art of resistance, Egypt, Morocco, travel

Cinemas of Morocco and Egypt.

maroc081,large.1422288691/Cinema Al Falah, Casablanca/

Stephan Zaubitzer started photographing movie theatres in 2003. Twelve years later, he has an impressive cinema collection in his portolio, from the United States and Romania, to Brazil and the Czech Republic. Among the cinemas he discovered and captured in his photos, there are many that can be found in Morocco and Egypt – from Casablanca, Marrakech and Tangier to Alexandria and Cairo.

Zaubitzer was fascinated by the dark interiors with their outlandish decorations, and by the exteriors, which always stand out from their urban surroundings. His photos allows us to take a tour around the magical world of movie theaters in Morocco and Egypt.

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//all photos © Stephan Zaubitzer//

• • •

For more, visit Stephan Zaubitzer’s official website.

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art of resistance, Egypt, Palestine

Radwa Ashour: Living With The Sea.

The following is an excerpt from Radwa Ashour’s novel The Woman from Tantoura (translated by Kay Heikkinen).

11193228_756935071088032_1600094042379216030_n/Radwa Ashour, photo: Lobna Ismail, via Arabic Literature/

“The sea was the border of the village, lending it its voices and colors, suffusing it with scents, which we would smell even in the aroma of the large, flat stone-baked bread loaves. I don’t remember when I learned how to swim just as I don’t remember when I learned how to walk or talk.

In later years I headed for coastal towns. I said ‘the sea in Beirut and Alexandria is the same sea’, but it wasn’t. City sea is different: you look at it from the high balcony or you walk along an asphalt path and the sea is there, separated from you by a ditch and a fence. And if you decide to go to it you come as a stranger, sitting in one of the coffee shops on the shore, or carrying with you stranger’s gear – an umbrella, a chair, perhaps a towel and a swimsuit. It’s a limited visit: you come as a guest, then you pick up your things and leave.

Like most of the houses in the village, our house was entwined with the sea. I would go to it carelessly, almost unnoticing, two steps in the water meaning to wet my feet and then a wave would surprise me, wetting my whole garment.  I would jump back to the sand and in the flash of an eye it would turn me into a sand creature, then another jump and I would dive into the water all the way.

I would swim and play, alone or with the other girls and boys. We would share in digging, then ‘me, me, me…’. I would go down into the deep pit and they would spread sand over me until my body disappeared , leaving only the heads rising excitedly from its warm, sandy burial place. A grave surrounded by the laughter and devilment of the young.

Perhaps the sea, like us, is absorbed in watching and forgets itself in calm, or is gradually overcome by sleepiness after the long evening. Like the sea, we give in to the gentle torpor. We don’t notice until our mothers take us away, and we follow them like sleepwalkers. We settle into our beds, not knowing if we are in the house or on the beach, if what we see or what rings in our ears is the real wedding or a dream in our sleep.

The sea resides in the village. As for the train, it has set times, appearing  and the disappearing, like the night-haunting ghoul. We are disturbed  by the roar of its engines as it approaches, the earth’s shaking as it passes, the friction of the wheels on the rails, its whistle bursts, the hiss of the brakes because it is stopping. The train passes through the town daily, and has a station in the east, in Zummarin. Sometimes it carries local people like us; mostly it is ridden by English soldiers or settlers with business in Haifa or Jaffa, who come and go by train. My two brothers ride Abu Isam’s bus once a week, going to Haifa at the beginning of the week and returning at the end, to spend Thursday and Friday night with us.”

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art of resistance, Egypt

Remembering Hassan Fathy: To Build With The People.

The house still stands at the end of the curved, dusty road at the foot of Cairo’s great Citadel. It still has character and mystery; now, however, it is a unique work of art amidst its modern concrete neighbours.

It is the house where Hassan Fathy lived; a mansion without its master. That master was an intriguing man; one to whom some bowed, and many more raised a sceptical brow. He was seen as eccentric and a dreamer — the strange man who built his house of mud — not the man the world now praises; the architect who laboured for the people.

