Oum Kalthoum

The Lady

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Oum Kalthoum (or Oum Kaltsoum, Umm Kulthum, or any number of other variations) was simply the greatest Egyptian vocalist of the 20th Century. Of the many songs she recorded during her career, only a few are available, making every new album a welcome addition. The seven cuts here aren't among her most revered work, but they do illustrate why she was so praised. The way she enunciates the phrases on "Yalli Ra-yet Elouhoud" is a joy -- so perfect -- teasing meaning out of a line, and letting the melisma in her voice glide over the melody. The interplay between her and the chorus on "Ya Laylet El-Id Insitina" is a joy to hear, with the orchestra firing on all cylinders behind her. Probably the biggest pleasure here is "Tab En-Nasim El Alil," where her voice, at the peak of her powers, simply wraps itself around the song (which had been written for her) and makes it utterly her own. No one sounded like her, no one could caress a song like her, or bring out the poetry of a lyric like she could. She electrified Egypt, and indeed the whole Middle East, for decades, more iconic than, say, Sinatra ever was in America. Listen to this, even if it's not the very apex of what she could achieve, and you'll become a believer. She was that good.

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