any event that occurred in a person’s life- but the emotions differ for all. “… I got engaged when Inta Omricame out, it’s just a beautiful memory” one individual reminisced with glee, while another man stated “I was 18 or 19 when I loved a girl and it was a terrible blow for me”. He shortly bursted in song, singing verse’s of an Umm Kulthum song about healing from pain. Umm Kulthum found a way to be a vessel for the voice of Egyptians. Whether that was for happiness, sadness, fear, anger, etc., she left her mark in that way.
We lastly want to talk about Umm Kulthum’s nationalism. She cared about the Egyptian revolution and consistently found ways to support Egypt’s soldiers. Among many examples, a notable combination between impact and nationalism is after Egypt’s defeat to Israel in 1967. Umm Kulthum decided she would tour all Arab countries and raise money to rearm Egypt- in an attempt to do so, she raised more than 2 million dollars all to the Egyptian government. Revolution, justice, and peace, has always been important to the Egyptian people. Whether you scream it from the top of your lungs on the street at a protest or dedicate your life to Egypt in the forces, everyone is expected to fight. Umm Kulthum found her own way to fight. With her voice! She sang her heart out, and every last Egyptian will remember the impact she left as she sang…
“Give me my freedom.
Untie my hands. I gave, I held back nothing.
Ah, your bonds have made my wrists bleed.
I didn’t escape them, nor did they spare me”
References arrafz. “الشريفعمربصوت | وثائقيكلثومام
Documentary: Umm Kulthum, A Voice Like Egypt (1996).” YouTube, YouTube, 15 Nov. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwk0lDjUQFw.
“Umm Kulthum.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 Mar. 2021. Web. 22 Apr. 2021,https://bit.ly/3dEDlGD
“’She Exists out of Time’: Umm Kulthum, Arab Music’s Eternal Star.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 Feb. 2020, https://bit.ly/3sBZw4