That is how Yasmine El-Rashidi (writing for Al-Ahram Weekly) describes her visit to Hassan Fathy’s house, on the centenary of his birth.

gal-post68/Hassan Fathy, photo via Design with Nature/

Hassan Fathy was born in Alexandria in 1900, and died in Cairo in 1989. He was a notable architect, a man with a vision, a man who truly wanted to use his knowledge to help his community. His mission was to provide a decent housing for all Egyptians and especially the poorest, the peasants  who lived outside the cash economy.

When he got his degree and was out on his first job (he was assigned to build a school in a remote farming area of the Delta) a life-changing experience happened to him – one that would help put him on a path towards different architecture. On reaching the village, he was shocked by the poverty of its residents, and wrote:

I suddenly felt terribly responsible. Nothing had been done out of consideration for the human beings who spent their lives there; we had been content to live in ignorance of the peasant’s sickening misery. I decided I must do something.”

And he did something, and kept on doing it for the rest of his life. He brought back efficient and sustainable building techniques, but also trained ordinary citizens to make their own building materials and even construct their own homes. He did not incorporate western ideologies into his architectural techniques, he rather used old techniques which were cheaper, sustainable and energy efficient.

New Gourna Mosque/New Gourna Mosque, photo © Hassan Fathy/

He brought back the use of mud brick, also known as Adobe. As Simone Swan writes:

Adobe became Fathy’s technological passion, and he remained loyal to it not only because of its durability over millennia—some adobe structures in Egypt are more than 3000 years old—but also because of its thermal properties: In many desert climates it maintains comfortable temperatures within a range of three to four degrees centigrade (5-7°F) over a 24-hour cycle. Furthermore, it is plentiful: Approximately one-third of the world’s people already live in houses made of earth.

In a world were architecture is praised mainly for its aesthetic value, Hassan Fathy’s vission is more than necessary. In Architecture for the Poor, he writes:

Although I believe that the appearance of the building has the most profound effect upon its inhabitants, yet one cannot house men in the Parthenon. One’s beautiful designs must serve the humble everyday needs of men; indeed, if these designs are true to their materials, their environment, and their daily job, they must necessarily be beautiful.

Boys Primary School Courtyard, New Gourna/New Gourna Boys Primary School, photo © Roger Viollet/

Unfortunately, precisely because of his vision and commitment to society, Fathy encountered many setbacks during his long career. As Swan puts it: “His commitment to the poor made him an outsider in Egypt, one who was regarded as a threat to vested interests in industrial building materials, banking, real estate and large-scale contracting.”

Still, he managed to work on more than 160 projects during his lifetime. In 1946 he started working on the Gourna Village project where he incorporated new designs and urban planning with older, more sustainable building techniques. Decades later, the model village is falling into serious disrepair.  World Monuments Fund (WMF) made this video in hope of carrying out a project to safeguard the site.

In 1957 Fathy designed a prototype of temporary housing for Palestinian refugees, in 1967 he worked on New Bariz Village (Kharga), his best known community project.

In 1972 he published To Build With The People, a year later translated by Chicago Press and published as Architecture for the Poor, which catapulted Fathy’s work to international fame. The revised title was not Fathy’s choice, but that of the publisher, and it is precisely that revised title that illustrates the issues Fathy faced in his career in relation to his vision.

I think that there is a big problem in that English translation, just like there is a big problem when we talk about charity instead of solidarity. The problem lays in the dynamic of power, in the hierarchy, in looking down on.

Let me quote Eduardo Gaelano on this one: “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.

Fathy’s architecture was about people – seeing their needs, helping them, working with them, learning from them. Sure, they were peasants, they were poor, but they were also more than that, and Fathy’s architecture went beyond that. And it wasn’t and isn’t architecture that is limited to poor people. It was and is architecture that promotes sustainable, modest and yet beautiful way of living. That is what we all need to consider, rich or poor, if our wish is to preserve our nature, our culture and our future.

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Assia Djebar: I Write Against Erasure

Remembering Howard Zinn: To Be Hopeful in Bad Times

Remembering Pablo Neruda: Pablo Neruda, Presente!

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers

and more.

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art of resistance, Egypt

Yusuf Idris: An Aimless Sort of Running (The Aorta).

Yusuf Idris was a great Egyptian writer of short stories, plays and novels. Here is an excerpt from his short story The Aorta (the story can be found in Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East). It was translated from the Arabic by Trevor J. Le Gassick.

