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'Star of the East' Umm Kulthum returns to light up Cairo

By AFP - Mar 08,2020 - Last updated at Mar 08,2020

A hologram of legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum is projected on stage at Cairo Opera House in Cairo, late on Friday, about 45 years after the singer's death (AFP photo)

CAIRO — Revered Arab singer Umm Kulthum returned to light up the stage once more on Friday, almost five decades after her death, in the form of a hologram that delighted a packed-to-capacity crowd at Cairo's Opera House.

Affectionately known in Egypt as "El Sett" ("The Lady"), Kulthum's deep, resonant voice enthralled the Arab world for decades, inspired Western singers like Bob Dylan and Robert Plant, and can still be heard in Egypt's streets, cafes, taxis and Nile sailboats.

At the majestic entrance of the Opera House in the Egyptian capital, a large golden plaque bearing her image greeted giddy visitors, along with a placard reading “Star of the East, Umm Kulthum” — her most popular moniker.

As the curtains were raised, a halo of light appeared in the centre of the stage which transformed into a three-dimensional virtual composition of the singer, sending the audience of more than a thousand into rapturous applause.

In a nod to her packed concerts of decades ago, the hologram — clad in a bright purple dress and clasping Umm Kulthum’s signature handkerchief — sang from one of her most famous songs, “You toyed with my heart”.

“I came today because I have always dreamed of attending an Umm Kulthum concert,” Aya Yassin, a professor of medicine at Ain Shams University, told AFP.

“My grandmother used to tell me about the famous Thursday concerts of hers which made me really interested in coming tonight.”

Umm Kulthum was born at the end of the 19th century and her career flourished from the 1920s until her death in 1975, taking in an impressive repertoire of religious, patriotic and sentimental songs and poetry.

Her concerts lasted for hours and her live radio broadcasts attracted huge audiences.

Friday’s virtual performance comes amid fierce debate over contemporary Egyptian music.

Last month, the Egyptian musicians’ union banned performances of popular electro street music known as mahraganat, which captures the wild, carefree spirit of Egyptian youth but is viewed by conservatives as overstepping moral boundaries.

“I am a retired soldier and I made a point of coming here because I miss art that has an ethical component,” Mostafa, a 60-year-old attendee who only gave his first name, told AFP.

“I’m sick of what the new generation of singers are putting out these days and calling it art. It’s nothing but trash,” he added.

The performance in Cairo is not the first to feature a hologram of Umm Kulthum. Last year a virtual representation of the singer delighted adoring crowds in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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