Egyptian composer ends dispute with Umm Kulthum's family over AI rendition of her voice

The late singer's family had filed a legal complaint earlier this week against producer Amr Mostafa

Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, performing in Paris in 1967. AFP
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A dispute between Egyptian music composer Amr Mostafa and the family of legendary singer Umm Kulthum has been preliminarily settled.

The late singer’s family had earlier this week filed an official legal complaint with the country’s prosecutor general after Mostafa used artificial intelligence to render her voice in a new song he is working on, without the family’s consent.

A fruitful meeting between Mostafa and the family’s lawyer Yasser Kantoush took place on Tuesday, the composer told The National on Thursday.

Since the meeting, the official complaint has been rescinded by Kantoush.

“There was no reason for there to be a dispute. I have the utmost respect for Umm Kulthum and we have agreed that I will not use her voice, name or likeness in any of my projects without express permission from her family,” he said.

Mostafa, in a since deleted Facebook post, had released a sample from the song, which he composed and lyricised, and said that he was interested to see what a collaboration between him and Umm Kulthum would sound like.

While the sample was praised by some of Mostafa’s fans, who lauded its creativity, it was sharply denounced by Mohsen Gaber, a former music producer and the owner of Alam El Fan, the production company that owns the rights to Umm Kulthum’s music.

Gaber warned Mostafa against using AI on the voice of someone as important to Egyptians as Umm Kulthum, likening it to “playing with fire” during a televised phone-in.

Mostafa responded in another Facebook post by arguing that since it was not actually Umm Kulthum singing, but an algorithm that recreated her voice, there were no legal boundaries being crossed.

Mostafa’s project has highlighted the need for a clear legal framework on the use of AI in the production of artworks, and stirred a debate on intellectual property in today’s world.

Umm Kulthum’s granddaughter, Gihan El Desouky, who spoke to popular talk show host Lamis El Hadidy on Tuesday night, praised Mostafa’s initiative in settling the dispute, calling him “respectful”.

The family of the late singer were surprised to find her voice featured in a new song that they knew nothing about, El Desouky explained, adding that the family has agreed with Mostafa that they will be included in any future plans he has to use Umm Kulthum’s name or likeness in any of his work.

“We feared that the use of this technology would make her music go the way of mahraganat,” she said.

Mahraganat, a music style made popular by Egypt’s lower classes, has been repeatedly criticised by the country’s traditionalists because of its blending of various music style and its use of lyrics and narrative themes that prominently feature drug use, sexual acts and overall angst.

Much like hip-hop in the early 90s America, mahraganat has also been criticised for sampling clips from famous Egyptian songs without permission from their owners.

Updated: May 25, 2023, 2:09 PM