Yusuf_Idris_portrett/Yusuf Idris, photo via wikimedia/

It wasn’t important that there was running; what mattered was that it was happening all over the place as if Doomsday itself had come. A very peculiar type of running it was, not like someone in a hurry, or fleeing in terror, or racing to save a life. No – an aimless sort of running, as if those doing it were trying to find some spot from which to actually begin their running and hurrying.

And so no one knew the goal or purpose of the others, all being in a state of watchful anxiety, concerned that one of them would find his own point of beginning which would then, no doubt, define their own. That’s why you saw people running so madly, crazily, and trying so desperately yet unsuccessfully to watch where the others were heading. Whenever anyone appeared at all hesitant and slowed down, or became more purposeful and increased speed and so seemed about to discover his goal, then dozens would rush toward him, hoping to arrive before him, to be the first to set off after a clearly defined objective.

This whole activity made the place, if viewed from high above or far away, seem to pulsate with sudden throbbings that then dispersed and subsided, it all happening at more than one place at a time. You would have thought the square paved with smooth veneer, if it had not been for those sudden pulsations occuring here and there that alone gave signs of life. You would have thought it all veneer of stone, or the human b eings gathered there lumps of multicolored rocks. No one knows whether blows were struck or not. Well, actually, I personally was struck by more than one blow, vicious painful blows. But it was impossible to know who was doing the striking because one had no constant neighbor and the continous fluid movement prevented you getting so much as a glance at the hundreds passing you or whom you were passing. In any case there were, most certainly, blows struck.

And what a surprise then! How could I ever have guessed that turning next moment to the person right beside me – the very first close neighbor whose features I had been able to properly examine – I would find, to my shock and amazement, Abduh!

But even as food Abduh was completely unappetizing, disgusting even; he was thin and weak. He never showed a glimmer of defiance, never faced up to anyone else to assert or defend his own existence.  He was ‘good’, that weakly, negative sort of goodness, as if he had a double hernia or something, and he sang sweet songs when by himself. He seemed ‘foreign’, out of place wherever he was, as if he’d never found his own country. When things got too much for him, he’d cry. His eyes would suddenly fill with tears. But there’d be no redness in them; the flush would gather into his nose, which would seem to swell and fill with the secretions.

Yes, for three whole days, morning, noon, and nights, I’ve been looking for you, Abduh, turning over the pavement stones in Cairo, breaking into houses, asking, demanding, pleading for help in finding you, searching every road, every street, every alley. My strength finally sapped, I fell asleep only to wake up in a rage of despair at finding you: my dream, my nightmare, and the pain of my hours awake or asleep is the thought of truning around sometime and finding you there, Abduh! 

‘Where have you been, Abduh, and where did you hide the money?'”

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Egypt, travel

Looking For The Sun: Going South Along The Nile.

I’ve already written about the photographer Myriam Abdelaziz and her project Menya’s Kids, which deals with child labor in the quarries of Menya, Egypt. It was about time to shine some light on one of her other projects – Going South Along the Nile, published on LensCulture. Abdelaziz writes:

In Egypt, where my blood is from, I traveled south…

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I needed to be closer to the sun. I was looking for a warmer place. I wanted to be with people who see the sun everyday, people whose skin has darkened, filled with all that sun. I knew that every single place, every single thing I would see there would be filled with that sun, I knew the South would give me this infinite warmth I badly needed, not to be bathed in but more inundated by, so I traveled south….

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Going south of Egypt, life only exists by the borders of the Nile river. Many tiny villages have been lining the edges of the river for hundreds of years, some only to be destroyed to give space for archeologist excavations to explore older times, or for modern hotels to be built.

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Going south I met the sun I was looking for and the people filled with it… every place I went felt timeless, while I knew it could be the last time I might see it.

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I photographed to keep this warmth I needed so badly with me.”

as/all photos © Myriam Abdelaziz/

For more on this project, go to LensCulture. For more on Abdelaziz and her work, visit her facebook page, and see her profile on Rawiya.

• • •

P.S. While going through these photos, I recommend listening Omar Khairat’s relaxing and beautiful music. He’s one of the most successful and well-respected Egyptian composers of all time.

