Friday, January 9, 2009

The Tarab Of Umm

The great Umm Kulthum, which is often spelled in the western world as Om Khalsoum or derivations thereof, was known as the star of the east and the diva of Arab song. Bob Dylan once remarked that "she is one of my favorite singers of all time, and I don´t understand a word she sings..." Kulthum (1904-1975) had an amazing vocal range in her prime, and is still incredibly popular almost everywhere they speak Arabic. Call her the middle-eastern female equivalent of Elvis and you wouldn´t be far off. Not just in Egypt, her country of origin, but from Morocco to Tunesia and from Afghanistan to Syria chances are that your local taxi driver will carry one of her tapes in his glove compartment. It is said more than 4 million people showed up for her funeral procession in the streets of Cairo.

To quote Virginia Danielson in her book The Voice Of Egypt: ´in Arabic culture, a good singer is a mutrib, one who creates an environment of tarab with his or her performance. Excellent rendition generates tarab, literally ´enchantment´, the sense of having been deeply moved by the music´. A bit like duende in Spanish flamenco I guess. For a truckload of tarab, check out one of her most popular songs: El Atlal (the ruins). The live performance below is nearly 40 minutes long, but don´t let that deter you: the more it progresses, the more hypnotic it becomes. Its lyric - in translation of course - begins thus:
"My heart, don't ask where love has gone...
it was a citadel of my imagination that has collapsed,
water me and let me drink of its ruins...
and tell the story on my behalf as long as the tears flow."

Umm Kulthum - El Atlal MP3


sarahmch said...

Nice blog ... thoughtful and well done.

Bebedores do Gondufo said...

Happy New Year 2009. I hope that Portugal come visit my blog. Thank you very much

Anonymous said...


Excellent article, I love her music, specially her story behind the artistic issue. Her songs deal mostly with the universal themes of love, longing and loss. They are nothing short of epic in scale like cialis online, with durations measured in hours rather than minutes. A typical Umm Kulthum concert consisted of the performance of two or three songs over a period of three to four hours. 23jj