x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

'Abu Dhabi on a date with Umm Kulthum'

"Abu Dhabi and the Gulf on a date with Umm Kulthum" is how Al Ittihad announced the Egyptian singer's concerts.

To the delight of her fans, Umm Kulthum performs at the first concert in Abu Dhabi.
To the delight of her fans, Umm Kulthum performs at the first concert in Abu Dhabi.

In Abu Dhabi, there was determination among senior officials that Umm Khulthum should sing for Sheikh Zayed during the celebrations for his accession, and so a delegation travelled to Cairo to invite her.

"Abu Dhabi and the Gulf on a date with Umm Kulthum" is how Al Ittihad announced the Egyptian singer's concerts.

"A grand artistic dream is materialising these days; the Lady of Arabic Song will share in the festivities of the people of Abu Dhabi on Accession Day; the Star of the Orient will perform two evening concerts ... on Sunday 28 and Tuesday 30 November," it reported.

Umm Kulthum had been in poor health and was forced to cancel all other appearances that year, so the Abu Dhabi performances attracted huge international attention, with fans from the Gulf and the rest of the Arab world demanding tickets. She was accompanied not just by her orchestra but also by media from radio, TV and newspapers.

The news that Umm Kulthum was coming to Abu Dhabi created a problem because the city did not have a concert venue large enough to accommodate an audience of any size.

Sheikh Faisal bin Sultan Al Qassimi, the chairman of the official celebrations committee, had barely two months after she accepted the invitiation to build one from scratch. An area of desert was found near Al Ahli Club, where Al Nahyan Stadium, now used by Al Wahda Club, stands.

The building, which Sheikh Faisal describes as "a hangar", had simple brick walls with a sloping floor and steel roof and a capacity of 4,000. A team of workers laboured day and night to get it finished in time. "We put on the final coat of paint the day before Umm Kulthum arrived. We were exhausted," Sheikh Faisal recalls now.

Anticipation of her arrival and the performances had been growing for weeks. Television cameras were on hand to record the moment the singer stepped off the plane for her first and only visit to Abu Dhabi.

Accompanied by 20 members of her orchestra, Umm Kulthum wore her trademark sunglasses and scarf, and was welcomed by Sheikh Zayed and his son, Sheikh Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

Special arrangements were made to accommodate her in a villa, but the singer refused. "I will not leave my band," she said, and insisted instead on staying with the members of her beloved orchestra, who had been given rooms at the Al Ain

Palace Hotel.

The police were reported to have made "all measures to control traffic around the venue and ensure the smooth progression of the concerts", according to Al Ittihad. The first performance was attended by "The Ruler, the Crown Prince, the Al Nahyan Sheikhs and Ministers and official delegations joining in Abu Dhabi's celebration of Accession Day", the newspaper reported.

Some believe that it was before this concert that Sheikh Zayed presented the singer with the gift of a fabulous 10-string antique pearl and turquoise necklace, which was sold in 2008 by her family through Christie's in Dubai for US$1.2 million (Dh4.4 million) to a buyer from Abu Dhabi.

Her first performance began at 10.30pm. Sheikh Zayed and other dignitaries occupied the first row, with the rest of the audience filling the other seats or sitting cross-legged on the floor around the ruler.

Later, Umm Kulthum told Wajdy al Hakeem, who produced a radio series about her life, "that she had never had such a loyal audience than the one in the emirates, where no one even stood and went out until the very end".

Sheikh Faisal recalls that despite the crush of numbers, many of whom had no tickets, security was minimal and the audience immaculately behaved. "It was all very nice," he recalls.

Mohammed al Qudsi, a TV journalist who covered the event, remembers that the audience may have been double that first estimated. It was, he recalls, "a family party" enjoyed by sheikhs and ordinary people alike. "It was an unforgettable night. The atmosphere was amazing and happy, and the audience was completely mesmerised by her singing. No one stood and left the audience until the end of the show."

Umm Kulthum stayed in Abu Dhabi for the unification of the country, watching the UAE flag raised for the first time on the grounds of Al Manhal Palace. According to Al Ittihad, she congratulated Sheikh Khalifa, saying "may the flag of the greater Pan-Arab Union come next".

Both concerts were broadcast live on television and radio: to see rare footage of these historic shows, go to www.thenational.ae/thehistoryproject

Her most famous song

Aghadan Alqak (Would I Ever Find You Again)?

Would I ever find you again
You, the heaven of my love, my yearning and madness;
You, the kiss to my soul, my cheer and
Would your lights ever break the night of my eyes again?
Would I ever find you again?
This world is volume and you're the notion,
This world is night and you're the lifetime,
This world is eyes and you're the vision,
This world is sky and you're the moon time,
Have mercy on the heart that belongs to you.

Lyrics: Al Hadi Adam; Composer: Mohammed Abdel Wahab