 

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art of resistance, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine

Remembering May Ziadeh: Ahead of (her) Time.

May Ziadeh (Marie Elias Ziadeh, born in Nazareth, Palestine in 1886, died in Cairo in 1941) was one of the key figures of the Nahda in the early 20th-century Arab literary scene, and is known for being one of the early Palestinian feminists. Ziadeh was born in Palestine to a Lebanese father and a Palestinian mother, and moved to Egypt where she wrote for Arab newspapers and periodicals.

may ziade iwan behanceMay Ziadeh /image © Iwan/

Her poetry and essays were pioneering, she wrote numerous articles and editorials and was noticed for her translation efforts and intiatives concerning English, German, and French novels of the peirod. Shortly after the Russian Revolution, she raised the issue of socialism and other political ideologies of the day in a series of articles.

In 1921, she convened a conference under the heading “The goal of life”, where she called upon Arab women to aspire toward freedom, and to be open to the Occident without forgetting their Oriental identity. Ziadeh also wrote sensitive biographical studies of three pioneer women writers and poets, Warda al-Yaziji, A’isha Taymur, and Bahithat al-Badiya.

She was perhaps best-known for hosting a Tuesday salon, which remained active for approximately 20 years (1911-1931), during which time May’s house, where it was held, was the pole to which the greatest writers and intellectuals of the age were drawn.

Antje Ziegler writes in her essay May Ziadeh Rediscovered:

„ If May’s, in comparison to other women of her time, nearly unprecedented literary, journalistic and rhetorical efforts to find public recognition, can be seen as a steady search for social integration, the founding of her salon appears to be the logical culmination of these efforts.  Open to men and women of varied religious, national and social background, this salon contrasts with the other famous Egyptian salon of the period, the politically influenced salon of Princess Nazli Abu Fadil, exclusively visited by men.

May Ziadeh was a prominent, but moderate representative of this ‘age of enlightenment’, who did not equate modernity with the denial of cultural heritage in blind imitation of the West.  Strongly dependent on integration herself, she advocated the reconciliation of conflicting views all her life.“

lebanon 2010 July 377Ziadeh /photo via northshorewoman/

Very well known but still mysterious in its nature is her correspondence with Khalil Gibran (who lived in New York), which extended over two decades, though the two never met. Ziadeh became one of the most prolific writers of the new genre of ‘shi’r manthur’, prose poetry or poetic prose.  Her reputation as a critic also grew first of all in connection with Khalil Gibran, whose works she helped make famous in the Arab world with her articles.

Ziadeh never married. At the end of 1920s, she suffered a series of personal losses, beginning with the death of her parents, her friends, and Khalil Gibran. She fell into a deep depression and returned to Lebanon where her relatives placed her in a psychiatric hospital to gain control over her estate. She eventually recovered and returned to Cairo where she died. She left more than 15 books of poetry, literature and translations. I believe none of her works are available in English, unfortunately.

img_34391/image via Bambi’s Soapbox/

Gibran’s letters to Ziadeh were published in a book Love Letters (Ziadeh’s family did not want her letters published, so we do not get to read her responses to Gibran). It feels appropriate to finish this post with one of Gibran’s letters to Ziadeh (written in May of 1921). He writes:

“Where is my letter, May? Why have you not sent it to me? I am eager to receive it, and I want all of it, every little bit of it. Do you know how much I desire to receive that letter after having read a brief snatch of it—a divine fragment which arrived to announce the dawning of a new day?”

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art of resistance, Egypt, travel

Egypt, a Love Story.

Denis Dailleux is a French photographer who has spent last two decades photographing Egypt (Cairo mostly). Fascinated by the city and the spontaneus kindness of its people, Dailleux keeps on discovering new stories and capturing new faces. I already presented a lot of his work – From Mistress of Cairo to Martyrs of the Revolution, Sudan series, and Mother and Son.

I recently read Naguib Mahfouz’s The Coffeehouse (his last novel), a lovely little novel about friendship, life’s little pleasures (like the coffeehouse Qushtumur) , memory and loss.  Translator Raymond Stock notes that the novel is: “Fittingly final, as it is really a work of literary nostalgia“. Somehow, the novel brought the same feeling I have when I go through Dailleux’s photos of Egypt. As Mahfouz writes:

“Qushtumur the coffeehouse saw us take leave of our youth and our first steps into manhood. We spent our lives between work, culture, and evening conversation.”

