Mahmoud Fadl

Umm Kalthum 7000

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Mahmoud Fadl, leader of the Nubian group Salamat, has taken on a gigantic task by paying homage in the first-ever tribute album to the Arab world's most-loved diva. That he emerges with something that manages to sound both contemporary and reverent is a credit to both his skill and admiration for the late Umm Kalthum. Originally intended to include some electronic tweaking, the big orchestral arrangements stand powerfully without digital assistance, with percussionist Fadl leading from behind, his work relatively high in the mix against the swooping Egyptian string section. The hardest job falls to singer Salwa Abou Greisha, who has to sing Kalthum's parts. By not trying to copy what many thought of as a perfect voice and injecting plenty of her own personality into the ululating lines, she deftly handles what would have been daunting to most vocalists. The material itself, from the waning years of Kalthum's career, isn't exactly a best-of, but one classic, "Enta Omri," is covered here, along with six other songs and an instrumental. And with its short tracks, updated arrangements, and accented rhythms, it's accessible to Western audiences in a way much of the original material was not, making it intriguing listening for novices as well as Kalthum diehards.

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