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Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt [VHS]

4.7 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Actors: Tawfik Badawi, Virginia Danielson, Amal Fahmy, Om Koultoum, Omar Sharif
  • Directors: Michal Goldman
  • Writers: Virginia Danielson
  • Producers: Michal Goldman
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: Arabic, English
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Number of tapes: 1
  • Studio: Afd
  • VHS Release Date: November 11, 1998
  • Run Time: 67 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6305188009
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #501,833 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

"My father was uneasy. The idea that his daughter should sing in front of men he didn’t know was difficult for him to accept, but my singing helped support the family. So he dressed me in boys’ clothes and I sang this way for several years. I realize now that he wanted to convince himself, and the audience too, that the singer was a young boy and not a young woman." -From "Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt"

She had the musicality of Ella Fitzgerald, the public presence of Eleanor Roosevelt and the audience of Elvis Presley. Her name was Umm Kulthum and she became a powerful symbol, first of the aspirations of her country, Egypt, and then of the entire Arab world.

Born a peasant at the turn of the century, she became a woman of great wealth and power, confidant of presidents and kings and, above all, President Gamal Abd al-Nasser’s unofficial ambassador in the region. Four million people were on the streets of Cairo for her funeral in 1975. To this day, her cassettes outsell every other Arabic female vocalist.

Narrated by Omar Sharif, Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt is the first documentary to bring Umm Kulthum to an American audience. The film puts her life in the context of the epic story of 20th century Egypt as it shook off colonialism and confronted modernity. The camera explores her astonishing connection with her audience, taking us into her village in the Nile Delta and into the cafes, markets and streets of Cairo where she lived and worked. From the Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz to a 12-year-old girl in an outdoor restaurant, people speak about the role Umm Kulthum’s music has played in their lives and sing their favorite songs for the camera.


With its esoteric sounds and exotic melodies, Arabic music remains a mystery to much of the Western world. A gem of a documentary, Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt begins to unravel the music and intertwines the life of this tremendous Middle Eastern singer with the history and politics of Egypt, giving a fuller look at a tumultuous time in the changing country. Umm Kulthum was born to peasants and she began singing religious songs to help her family earn money. Her father would dress her in boy's clothing, because he didn't approve of her singing in front of men he didn't know. Despite her country ways, her full-ranged voice brought her to the attention of society and soon she was performing both onstage and onscreen. The lyrics of her songs were poems--one of her most famous is a rendition of "The Rubaiyat." During her later years, she became on outspoken supporter of Nasser and traveled the Arabic-speaking world in support of her government. When she died in 1975, 4 million mourners flooded the streets of Cairo to honor the beloved singer.

This beautifully styled documentary, narrated by Omar Sharif, carefully balances elements so that the video never drags. Long clips of Umm Kulthum singing are interspersed with a dramatized voice-over and shots of the Egyptian countryside. Interviews with writers, journalists, musicologists, folks on the street, a radio commentator, and even Nobel novelist Naguib Mahfouz emphasize the importance of her voice to the people who listened to her. Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt succeeds in making the singer and the music, and even to a certain extent the politics of the country, accessible to a whole new generation of music lovers. --Jenny Brown

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Louise Baskin on July 28, 2007
Format: DVD
Raised by a Catholic-Italian mother, and a Russian-Jewish father, both born in the U.S., as was I, I was once the national marketing director for Arab Film Distribution, AFD, Seattle, WA, when the documentary, Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt, was first released in the U.S. Exclusively distributed by AFD, Yahya Sinno, president of AFD, was responsible for the home division or Internet orders. I was responsibile for the institutional division of AFD, first, watching the films and documentaries in our library, then marketing them, including Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt, to colleges and universities (and libraries) to professors who used them as their course curriculum, for example, for gender studies or religion. (Yahya and I designed the video/DVD cover of Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Eqypt.) It was one of dozens of outstanding independent documentaries - and films of all genres -representing the 20 Arab countries, Iran, and recently, the US, that AFD, distributed. Now, there are hundreds of titles. In fact, in 2006, I believe, the highly acclaimed documentary, IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS, garnered 3 Academy Award nominations for best documentary. Written and directed by an American filmmaker, John Langley, who arrived and began shooting in Iraq shortly after Bush declared war in 2003, where he stayed, I believe, for 2 years filming, the producer is Yahya Sinno, president of AFD. Congratulations!

