Oum Kalthoum in the 1970s/File photo via Wikimedia Commons
CAIRO - 27 JUNE 2017: French director Xavier Villetard screened a documentary about the life of the musical legend Oum Kalthoum, at the Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels ( FIPA) in Biarritz, France. The documentary is titled Oum Kalthoum, la voix du Caire.
Oum Kalthoum is a woman who has had the largest social and political impact on Egyptian and Arab populations.
She started out her career singing Islamic songs at the age of seven with her brothers after learning Arabic grammar by reciting the Quran. Her father dressed her like a boy to avoid complications of having a girl singing publically on a stage. Soon after gaining popularity in the Nile Delta, where she was born, she moved to Cairo, where everyone was shocked to discover her gender.
People would religiously wait for her live radio performances every Thursday where she would voice her love and her admiration for God and her country. In the 1930s, her voice traveled across the Arabic world to Beirut, Baghdad, and Jerusalem.
40 years after her death, Oum Khalthoum still remains the voice of Cairo ringing in every Egyptian and Arabic household. It was through her voice that she gave voice to the voiceless.
She was very good at keeping her private and public life separate. People knew Oum Kalthoum as "the voice", the empowered woman, the humble country-girl, the political influencer, but no one knew much about her personality beyond her stage persona and public appearances.
Oum Kalthoum remained a strong indirect advocate for women's rights through her music. She always had a strong relationship with political leaders. She would hold performances for King Farouk and continued to do the same for Gamal Abdel Nasser. When Abdel Nasser died, she canceled her Soviet Union tour to morn his death.
The Arab world's heart was broken when she dies. Millions of people went out on the street to morn her departure and millions walked her coffin through the streets of Egypt.