Oum Kalthoum, Om Kolthom, Om Kalsoum, Omm Kalsoum, Omme Kolsoum, Oom Koolsum, Oum Kalthoum, Oum Kalthum, Oum Kalsoum, Oum Kaltsoum, Oum Kolthoum, Oum Koulsoum, Oum Kulthum, Oum Kulthume, Um Kalthoum,

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H, I would like to try answer your question, but I want to think about it first; maybe try listening to various examples of the music we're discussing, and then jotting down some notes. I'm not sure I can really explain what it is that I like though, let alone why.

Rockist Scientist, Friday, 4 April 2003 12:19 (sixteen years ago) link

Some of the things I like about the Arabic music I like:

The Vocals: Somehow the vocals in Turkish and Persian music that I've heard often feel either too restrained or too harsh, but Arabic vocals, at their best (a sneaky qualification), seem to me to strike an ideal balance. I like the sense that the vocalist is deliberately reeling out the singing.

The Instruments: I don't think there's a single traditional Arab instrument that I find bothersome. The oud, the kanun, the ney, and all the percussion typically used, sound "just right" to me. (The biggest problem for me in most of the Arabic music I like is the imported western string section, even if it is used differently.) Some Persian instruments are jangly in a way that I dislike (and I think some of these are used as well in Turkish music). Even one type of drum used in Persian music has this sort of rolling quality that I don't like (the percussive equivalent of the string instrument jangliness I hear elsewhere).

Improvisation: This applies especially to Oum Kalthoum, I suppose (and definitely not to Fairouz), but I enjoy the improvisatory element in Arabic singing. Maybe I have simply not listened to the right examples of related musics with an improvisatory aspect.

Rhythms: I'm not sure I have any problem with Persian and Turkish rhythms, but, I am very sure that I like Arabic rhythms, and I'll be damned if I can explain why, but I feel as though I am being re-organized by them, in a beneficial way. The rhythms in Oum Kalthoum's songs aren't usually the main draw for me (though I've gotten to like them over time, after taking a while to even notice that something was going on with the percussion), but I like belly dance rhythms; the fantastic rhythms in folkloric and some pop Syrian and Lebanese music; and much of the rhythm in Iraqi and Saudi music. Okay, one thing I can think of is that there's a certain way the rhythms seem to fall back on themselves, and then recollect themselves and keep moving. Also, they often contain a very long cycle of beats.

Melodies, modes, and structure in general: This is harder for me to talk about. I don't really have a way to describe these differences. The modes are pretty much exactly the same (from one middle eastern tradition to another), taken as a series of tones, but there must be some sort of difference in some of the other conventions surrounding how the modes are used. I don't know.

I think a lot of it is just that of all the modal, microtonal musics I've been exposed to, Arabic music is the one I've had the most exposure to, so it's become my "home base" in a way (at least for modal, microtonal music).

I'm pretty keen on some of the Greek music I've heard, but have had trouble finding anyone to guide me into more of that. Incidentally, I did start a thread about Turkish music here.

Rockist Scientist, Friday, 4 April 2003 23:20 (sixteen years ago) link

The beginning rhythms of one Milhem Baraket song (sorry, no title in English) remind me of a skeleton puppet beginning to move.

Rockist Scientist, Friday, 4 April 2003 23:36 (sixteen years ago) link

wow, great answer to my not very well phrased question.

Something which I think was in the back of my head earlier was your coment on not liking jazz and Arabic mixes. I think perhaps I read (projected) a little more traditionalist approach into that than was meant as I was thinking ‘bout how ubiquity of jazz in 20s & 30s led to developments in many local music scenes from adoption of different instruments to new approaches to folkloric and that it is a building block for a lot of stuff (tho you do note above you don’t like the use of western string sections)

hmm, have to think and come back to this

H (Heruy), Saturday, 5 April 2003 11:44 (sixteen years ago) link

I don't mind the introduction of new instruments as such. I like the way Arabic music uses accordion, saxophone, electric guitar, and electric keyboards. Also, the inclusion of upright bass in these orchestras is a nice touch.

Rockist Scientist, Saturday, 5 April 2003 12:23 (sixteen years ago) link

(Also regarding fusions with jazz: I just don't like jazz all that much, so it may come down to that.)

Rockist Scientist, Saturday, 5 April 2003 12:30 (sixteen years ago) link

aargh...how can you say that rockist? you like sun ra! ;-)

BTW great thread, I haven't got round to anything since the cassete but I'll try to get some more during the easter break (I haven't investigated good places to get 'world music' in london but I'll look).

