Umm Kulthum -By Hannah Buckley

Umm Kulthum was born into a poor family, in a small village, but that didn’t stop her from being a big contributor to the Golden Age of Ethiopian media. She learned to sing from her father, who sang in weddings and other religious celebrations. She began performing locally with her family. Once they were discovered they continued their travels to gain greater popularity. Kulthum was prompted to move to Cairo, because there she would have more opportunities. Once she arrived to Cairo she changed her "old-fashioned" sound into a more contemporary sound, and worked on hiring new group members. By 1928 she was working her way to the top, competing with some of the most prestigious singers of that time.

Kulthum began involvement with the media via a TV commercial; which led to opportunities like being featured in the radio and television programs. From this, she not only became a popular singer, but a television star as well, along with other great performers including Muhammad’ Abdal-Wahhab and Fadrid al-Trash. Eventually she became her own producer, and was able to sign contracts where she made all important decisions, including determining who was going to play the instruments, what actors she wanted, and who would be responsible for filming. Her style became well known at this time. Additionally, she was known for her modern/romantic style of singing. During her era popular music was both artistic and modern. Although the music was modern and new, these artists maintained the integrity of the music of their culture.

She changed her sound a few times, specifically in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s when audiences’ styles changed. She took young artist Riyad al-Sunbati under her wing and developed a new style of music -different from what she had ever done. This type of music was Arab and poetic. Riyad al-Sunbati's songs were a fresh sound, but he also preserved the popular qasa’id music of that time. Umm Kulthum transitioned from the role of producer into the role of radio personality. At this point in her life she was extremely successful and proud of everything she had accomplished. She accomplished goals that were common to people in the entertainment industry. Although she was famous she was still known for her sense of humility. Her followers knew how much she cared about preserving their tradition and culture. It was no mystery that Kulthum emerged from the peasant class, and even though her economic status increased she maintained core values learned from her early years. This helped her gain popularity in lower class Ethiopian society. Moreover, she was known as “The voice of Egypt” because she represented Egyptian culture thoroughly; her work ethics and personality did not go unrecognized!

Later on in her career she teamed up with ‘Abd al-Nasser, and produced their first hit song, “Inta Umri” in 1964. They produced ten more hits. From then on, her career continued to progress and become yet more successful. Her music is a wonderful example of Ethiopian music and how fun and beautiful it is.

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