So, I went through Dailleux’s photos again. The following ones are a mixture from his series Egypt, my Love, On the roofs of Cairo, Cairo (book selection), and On the footsteps of Oum Kalthoum, photos taken over a twenty year span (from 1992 to 2013). These photos are a testimony of love, love of life and human beings, universal love, beautifully captured in time and space.

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//all images © Denis Dailleux/Agence VU//

For more on Dailleux and his photography – viist his Agence VU profile, and his official website.

 

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Under The Gun: A Palestinian Journey.

Fourteen years ago, Ahdaf Soueif, famous Egyptian novelist (In The Eye of The Sun, The Map of Love), visited Israel and Palestine for the first time. Under The Gun: a Palestinian Journey (published by Guardian) is an essay she wrote about the journey.

ahdaf soueifAhdaf Soueif /photo via Russell Tribunal on Palestine/

The following paragraphs are the excerpts from it.

I have never, to my knowledge, seen an Israeli except on television. I have never spoken to one. I cannot say I have wanted to. My life, like the life of every Egyptian of my generation, has been overcast by the shadow of Israel. I have longed to go to Palestine, but have not wished to go to Israel. And now I am going there.

I have not felt such anticipation or such fear since I was a child. For the past two months I have been following the news of the intifada. I have compared the images on the BBC and CNN with those on al-Jazira and other Arab channels. I have unspun stories, fumed at the American newspapers and been grateful for some of the reporting in some of the British press. I have started and ended my days reading appeals for help on the internet. And over and again I have asked myself: ‘What is it that I can do?’ Now at last I can do something; I can go see for myself, and write. But going means going there.

We are sitting in a smallish, brightly lit room with vividly blue armchairs. Serious attempts at decor have been made: a cactus growing out of a half coconut shell tilts on an Arab-style carved wooden table, rubber plants and plastic flowers droop from dusty glass shelves, an empty drinks dispenser glows coldly in the corner. On the walls are three reproductions: two are Kandinsky-like, but the third is a large close-up of the two forefingers of God and Adam just failing to meet.

A polite young Israeli comes in and asks me in broken Arabic to fill out some forms. Then he comes back to escort us to the passport window. I say: ‘I don’t want my passport stamped.’ He says: ‘I know.’

I head out of the hotel and start walking. Every car I pass I imagine exploding into flames. How far away does one have to be not to be killed by an exploding car? But the sun is shining as I head down Salah el-Din Street – and I am at home. The street is lined with bakeries, haberdasheries, shoeshops, small grocers, hairdressers. Girls in school uniform and headscarves walk in groups, chatting, laughing. Boys loiter and watch them. The names on the shops and the doctors’ signs are the familiar mix of Muslim and Christian Arab, French and Armenian. The French cultural centre has wide-open doors and an inviting garden; there is a smell of roasting coffee. It’s like a smaller, cleaner, uncrowded Cairo. But two buildings look different from the others: they are modern, precise, their angles are sharp, they fly the Israeli flag, and they are the only ones with closed gates that are made of steel bars.

She talks of tear gas pumped into houses, of rubber bullets which the Palestinian children peel to extract the steel marble within, which they then aim back at the soldiers with their slingshots. She talks of the threat to her mosque, of an ambulance bringing a 78-year-old neighbour back from hospital, how soldiers searched it and stripped it down to the cooling unit: ‘they’ve grown afraid of the air itself.’ I feel dizzy with the detail piling up in my head and leave before I can be made to stay and eat.