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Saturday, 5 April 2003 18:25 (sixteen years ago) link

Julio, I know, but if I like Sun Ra, yet hardly like any other jazz, that leaves me thinking I don't really like jazz as such. Plus he is obviously a crossover jazz artist, who attracts a lot of people who primarily listen to other genres. (I saw the smiley face but thought I would respond anyway.)

Rockist Scientist, Saturday, 5 April 2003 18:31 (sixteen years ago) link

yeah it was a nice jokey comment.

even though sun ra has done a lot with jazz, you know, that's where he starts from but I get what you're saying.

Though I still think you might get to like some jazz in the future.

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Saturday, 5 April 2003 18:34 (sixteen years ago) link

one month passes...
To add a little bit to my answer to H's question, one reason (though by no means the only reason) that I tend to be dissatsified with more contemporary Arabic music, compared to Oum Kalthoum's recordings, is that I really like the way her songs frequently slow down for long stretches. In general I like the way she doesn't restrict herself to metrical regularity. (Is that the right term or am I thinking of poetry?) For effect, she will pull up more slowly on a given line, and the like. I like the pauses and relatively silent moments.

Contemporary Egyptian dance music is not going to give me this. I like dance music (that is: music for dancing), but the old popular classical music is largely non-dance music for me.

Odd that people don't seem to talk that much about variation in tempo with a performance (or recording) as a value similar to variety of dynamic range. (One exception would be fans of prog.)

(Julio, once I have listened to all he Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald I want to listen to, my familiarity with the standards they sang might make me more receptive to instrumental jazz of all types. Not that that's why I want to listen to them (I want to listen to them because I like them--well, I know I like Billie Holiday, and I think I could like a lot of Ella), but it occurs to me that it could be a byproduct of doing so.)

Rockist Scientist, Thursday, 15 May 2003 22:47 (sixteen years ago) link

i'm always seeing this thread pop up and meaning to read it but i never have up until now...
anyway,i think i'll download some of her stuff and see what i think
i know nothing about arabic music beyond seeing rahib-abou-khalid live,what i have read on this thread,and heard in random places without knowing anything about it,so god knows what i will think of it,but i'm curious so i may as well give it a try...
there's a track called hob eh on kazaa so i'll give it a shot,will report back later...

robin (robin), Thursday, 15 May 2003 23:21 (sixteen years ago) link

actually i'll go for el hob kolloh,since the file is about a third of the size and i have a really slow connection
is this in any way representative of her work?

robin (robin), Thursday, 15 May 2003 23:24 (sixteen years ago) link

I think that's from the 60's. It's not one of my personal favorite Oum Kalthoum recordings, but it's okay.

Oh wait, you're shifting gears. El Hob Kolloh. Let me see what that is. That's very very late and not representative. If it's the one I'm thinking of, she's sounds like she's on her last legs. It has some creepy organ sounds in it, but I can't recommend it. It's more represenative of Abdel Wahab's compositional style than of Oum Katlhoum's singing abilities.

What else is there?

Rockist Scientist, Thursday, 15 May 2003 23:27 (sixteen years ago) link

If you can find Ha Ablou Bokra or Qquab Qablou Boqura or anything that looks like that, it's a good short song.

Rockist Scientist, Thursday, 15 May 2003 23:28 (sixteen years ago) link

You can always go here to just listen.

Rockist Scientist, Thursday, 15 May 2003 23:30 (sixteen years ago) link

i have that page bookmarked but unfortunately i dont have real player at the moment...
i'll see if there's anything else...

robin (robin), Thursday, 15 May 2003 23:36 (sixteen years ago) link

is ya msaharny any better?
that's all there seems to be at the moment...

robin (robin), Thursday, 15 May 2003 23:37 (sixteen years ago) link

Sigh. Ya Msaharny is just okay, too, in my opinion. It's quite late in her career. Of course, a lot of the late stuff is still really popular, but these aren't necessarily the best of that lot.

Yam Saharny is a great song in its own right, I just am not crazy about her version (which is the original).

I would recommen Hob Eh more over the other two, but I realize that download time may make that impossible.

I'm listening to El Hob Kolloh now and she sounds a bit out of place in the midst of this music, though it has its moments.

