The myth and the majesty.

Author:Hammond, Andrew
Position:Mosaic - Profile on Arab singer Umm Kulthoum

Andrew Hammond reports from Cairo on the anniversary of the Arab world's best loved diva, the legendary Umm Kulthoum, and the plans to commemorate her contribution to popular Arab culture.

No one knows exactly when Umm Kulthoum was born. Some say it was 1898, others say it was 1904 or 1908. In any event, roughly 100 years have passed since the woman who did so much to re-invent the concept of a united Arab culture came into this world. With the anniversary there is renewed interest in Umm Kulthoum, or Al Sitt, The Lady, as she was affectionately referred to throughout her life.

A soap opera has been made about her life and an Umm Kulthoum Museum is due to open in December. Meanwhile, a major film biography, Kawkab Al-Sharq (Star of the Orient), has just hit the cinema screens to popular and critical acclaim.

Up to now the memory of the singer has been strangely neglected. After she died her family sold her Zamalek villa to Kuwaiti real estate developers, and though the building erected on the site is popularly dubbed Umm Kulthoum Tower, it hardly does justice to her memory.

The diva's tomb in the Cairo's City of the Dead is well cared for, but despite her international fame no memorial exists in her homeland. This stands in stark contrast to France, where the Arab World Institute holds an Umm Kulthoum week of music every year.

People involved in the Umm Kulthoum museum project say it was President Mubarak himself who ordered its establishment, prompted by the activities of the Arab World Institute.

Renowned Italian architect Enzo Serano has been drafted in to design the interior of the museum in part of the water authority buildings next to the old Nilometer on Cairo's Roda Island. Over the last two years, the Ministry of Culture has gathered a large collection of photographs, music contracts, diaries, clothes and personal effects. It will also house an audio library of every performance and media interview The Lady ever gave, as well as copies of the sheet music and biographical information on the poets and composers who worked with her. "It will be a researcher's paradise," says Ahmed Antar, the museum's director.

The first film about Umm Kulthoum, Kawkab Al-Sharq, is a landmark in Arab cinema and director Mohamed Fadel intends to make a big splash.

It is being shown in Egypt and various other Arab countries, as well as in France, Germany and the United States. "It's a high quality film," Fadel explains. Although that might sound like an...

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