Who Were the Greatest Arab Singers of the 20th Century?
By Randa Necola/Arab America Contributing Writer
Arabs are known for their love of music which is reflected in their successful music industry. The most famous Arab singers not only had the love of the Arab people but achieved success outside the Arab world as well. As we reflect on the years past this New Year, this article presents some of the most famous Arab vocalists from that golden age of music.
So, be ready to feed your ears some “tarab” (ecstasy)!
Umm Kulthum was an Egyptian singer who was, without exaggeration, the most famous Arab singer. Her voice was the strongest female voice in Egypt and the Arab world; her songs were written by very famous poets. She was not only a singer but an actress too. She performed from the 1920s to the 1970s. Umm Kulthum was given prestigious titles such as Kawkab al-Sharq “Star of the Orient”, Al Sit “The lady”, “ The “fourth pyramid” and “the voice of Egypt”. About 80 million records of her songs were sold worldwide; her popularity did not fade away and still continues to the present. Umm Kulthum symbolizes ecstasy for the Arabs!
Mohammed Abdel Wahab
Mohmmed Abdel Wahab was a very famous Egyptian singer, composer, oud player and actor from the 1920’s to 1970’s. He evolved the Egyptian and Arabic music and introduced new methods into the Arab song such as jazz, symphonic, and rock and roll when he composed songs. Abdel Wahab helped many singers in the music industry such as Abdel Halim Hafez and he became a close friend of his. Through his blended music styles, his songs changed his listeners perception of music.
Abdel Halim Hafez
Abdel Halim was a famous singer, music teacher, actor, and conductor, from 1950’s to 1970’s. “The Dark-Skinned Nightingale,” was known for his dulcet voice and his unique brilliant songs. Halim achieved success which no actors and singers in the Arab world achieved before him; he was very successful through his singing and acting of which many Arabs fell in love with him. His music is still enjoyed today because of the unique techniques of his songs which are ageless. Halim was the “son of the revolution” and his songs were very famous during the Egyptian revolution and war.
El sit “the lady” Fairuz is the most loved and admired Lebanese singer and actor among all the Arabs. Fairuz is known as an Arab icon who is loved by all ages and nationalities because of her warm songs and musical plays and movies. Fairuz is also known outside of the Arab World, such as France. She was married to Assi Rahbani who was one of the three Rahbani brothers. Further, the Rahbani family is a very famous Lebanese family who worked in the music industry and helped Fairuz with her music success. Fairuz was loved also for singing for the Palestinian Arab city of Jerusalem and also for singing Christian hymns that became very popular and are sung in churches until today. Fairuz is making a comeback with young Arabs and Arab Americans and is reviving her fame.
Lelia Mourad was an Egyptian singer and actress who performed from 1930’s to1970s. Mourad was from a Jewish/Arab family, but she converted to Islam in 1947 and got married three times to famous Egyptians: actors Anwar Wagdi, Waguih Abaza; and the Egyptian director, Fatin Abdul Wahab. She refused to leave Egypt after the Egyptian revolution when Jews fled to Israel and she proved her loyalty to the country that she was born in and to the Arab nationalism which increased her popularity. Leila was known for her beautiful voice and acting talent and for her kind personality and elegance.
Asmahan was a Syrian singer from the 1930’s to 1940’s. She immigrated with her family to Egypt when she was just three years old after the French forces bombed her home. She had a very strong voice and she was the only competitor to Umm Kulthum, regardless of her young age. Not to mention, she got married to a Syrian prince, Hassan Alatrash, but her passion for music made her leave royalty and she went back to Egypt to sing until she was killed in a mysterious car accident.
Farid Al Atrash
Farid Al Atrash was the brother of the singer Asmahan. Their mother was a princess with a beautiful voice which was reflected in her children. Al Atrash was a singer, oud player, actor, and composer from 1930’s to 1970’s. Al Atrash achieved such great success in the music and the movie industry, that earned him the love of the Egyptians, the people of the Levantine, and throughout the Arab world as well.
Najat Al Saghira
Najat Al Saghira was a singer and actor from the 1940’s to 2006 and was the sister of the famous actress, Soad Hosni. Najat was known for her warm soft voice and her unique choices for the songs’ lyrics. For instance, she sang poems for famous poets like Nizar Kabani and Abdel Rahman Abnudi.
Wadih Al Safi
Wadih Al Safi was the most famous singer, songwriter, composer and actor in Lebanon from the 1930’s to 2013. Al Safi established the ecstasy for the Lebanese song and was called the singer with “The Golden Throat”. When the civil war began in Lebanon, he left for London and Paris and renewed the Lebanese identity for Arabs there. Al Safi was known for his famous Lebanese “Ataaba” (folk poetry in song) and considered a treasure for his own style and methods of singing which have been emulated by the Arab singers of today. He recorded over 5,000 songs during his long and successful career.
Sabah Fakhri is a Syrian giant in music who sang traditional Arab songs and is known for his strong vocals. Fakhri sings tarab (ecstasy) and he is known for his charismatic performance and his strict maqamat and harmony which is difficult to be sung by any singer. Fakhri earned enormous respect and accolades from his country and many Arab countries. Toda his songs are taught in music schools because of his clear strict notes and maqamat.
Sabah was a Lebanese singer and actress who gained her popularity in Lebanon and Egypt from the 1940’s to 2014. Sabah sang over 3,500 songs, acted in 98 films, and performed in 20 Lebanese plays. Sabah was an affectionate and kind person who was called “The Empress of the Lebanese Song”, “Shahroura”, and “Sabbouha”. She got married many times to famous and infamous men until she passed in 2014. Her funeral was full of dancing and joy because that was her wish.
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