Umm Kulthum returns to Cairo stage decades after her death

March 08, 2020

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A hologram of legendary Arab singer Umm Kulthum is projected on stage at Cairo Opera House.—AFP
A hologram of legendary Arab singer Umm Kulthum is projected on stage at Cairo Opera House.—AFP

CAIRO: Revered Arab singer Umm Kulthum returned to light up the stage once more on Friday, almost five decades after her death, in the form of a hologram that delighted a packed-to-capacity crowd at Cairo’s Opera House.

Affectionately known in Egypt as “El Sett” (“The Lady”), Kulthum’s deep, resonant voice enthralled the Arab world for decades, inspired western singers like Bob Dylan and Robert Plant, and can still be heard in Egypt’s streets, cafes, taxis and Nile sailboats.

At the majestic entrance of the Opera House in the Egyptian capital, a large golden plaque bearing her image greeted giddy visitors, along with a placard reading “Star of the East, Umm Kulthum” — her most popular moniker.

As the curtains were raised, a halo of light appeared in the centre of the stage which transformed into a three-dimensional virtual composition of the singer, sending the audience of more than a thousand into rapturous applause.

In a nod to her packed concerts of decades ago, the hologram — clad in a bright purple dress and clasping Umm Kulthum’s signature handkerchief — sang from one of her most famous songs, “You toyed with my heart”.

“I came today because I have always dreamed of attending an Umm Kulthum concert,” Aya Yassin, a professor of medicine at Ain Shams University, said.

“My grandmother used to tell me about the famous Thursday concerts of hers which made me really interested in coming tonight.” Umm Kulthum was born at the end of the 19th century and her career flourished from the 1920s until her death in 1975, taking in an impressive repertoire of religious, patriotic and sentimental songs and poetry.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2020