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Um Kulthum fondly remembered by fans.

Cairo: Thirty-nine years after her death, the legacy of Umm Kulthum, the Arab world's most celebrated singer in the 20th century, continues to impress music buffs of different ages and top music charts.

"For me, Umm Kulthum represents a journey of my life," said Abdul Majid Sukar, a 64-year-pensioner, living in Cairo.

"When I was an art student, I used to study my lessons while listening to her songs on the radio. She was also a close part of Egypt's history in different times. Following the 1967 naksa (setback), she held concerts around the world and donated the proceeds to the rebuilding of the Egyptian army," Sukar said, referring to Egypt's military defeat by Israel in the Six-Day War.

Sukar recalls the day when Umm Kulthum died in February 1975. "When the news of her death was announced, all Arabs felt that a close member of their families had passed away. Her funeral drew millions of mourners, making it one of the hugest funerals the world has ever seen."

Born in December 1898 in a small village in the Nile Delta province of Dakhalia, Umm Kulthum, at 10, started singing at local funfairs and wedding parties. She was escorted by her father who was a prayer caller and a panegyrist. In a few years, the girl's exceptional voice drew attention, making her popular in the area. Later, she was introduced to well-known musicians and lyricists of the time, particularly when she went to stay in Cairo in 1921.

Seven years later, she became one of Egypt's most renowned singers when a song of hers was a best seller. After a group of young army officers deposed Egypt's king in 1952, the chief of the state-run radio, who was a military figure, banned Umm Kulthum, accusing her of being loyal to the monarchy.

The decision was soon scrapped by Jamal Abdul Nasser, a leading army officer, who became in 1954 Egypt's president and an icon of Arab nationalism.

The 1960s are considered the peak of Umm Kulthum's career when her monthly concerts became a milestone event in the Arab world. She also performed in many Arab cities and foreign capitals. Nasser reportedly interfered to coax Um Kulthum and Mohammad Abdul Wahab -- a great Egyptian musician-singer -- into collaborating and producing Inta Umri (You're my Soul mate).

Um Kulthum first performed the song in 1964, and has since become one of the most famous Arabic songs. Her Kulthum's repertoire includes hundreds of love and patriotic songs.

In 1956, when Egypt was attacked by Britain, France and Israel in what was known as the Suez Canal Crisis, Umm Kulthum galvanised Egyptians' patriotic feelings by recording Back to my Weapon, a song that was later adopted as Egypt's national anthem.

She also starred in six films featuring leading actors of her time.

"I was not lucky enough to live in the time of Umm Kulthum," said Mahmoud Fuda, an engineering student.

"However, thanks to modern technology and guidance from my father, I have come to know this treasure called Umm Kulthum. I have bought most CDs of her songs, which are the finest in the Arabic singing. Her usual appearance at her concerts holding a handkerchief made it one of her timeless trademarks."

Umm Kulthum earned several nicknames during her long career, including the Planet of the East, the Lady of Arabic Singing, Egypt's Fourth Pyramid and Thuma.

In 2001, the Egyptian government launched a museum in Cairo housing her memorabilia and a large number of medals bestowed on her during her life. "Like millions of Egyptians and Arabs, I have been deeply impressed by Umm Kulthum," said Egyptian Culture Minister Saber Arab as he toured the museum last week.

"Thirty-nine years after her death, she is still etched on our memory."

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Feb 17, 2014
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