Umm Kulthum may be the greatest Arab singer, cited as an influence by Maria Callas, Bob Dylan, Shakira, and Bono. Born Fātimah ʾIbrāhīm as-Sayyid al-Biltāǧī in Egypt at the end of the 19th C, her career spanned a half century. Her 1975 funeral was a national event, with 4 million Egyptians lining Cairo streets as her cortège passed by.
Born in 1917, Druze singer Asmahan began her career in Syria and Lebanon before moving to Egypt. During World War II, she went to Syria on a secret mission to convince the Druze to cooperate with British and Free French forces. She died at age 26 when her car crashed into the Nile. Many believe she was murdered because she was a spy.
Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez had a tragically short life. His mother died during his birth in 1929, and his father passed 5 years later. Chronically ill, Hafez died at age 48, but not before starring in 16 feature films and creating over 260 songs. He was one of the most famous performers of his era.
Singer and oud-player Mohammed Abdel Wahab was born in 1902 in Cairo. He composed nearly 2000 songs, including Tunisia’s national anthem and the anthem used by Libya from 1951 to 1969 and again by the post-Gaddafi transitional government in 2011. Always innovative, he used non-Arabic rhythms and Western influences.
Khaled Hadj Ibrahim, a/k/a Khaled, is an Algerian raï singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Born in 1960, he’s Algeria’s most globally famous singer. His songs have featured in Bollywood films, and he’s sold over 80 million albums worldwide. Now living in France, his recent themes focus on the immigrant experience in Europe.
Lebanese singer Fairuz began her career in the 1950s, becoming an icon across the Arab world with 100s of songs mainly written by the Rahbani Brothers and her son Ziad Rahbani. Born Nouhad Wadie Haddad in 1934, the “Jewel of Lebanon” is seen as a unifying voice in a country long divided by political unrest.
Lebanese singer Sabah made over 3,000 records, leading a life that scandalized the region: nine marriages followed by an affair with a 25-year old “Mr. Lebanon” when she was in her 70s! Born Jeanette Feghali in 1927, she sang her way through the Egyptian films of the 1940s. She may have begun the Lebanese love affair with plastic surgery!
Egyptian pop singer/songwriter Amer Diab is the best selling Middle Eastern artist of all time. Born in 1961, he shot to fame at age six for singing the Egyptian National Anthem at Port Said’s annual July 23 Festival. He blends Western and Egyptian rhythms into a unique style called “Mediterranean Music”. He’s passionate about body building.
Born in 1971, pop star Elissa is one of the biggest Arabic singers of this millennium, selling over 30 million albums. She’s known for her flashy promotional videos and TV commercials for the likes of Pepsi and luxury-brand clothing. In 2005 she won her first World Music Award for Best-Selling Middle Eastern Artist. She won it again in 2006!
Saber Rebaï is a Tunisian pan-Arab singer and composer. Born in 1967, he started singing professionally at age 17. He tours relentlessly across Europe, the US, Australia, Asia and the Middle East consistently collecting awards for his gigs in international festivals.
Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe is known as much for her voice as for the controversies caused by her skimpy outfits and political views. Ranked 8th in the 2006 Edition of the Top 99 Most Desirable Women by the website AskMen.com, she went on to be named one of 2016 People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful people at age 44.
Born in 1983, Nancy Ajram cut her first album at age 15, soon becoming the youngest Arab World Music Awards winner. Oprah Winfrey called her “the Britney Spears of the Middle East”. As the official Coca-Cola spokesperson for the Levant, Arabia and North Africa, she’s a true “pop” icon!
Ironically, Emirati superstar Hussain Al Jassmi is best known for an Egyptian hit song. He nabbed a title as Best Arabic Male Singer at the 2008 Murex d’Or awards and held a judge position on the Arab X Factor. His 2014 guest appearance on Arab Idol has attracted almost 11 million YouTube views!
Born in 1985 to entertainer parents, Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarred has show-biz in his genes. He was nominated for Best Middle East Act at the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards. His single “LM3ALLEM” grabbed over 320 million YouTube views, earning a Guinness World Record as the site’s most viewed Arabic video.