Arab Divas


We all grew up listening to music from the Arab Divas of the Golden Age. These divas spanned from Algiers to Beirut. Mesmerized by their talent and grace. Three women from this era had a great influence on us for different reasons. Let’s meet them!

Oum Kalthoum –ام كلثوم

Um Kalthoum Performing in Kuwait, 1968

We can all remember when we were introduced to Oum Kalthoum by an older sibling, a parent, or a grandparent.  Her beautiful ballads filled rooms, verandas, and car rides.  Oum Kalthoum influenced musicians all over the Middle East.  In 1963 she visited Kuwait and performed in a couple of concerts.  She was invited to Kuwait again in 1968 by the Women’s Cultural Social Society.  During her nine-day visit, she met with leading female figures from Kuwaiti society.  She stated that “Kuwaiti women are very intelligent, and a lot of women who missed out on formal education, are going to night school.  They face the world with such awe.”

Asmahan – اسمهان

Asmahan performing Imta ha Taraf Inta in the film Passion and Revenge

Asmahan lived a short but impactful life, was born in Syria, lived and rose to fame in Egypt.  In 1933, Hasan al-Atrash, her cousin proposed marriage and requested Asmahan abandon her musical career.  She agreed to on her own conditions, such as living in Damascus and spending winters in Cairo.  She lived with her husband for a few years first in Ara with the Atrash family and then in their own home in Suwayda. She had a daughter Kamellia, but eventually, she missed her career and life in Cairo and decided to divorce her husband.  Her independence and art were so important to her.  Her resilience and strong personality are inspirations for ecru. 

Dalida – دليدا

Dalida performing Selma ya Salama live in Arabic.

Dalida is the epitome of 1970s glitz and glamour.  Born in Egypt, Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti to Italian parents from Calabria.  She grew up in a suburb of Cairo, after she graduated from school, she became a copy typist for short time.  She entered the world of pageantry when her friend introduced her to Miss Ondine, a minor Cairo pageant.  When she turned 21, she joined the Miss Egypt competition in 1954.  She won the competition thanks to her sensational panther bikini.  This led her to qualify in the Miss World 1955, however, due to the Suez Crisis Egypt didn’t compete that year. From then she left Egypt and moved to Paris to start her fabulous career.  She became a huge cult figure after her tragic death in 1987. 


For more on these wonderful divas visit the Arab World Institute.

Images courtesy of the Arab World Institute

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