You're probably wondering by now, what the hey - not much - does all that have to do with the review of Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt? Well, in a very round-a-bout way, smile, the point is that I loaned my coveted copy of Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt, to a friend, but forgot whom... So, recently, I bought a copy while shopping on Amazon.
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Format: DVD
in my young age i did not appreciate umm kulthum nor Arabic music in general, but as i grew older, the songs, words and especially the performance of umm kulthum opened my eyes to great works of art and Arabic music. Umm Kulthum transcended time, goverments, generation and geographical boundries. she captured the hearts and minds of people. she is a great example for all man kind of a women who cared about her family, people and country, and presented the best to them. This documentary captures all that, and presents her life in a well rounded and balanced way. I liked the original footage. Omer Sherif is a great narrator. I highly recommend this documentary for people who not only want to know about Umm Kulthum, but also about a bit of the history of egypt. I can really say i enjoyed it.
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Format: VHS Tape
This is a documentary that covers the history of Egypt during the first three quarters of this century through the life of Umm Kolthum. The film depicts numerous changes in Umm Kolthum's life that paralleled changes that took place in the Middle East. From small-time gigs in the country side to the big city; from an outstandingly talented vocalist to a legend that shaped a culture lasting until today and many decades to come; and from a musician to an influential politician. This happens as Egypt experiences two World Wars and numerous battles and wars in the region; British occupation; national revolutions; a Kingdome that turned to a Republic; and three major wars against Israel. The film cleverly displays the history of a nation and a whole region through the life of this monument of a human, Umm Kulthum, with uncompromising brevity and in depth interviews with contemporaries of all walks of life. This film is a must for every Um Kulthum fan, every Arab, everyone interested in the Middle East and its history; and musicians from all over the world. Here is a woman whose musical career spanned all of her life; and whose life still influences ours; and here is a chance to get a factual flavor of Umm Kulthum; who lived with Egypt running through her veins. Um Kulthum experienced many changes in her own life; socially, economically, politically, and personally. One thing remained unchanged, her love for Egypt, this is the essence of this documentary.
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Format: VHS Tape
Oum kolthum is the healer of hearts, and the keeper of love. The words that she utters are unreal. After studying arabic for 7 years and living in the middle east, I must say that Oum Kolthum is the greatest singer that has lived on the face of the earth. Their is a legend that She used to stand a meter away from the micrphone so, that it would not explode from the magnitude of her voice. Oum Kolthum is a refecletion of arab women and their romanticism. She truly was Egypt, that is no more. She represented the people against colonial rule and was Egypts strength in times of struggle. But, now we only have as she would say the "Atlall".
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For anyone unfamiliar with Arab and Middle East culture, Umm Kulthum can only be described as a phenomenon like Edith Piaf, a singer from humble origins who captured the hearts and minds of millions with her voice and her song. To Western ears, her style of singing will seem utterly foreign - even unmusical. For me, its appeal comes closest to the appeal of opera, at its most emotional and impassioned. This short, hour-long film does much to bridge the cultural gap between the Arab world and the West, as it recounts the story of the singer's life, her rise to fame and fortune, and her enduring legacy today, more than 30 years after her death in 1975.

There is footage of her performances, showing the rapturous response of her audiences and describing the distinctive style of singing poetic lyrics, typically about love, extending a single song over the length of an hour or more. (A description of one of her regular radio broadcasts is described in Rabih Alameddine's recent novel "The Hakawati.") The film includes scenes from her films and interviews with men and women who knew her, including Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, with narration by Omar Sharif and a director's commentary.
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