The city is beautiful. Like old Jerusalem it is made of pink stone. The narrow streets wind up and down like the streets of an Etruscan town. The houses lean against each other, one house’s roof forming the other’s patio. Ornate stone balconies look out on to the empty street. The sun shines, the air is clean and fresh, the light is so perfect we could be on a film set. A dark green patrol car passes and does not stop us. The microphone blares out in accented Arabic: ‘O people of al-Khalil. Beware breaking the curfew.’ Round the next bend a yellow taxi is at a stop in the middle of the road, leaning to one side. A group of children has gathered round it watching, hushed and still. We pull in by a wall and park. A woman leans against the taxi with a baby in her arms. ‘I know it’s a curfew,’ the driver says, ‘but she has just come out of hospital, and she had the baby, so I drove her. Look what they’ve done.’ A soldier had taken out a knife and slashed the two tyres on the driver’s side. Naturally he only has one spare tyre. With the curfew how is he going to get another one? Two boys are helping him change one wheel. The other children look on in silence. The woman starts walking off slowly.

Maybe there are cafes in West Jerusalem or Tel Aviv where intellectuals, artists, people, sit around and debate the condition of the country and the ‘Palestinian problem’. Maybe they debate the ethics of an army of occupation holding a population hostage, or the civil rights of an Arab population in a zionist state, but these places – the places that are lit up at night – how do I find them? In the entertainment guide I look at the listings: films, recitals, cabarets. I consider taking a taxi and simply buying a ticket. But even the thought makes me uneasy.

Sedition! Snorts Mrs Jibril. ‘We were trying to help the mothers give their children a ‘normal’ childhood. You know what the children sing? They sing: Papa bought me a trifle/ A machine gun and a rifle. We were struggling to to get them to sing normal children’s songs. But normal children’s songs have nothing to do with the reality of their lives.’

‘You know what’s the worst of it’, they say, ‘is that they keep you guessing. You never know if a road is going to be open or closed. When they are going to shut off your water or turn off your electricity. Whether they are going to permit a burial. Whether they are going to give you a permit to travel. You can never ever plan. They create conditions to keep you spinning…’

I have seen women pushing their sons behind them, shoving them to run away, screaming at the soldiers: ‘Get out of our faces. Stop baiting the kids.’

I have heard a man say: ‘I have four sons and no work. I cannot feed them. Let them go out and die if it will help our country; if it will end this state of things.’

I have seen children calmly watch yet another shooting, another funeral. And when I have wept they’ve said: ‘She’s new to this.’“

For more – see the original essay on Guardian and read Soueif’s collection of essays Mezzaterra : Fragments from the Common Ground.

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art of resistance, Egypt

Remembering Om Kalthoum, Egyptian legend and The star of the East.

Imagine a singer with the virtuosity of Joan Sutherland or Ella Fitzgerald, the public persona of Eleanor Roosevelt and the audience of Elvis and you have Om Kalthoum.

Virginia Danielson, Harvard Magazine

Om Kalthoum was an internationally famous Egyptian singer, songwriter, and film actress of the 1930s to the 1970s. She is known as Kawkab al-Sharq كوكب الشرق (“Planet/Star of the East”) in Arabic. More than three decades after her death in 1975, she is still widely regarded as the greatest female Arabic singer in history. When she was 12 years old, her father disguised her as a young boy and entered her in a small performing troupe that he directed. She showed exceptional talent and passion for performing.

In the mid-1920s, Mohammad el Qasabgi, who was an oud player and a composer, formed her small orchestra (takht), composed of the most virtuosic instrumentalists. Unlike most of her contemporary artists who held private concerts, Om Kalthoum’s performances were open to the general public, which contributed to the transition from classical, and often elitist, to popular Arabic music. The people loved her and she loved them. She was genuine, and everyone felt it. Her voice powerful, emotion ever-present – Om was an embodiment of a star.

Nana Mouskouri, Maria Callas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marie Laforêt, Salvador Dalí, Nico, Bono, Farin Urlaub, Led Zeppelin and Jean Michel Jarre were known to be admirers of Kalthoum’s music. Her funeral procession became a national event, with millions of grief-stricken Egyptians lining the streets to catch a glimpse as her cortege passed, even more than the crowds that attended the funeral procession of Om Kalthoum’s contemporary, President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

I found a lot of beautiful photos that capture her spirit and her time perfectly, so enjoy scrolling down. And play a song or two, for the Star of the East.

1975funeralomkalthoumKalthoum’s funeral

4181772350_74326dc8ba_om_kalth google-040510 Oum-Kalthoum-Sphinx-a pic_b_4

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tumblr_m69ujasNiG1qcsmflo1_500 um-kulth-faruk ام كلثوم 5

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