Umm Kulthum and Fairuz: Harmony that resonates

How two women's extraordinary voices, from Egypt and Lebanon, resonated worldwide... but especially at home.

Umm Kulthum and Fairuz: Harmony that resonates

Why and how do singers like Umm Kulthum and Fairuz become national symbols?

While other exceptional women have garnered the public’s respect, they haven’t come close to the “legend” status among the masses. Painters, sculptors, actresses, writers and even scientists have failed to achieve the same level of fame.

On one side, an extraordinary voice can create an instant – and intimate – connection with its listeners. But there’s more to it, too. What Umm Kulthum and Fairuz did, through their immense talent and commitment to humanitarian causes, was inspire national pride. And they did it while dedicating a lifetime to their craft.

Every song indeed has a slew of talented people behind it; a composer, lyricist, and a musician – or musicians – collaborate tirelessly behind the scenes. But it’s the singer, the performer, who perfects it. The singer’s powerful timbre resonates with fans, the warm colour of their voice inspiring an inexplicable bond with thousands, if not millions, of people.

The choir is designed – through the work of a composer and conductor – to bring out the best, most emotional and most impactful vocal performance. And that vocal performance forms an unbreakable thread between artist and listener, whether you're seated in the first row or the last.

Poetry and music

At the height of their stardom, the late Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum and Lebanese artist Fairuz, now 87, perfectly combined singing, poetry, and melodies. Their exceptional voices conveyed beautiful turns of phrase against a backdrop of heartfelt compositions.

There is something very human about what they did. Their performances served as a personal and collective escape ritual bordering on magic. When fans went to their shows, they felt a strong sense of unity and joy as they momentarily forgot about the everyday nightmares that awaited them outside the auditorium.

There is something very human about what Umm Kulthum and Fairuz did. Their performances served as a personal and collective escape ritual bordering on magic.

These two artists, different as they may be, created a pure, unadulterated space for human beings to connect with art – and each other.

Neither Umm Kulthum nor Fairuz came from privilege or wealth. They didn't lean on social or class privilege. Rather, they depended on their uniquely rare talent, which they spent much of their lives perfecting and sharing.

Meeting Fairuz

It's human nature to love beauty, harmony and creativity. These things manifest themselves in our everyday actions, behaviours, expressions, relationships, and existence.

Successful art is about tapping into that serenity on a spiritual level. It avoids anything too sharp, harsh, or forced – anything that's overly simplistic or artificial. It appeals to the sensitivity of listeners, moving their souls and igniting their imaginations.

While I didn't have the opportunity to meet Umm Kulthum before her passing, I met Fairuz (who tends to shy from the limelight, these days) several times at her home.

I discovered that the soothing radiance she exudes on stage, she exudes in person, too. Her speaking voice, presence, and expressions naturally conveyed a shy, sensitive and spiritual soul.

But we must remember that both Fairuz and Umm Kulthum took firm, decisive positions on principled, humanitarian, national and artistic issues.

Yet, both imposed a kind of semi-complete isolation on themselves. They devoted themselves fully to the sophisticated demands of their creative work. Their lives were marked by a constant devotion to their depth, development and artistry.

When push came to shove, however, both artists placed national duty above all else – something that undoubtedly left a mark on their adoring audiences, much like their music did.

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