Rockist Scientist, Thursday, 15 May 2003 23:45 (sixteen years ago) link

well i'll get hob eh for the moment so,and see what i think
i should have my computer sorted out over the next week,so i'll go to that site and listen to some of the files there as well...

robin (robin), Thursday, 15 May 2003 23:51 (sixteen years ago) link

Hob Eah is from 1960, though the recording you have might be from later. The one I have sounds later than that to me, for what that's worth. It's composed by Baligh Hamdi.

Rockist Scientist, Friday, 16 May 2003 00:00 (sixteen years ago) link

(I wish I could say I liked her singing more on this one.)

Rockist Scientist, Friday, 16 May 2003 00:01 (sixteen years ago) link

I scored a 5CD Oum Kalsoum box thing for 25 bucks at Tower the other week. It's great--the sound quality is ass as is the packaging but the sheer volume means I've been surrounded by her voice a lot lately and have been beginning to notice more nuance. I know very little about Arabic music but I figure listening lots is the best way to learn.

adam (adam), Friday, 16 May 2003 02:31 (sixteen years ago) link

adam, what's in that set? (Are there any titles in English?) Is it the EMI Arabia set with "Diva" in the title? I've never seen an actual box set of her work before.

Rockist Scientist, Friday, 16 May 2003 12:27 (sixteen years ago) link

I’ve seen it but never picked it up, called Anthologie and released on Sonodisc.

Volume 1
1. Azkouriny 33:37
2. Salo kaos al fella 31:13

Volume 2
1. Hadeeth al rouh 26:23
2. Ghareb ala bab el raga 22:26

Volume 3
1. Woleda el hoda 56:54

Volume 4
1. Gadet hobak leih 39:18

Volume 5
1. Al nile 27:04
2. Nagh el borda 22:56

H (Heruy), Friday, 16 May 2003 13:24 (sixteen years ago) link

These are personal favorites:

Salo kaos al fella
Woleda el hoda
Nagh el borda

Judging by the track lengths, it looks like the box set versions of the latter two would be live recordings. I have only heard the studio recordings of these songs. They should still be good. For a long time I didn't like these two songs though. The melodies are very counterintuitive from a western point of view, and possibly even from an Arab point of view, since these were considered difficult songs at the time.

I am not sure I've heard the others, though I suspect they would be good. They seem to all be from around the 40's.

It's possible that more recent, individual, recordings of these songs would have better sound quality, but these are pretty old recordings to begin with.

Rockist Scientist, Friday, 16 May 2003 13:43 (sixteen years ago) link

listening to hob eh now
i like what i've heard,so far
the music is really good,i can see how her voice is a bit of an acquired taste,she sounds like she could do with clearing her throat every now and again..
i'd definitely like to hear more,anyway...
i'll have to have a look for some of your recommendations...

robin (robin), Friday, 16 May 2003 14:26 (sixteen years ago) link

Her voice got deeper and deeper as she got older. It's still an acquired taste, but the version from about 10-15 years earlier is a little more appealing (to me anyway). I find the singing here a little overblown at times. She's still got incredible force at this point, but has lost some subtlety. (I have no idea what I'd think if I could understand Arabic though.) I agree that the music is good, and there are some high points in the performance as well.

Rockist Scientist, Friday, 16 May 2003 14:33 (sixteen years ago) link

two months pass...
ilove very very very much Om Kalsoum
for me she is like a religion
ho can answear me

najib ibn khayat, Monday, 28 July 2003 20:27 (sixteen years ago) link

What is your question?

amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 28 July 2003 20:31 (sixteen years ago) link

My lovely friend bought a record by Um Kalthum in Brussels. it is very good. yes, perhaps she is the best singer of the 20th century.

[the record is WAY better than the REALLY LAME Fairuz record I bought; I am no worrying that Fairuz is actually rubbish, and the good record I have by her is an aberration]

DV (dirtyvicar), Sunday, 3 August 2003 22:39 (sixteen years ago) link

DV, happy to hear that. What Kalthum song(s) was it?

What I think about Fairuz is that she is a great singer, but doesn't have the best judgment about what material to use. Basically anything from the 80's forward is iffy. But the styles in which she works are extremely varied. But I bet there is more than one CD worth material by her that you would like. I can't be as helpful with her, since I don't know her nearly as well as I know Kalthoum. (Of course, that unevenness is partly why I don't know her work as well.) What Fairuz did you get? Have you heard Soiree Avec Fairuz? The sound quality is really poor, but the music is quite good. That's cheating a little since it's more classical than most of her work.

