More than 40 years after her death, Umm Kulthum is still making history.
In January this year, the Egyptian diva was the subject of the Arab world’s first hologram concert. Staged as part of the inaugural Winter at Tantora Festival in Saudi Arabia's Al Ula, an intimate audience of 500 people saw a digitised version of the singer perform her hits, backed by a live orchestra.
The National was there, and at the time organisers MBC and production company NDP, told us they were committed to bringing the show to the UAE.
That promise has been fulfilled, with the Umm Kulthum virtual concert coming to Dubai Opera for four shows today (Thursday, December 26) and Friday, December 27.
Kulthum's family have given the hologram their blessing
While many hologram concerts make people question whether a person's image is being commercialised at any cost, the Umm Kulthum event, unlike other similar shows, benefits from the direct involvement of her family and official estate.
“Authenticity was key. They wanted her art to be represented in the best and most truthful way,” MBC project manager Imad Salibi told us of their input. “As long as the images that we used were right and the songs were not altered, then they were OK with it.”
The Umm Kulthum hologram was created from scratch. The Egyptian actress Sabreen, who starred as Umm Kulthum in the popular 1999 eponymous Ramadan television series, was enlisted to recreate her stage movements, which were then digitally rendered by international technicians hailing from the Arab world, China and the US.
What to expect from the show
With technology always improving, one can expect the most updated version of the Umm Kulthum hologram in the UAE. For the debut Saudi performance, she wowed the crowds by arriving on stage in a puff of digital dust before launching into an 80-minute concert full of her classic hits.
As The National said in its review: "Songs such as Alf Leila Wa Leila (1969) and Enta Omri (1964) remain a showcase for a voice that carried the emotion of the historic, revolutionary times Umm Kulthum operated in. From the fervour and passion of pan-Arabism to the quiet indignation of a woman challenging societal norms, all of these elements are found in the diva's voice, which ranged from a plaintive wail to a resigned hush."
So, if you go along to the Dubai Opera concerts this weekend, you can prepared to be awed by technology while also being overtaken with nostalgia.
Umm Kulthum Hologram Concert will be performed twice a day at Dubai Opera on Thursday, December 26 and Friday, December 27. The concert timings are 6pm and 9.30pm. Tickets begin from Dh195. More information is available on dubaiopera.com