Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Star of the East

Egyptians take some things very seriously: smoking, aggressive driving - and the reputation of this lady, the "Empress of the Arabs," the singer so famous that even though she died in 1975 she is still undisputedly the most popular singer in the Arab world: Um Kulthoum.

A kind of combination Edith Piaf, Ethel Merman, and Madonna avant le lettre, she was Egypt's first radio star, one of the biggest film stars of the Golden Age of Arab film (even though she made only six movies), and a performer whose regular Thursday concerts used to bring Cairo to a halt.

Mr. Muscato and I decided to avoid the crowds today by visiting one of the city's odder little attractions, the Um Kulthoum Museum. Housed in a pavilion in a disused palace in a little-visited part of town at the tip of the island of Manial, it has a peerless view of the Nile, a handsome small garden, and almost no visitors.

It does however, have an excellent selection of the Diva's gowns, many familiar from her many television appearances:

Not to mention a selection of her personally owned record and tape players:

And even her trademark rhinestone-edged sunglasses:

Should you ever find yourself there, though, do make the bored girl at the entrance turn on the Panorama for you. It's really rather haunting, a fluid, moderately high-tech slideshow on an undulating fifty-foot long screen that gives you all the many Um Kulthoums.

The daughter of the village, authentically Egyptian:

Herself a living symbol of the nation:

As well as a worldly diva in diamonds and acclaim:

And finally a kind of secular idol, her face repeated endlessly as the music swells:

We were happy to see a school group arrive as we left, laden with their lunches and their teacher's obvious expectation that they behave like credits to the nation. Actually they did - some even sang along to her greatest hits.

The only problem you'll find is getting a taxi back. But it's even worth the walk.

1 comment:

  1. I just love your blog. THanks for the post about Egypt"s Piaf.