Al Andalous, Sunday, 3 August 2003 23:57 (sixteen years ago) link

I have to admit, I do get tired of Fairuz's voice after a while. It's perfect, but maybe too perfect? But I haven't been in the right mood for her lately. Back in the fall I was listening to her more than Oum Kalthoum, if I remember correctly.

Al Andalous, Monday, 4 August 2003 01:44 (sixteen years ago) link

the one Fairuz record I have has "Lebanon Forever" as its english title. It sounds very Arab classical, unlike the rub record ("Wahdon - Kifak Inta" in the Arabian Masters series) which is mostly in softy jazz style.

DV (dirtyvicar), Monday, 4 August 2003 10:17 (sixteen years ago) link

I like the first three tracks on Wahdon a lot, but the last two are horrible. Kifak Inta seems pretty pointless to me. I think they are both by her son, Ziad Rahbani. Ziad Rahbani's idea of introducing "jazz" elements into Arabic music seems to focus mostly on smooth jazz. But don't you like the upbeat songs at the beginning of Wahdon (or aren't they on that Arabian Masters CD)? Anyway, this is all stuff she's done from the 80's on. You are better off with the 60's and 70's things (not that it's always easy to find out which is which).

Al Andalous, Monday, 4 August 2003 12:01 (sixteen years ago) link

I didn't like the first tracks either. I think there were one or two good songs in the middle somewhere. but yeah, the record as a whole bears the taint of her idiot son.

DV (dirtyvicar), Monday, 4 August 2003 13:33 (sixteen years ago) link

three months pass...
I recently read A.J. Racy's Making Music in the Arab World: The Culture and Artistry of Tarab, which helped clarify some of the things I like about this music (and added a lot of useful background).

In his chapter on the specifically musical aspects of this music, he introduces the term "heterophony" (which was new to me): "As a cultivated form of artistry, heterophonic interplay is a primary feature of takht [small ensemble] music. In practice, heterophonic texture exists in two closely related formats, an overlapping type and a simultaneous type. The first occurs when a leading music part, typically a vocal improvisation, is accompanied, for example, by an instrument such as the qanun. In this case, the accompaniment 'echoes' the leading part at a slightly delayed pace, or in a rather 'out of sync' fashion. The second type applies mostly when ensemble members produce slightly varied renditions of the same musical material at the same time. This happens when takht instruments perform the same basic compositions together, but with each one rendering it differently through subtle variations, omissions, ornamental nuances, syncopations, anticipations, and so on. . . . [I]n Umm Kulthum's live recordings from the 1940s and 1950s. . . [i]n certain middle sections. . . heterophonic activity becomes particularly prominent, a suspenseful and musically focused mood engulfs and audibly moves the singer's avid admirers." Racy also comments on how heterophony has become less common in Arab music, due at least partly to the fact that it became more difficult as the takht grew into a small orchestra with an entire string section.

"Tarab artists demonstrate a striking proclivity toward moving loosely with the beat, as comparedto performing strictly on the beat, for wandering about without losing track of the underlying temporal structure. They seek a desirable balance between metric orderliness and rhythmic freedom. . ." Racy discusses this in more technical detail, but it's hard for me to excerpt or summarize, since I'm still getting a handle on it.

It's sad to me that while improvisation was making a come-back in the west, via jazz (primarily), Arab music was moving away from it, in emulation of western classical music.

Incidentally, Racy makes clear the respect in which Fairouz is a break from the tarab oriented tradition: "Meanwhile, increasingly transformed and internally varied, the musical mainstream had to vie with more recent and more novel-sounding musical expressions. One example was a Lebanese urban popular style which, pioneered in the late 1950's by the Rahbani Brothers and associated with the celebrated female vocalist Fayruz, dervied elements from the local folk repertoire, Western music, and traditional Arab music."

Rockist Scientist, Tuesday, 18 November 2003 04:29 (sixteen years ago) link

Incidentally, I don't think the shifting away from tarab is entirely inspired by emulation of the west. There are some internal forces at work as well. (I guess there would have to be internal forces at work even if it were entirely a matter of emulating the west, but I'm too sleepy to be more exact.)

For example, I read--SOMEWHERE, but I can't put my hands on it--a quote from Oum Kalthoum criticizing her 40s-50s work for being too exclusively concerned with tarab, and not putting enough emphasis on putting across the text (which was very important to her). While I suspect this might partly be a matter of denial on her part that her best years were behind her, I also think there is a certain amount of Arab suspicion of tarab (which is most commonly translate as "ecstasy" but doesn't have an exact English equivalent), and not just among fundamentalists. The Lebanese composer, Marcel Khalife (a Christian, incidentally), expresses misgivings of music which gives itself over so completely to emotion, and has actively sought to keep a balance with more intellect involved. I wish Racy would write something about this, since when I write, it's largely a matter of wild speculation based on a few pieces of information.

Rockist Scientist, Tuesday, 18 November 2003 05:00 (sixteen years ago) link

RS what do you know about Laure Daccache?

amateur!st (amateurist), Tuesday, 18 November 2003 22:06 (sixteen years ago) link


Rockist Scientist, Tuesday, 18 November 2003 23:58 (sixteen years ago) link

I just listened to a couple online audio files. She sounds pretty good. I checked The Voice of Egypt and she's mentioned a few times in that in a way that put her at a fairly high level as a singer. There are certain things she does with her voice that remind me of Asmahan's singing, but I can't say that she sounds that much like any one particular singer.

Rockist Scientist, Wednesday, 19 November 2003 00:21 (sixteen years ago) link

Some of this music is nice. Apparently she was known as a composer as much as she was known as a singer, which can't be said of too many Arab musicians of the time (or even now?). Oum Kalthoum wrote a couple songs, or so, but didn't pursue it. (As far as I know, I haven't heard them.)

I'm listening to these mp3s. I like "el ward" and "gharidou" better than the first three.

Rockist Scientist, Wednesday, 19 November 2003 02:04 (sixteen years ago) link

Thanks, amateur!st, she sounds like quite a fascinating individual. And there is something a little different about the style of some of these songs, though I can't put my finger on it. I am assuming most of these are by her.

Rockist Scientist, Wednesday, 19 November 2003 02:19 (sixteen years ago) link

Umm Kulthum was named after one of the Prophet Muhammad's daughters. "Umm" means "mother" and is an honorific title given to women who have children--they become known as "mother of [son's name"--but, in this case, her name was given at birth to honor this daughter of Muhammad.

Check out "A Voice Like Egypt," a film about Umm Kulthum based on Virginia Danielson's research.

fatima, Wednesday, 19 November 2003 02:32 (sixteen years ago) link

RS, re Laure Daccoche, I'm glad I pointed you in a happy direction. I can't listen to MP3s on any of the computers I work on here, so I'm still in the dark. Apparently she has one obscure CD on a French label but I can't find it for sale here or on the internet. If you can find it let me know.

(Do the MP3s on that page add up to enough to make a CD? Not that I would know how to do this.)

amateur!st (amateurist), Wednesday, 19 November 2003 10:02 (sixteen years ago) link

They do add up enough for a CD, but I'm not sure you can save them (which shows how much I know as well).

Rockist Scientist, Wednesday, 19 November 2003 13:00 (sixteen years ago) link

I found a PC I can listen to them on. They're good!

Now let's see if I can figure out how to copy them onto a CD, because I'm just borrowing this computer for a moment.

amateur!st (amateurist), Wednesday, 19 November 2003 13:32 (sixteen years ago) link

three weeks pass...
Ray Rashid, of the Rashid company that distributes Arabic music, wrote the following in his response to my questions about Daccache:

I met Laur Daccache in Egypt about seven years ago, I was invited to the Woman's league of Egypt, which was headed by a friend of mine and Mrs. Hosni Mubbarak, and the people said to me, they heard that Laur Dacashe was a singer but she had no records or tapes available in Egypt, so they had to rely on my word that she was a great vocalist in the early 1950's[.] It was strange to have to vouch for a great singer like her, Today finding her songs on Cd are rare indeed, like her big song Amanti Bellah (I believe God).

Rockist Scientist, Saturday, 13 December 2003 23:24 (sixteen years ago) link

Poor Laure Daccache, consigned to being a footnote on an Oum Kalthoum thread.

Rockist Scientist, Saturday, 13 December 2003 23:27 (sixteen years ago) link

One day this thread and those like it will be one hell of a resource, sir!

Ned Raggett (Ned), Saturday, 13 December 2003 23:42 (sixteen years ago) link

What do you mean "will be," Ned? ;)

Rockist Scientist, Sunday, 14 December 2003 07:39 (sixteen years ago) link

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