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Tahia or Soheir?
Similar Legends, Which Are True?

 

by Shira

 

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Table of Contents

 

 

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Introduction

Sometimes stories about dancers take on a life of their own. It can be difficult to track down the origins of these stories, and sometimes it even becomes unclear which dancer they originally referred to. This article examines two widely-repeated stories, in search of the facts underlying them.

 

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The First to Dance to Oum Kalthoum?

Who was the first dancer to perform to the music of Oum Kalthoum? Some say Tahia Carioca, while others say Soheir Zaki.

 

The Widely-Told Story

Many members of the worldwide Oriental dance community believe Soheir Zaki was the first dancer to perform to Oum Kalthoum's music because an interview with Zaki published in Habibi Magazine in February 2002 stated, "...she became the first ever dancer to to dare interpret the revered songs of Um Kulthoum on a nightclub stage...." (1)

Many of the people repeating this story simply say Soheir Zaki was the first dancer to perform to Oum Kalthoum's music.

Soheir Zaki

 

Timeline of Dancers Performing to Oum Kalthoum's Music

1938: King Farouk of Egypt's wedding. Per Edward Said, "Um Kalthoum performed at King Farouk’s wedding in 1936, and the lavish party was also Tahia’s debut." (2) [Note: King Farouk could not have gotten married in 1936, as he was underage then. This was an error made by Said in the original essay. The king's coronation was in 1936, and his wedding was in 1938.] It is therefore unclear whether Said meant that Carioca's dance debut was done at the coronation (the mention of the year 1936) or the king's wedding (1938). It is also unclear whether Carioca performed while Oum Kalthoum was actually singing, or whether the dance and the singing were separate performances over the course of the event. I.e., it is unclear whether this represented an occasion on which Carioca danced to Oum Kalthoum's music.

1947: The motion picture Fatma released. It starred Oum Kalthoum in the title role and features a dance performance by Saneya Shawky while Oum Kalthoum sings "Nourek Ya Set El Kohl". (3)

1948: As Oum Kalthoum sings "Ghanili Shwaya Shwaya" at the El Ahly Club party, she beckons Tahia Carioca to come forward from the wings, to come on stage and dance. Tahia Carioca is quoted as saying, "I was the only dancer ever to dance with Oum Kulthoum while she sang." (4)

1964: Soheir Zaki incorporates the instrumental prelude of the song "Enta Omri" into her nightclub performance. In an interview for the documentary Les Grandes voix de la chanson arabe, Zaki says, "I was the first dancer to take up the challenge [of using the music of Oum Kalthoum]. (5)

Tahia

Some have suggested that, since Oum Kalthoum's career as a singer began in the 1920's, perhaps other dancers performed on stage with her before Tahia Carioca. However, since Carioca stated that she was the only dancer ever to dance with Oum Kalthoum while she sang (see above), it is reasonable to believe that Carioca indeed was the first/only. A bold statement such as Carioca's would surely have drawn public attention and contradictions if it were incorrect.

 

Conclusions

  • Soheir Zaki was clearly not the first dancer to perform to Oum Kalthoum's music.
  • The issue of whether Tahia Carioca performed to singing by Oum Kalthoum at either King Farouk's coronation in 1936 or his wedding in 1938 requires further research. Since Said's original article says Tahia's performance at the event he described was her "debut", this implies she was not already a star at this point. Would a young dancer making her debut been permitted to perform while the legendary singer performed? It seems very unlikely, but because Oum Kalthoum knew Tahia's mother when Tahia was a small child (6) there is a small chance that Oum Kalthoum may have briefly indulged the promising young dancer.
  • Although the earliest example of someone dancing to Oum Kalthoum's singing found in researching this article was the 1947 motion picture Fatma, this particular research effort did not examine Oum Kalthoum's earlier movies. She appeared in several others before Fatma. Those present an opportunity for further research, to determine whether an earlier dance scene to her singing can be found.
  • Tahia Carioca's statement that she was the only dancer to perform on the stage while Oum Kalthoum sang appears to be accurate, and this occurred 16 years before Soheir Zaki danced to Oum Kalthoum's music.
  • Soheir Zaki's claim of being "first" refers to being the first Oriental dance artist to have her own orchestra play Oum Kalthoum's music as part of her nightclub dance show.

 

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She Sings With Her Body?

The Widely Told Story

There is a widely-repeated quote saying that Soheir Zaki could "sing with her body". One version of the story attributes the quote to Anwar Sadat, whereas another version attributes it to Mohamed Abdel Wahab. There are reports of a similar comment being made about Tahia Carioca.

 

The Evidence

The version of the story about Soheir Zaki most widely repeated by dancers appears at the beginning of an interview with Zaki published in Habibi Magazine in February 2002. it said, "Anwar Sadat once said to her, 'You are the Um Kulsoum of dance. As she sings with her voice, you sing with your body." According to Francesca Sullivan, the interviewer who wrote the Habibi Magazine article, Zaki personally told her this story about Sadat's comment during the course of the interview. (7)

Proof exists that Soheir Zaki did perform in front of Anwar Sadat. In 1974, Zaki performed at an official dinner party attended by Sadat, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and their wives. The June 13, 1974 issue of the Herald-Journal reported that she tweaked Kissinger's hair and gave kisses to Pat Nixon and Gihan Sadat.(8) The same Associated Press story also appeared the same day in the Lawrence Journal-World with a photo of Zaki.(9) The version of the story published in The Age says that there were 600 guests at the dinner, and it includes a photo of Zaki dancing directly in front of Richard Nixon.(10)

The Herald-Journal version of this Associated Press story reports that after the show, Sadat and Nixon shook hands with that evening's performers. However, this story does not i mention the quote attributed to Sadat regarding Zaki singing with her body. The opportunity existed for Sadat to speak to Zaki, but if he did say this, the Associated Press story did not report it.

A similar comment was reported about another dancer, Tahia Carioca, 26 years earlier, in 1948. An article in Al Qabas dated March 8, 2011(11), quotes Oum Kalthoum as telling Carioca, "You sing with your waist." This comment is said to have been inspired by one of Oum Kalthoum's concerts in which she invited Carioca to join her on stage and dance as she sang. The quote was also reported in en.v Issue 003 Culture & Society Edition (12), in which, at the bottom of a profile of Tahia Carioca, it says, "Tahia Carioca sings with her body - Um Kulthum." Given that Oum Kalthoum was friends with Tahia and her mother (as reported above), it is very likely she did say this.

 

Conclusions

  • The article in the 2002 interview in Habibi Magazine repeats what Soheir Zaki herself said, and therefore cites a primary source. Many other pages on the Internet mention the Sadat quote, but appear to have derived their information from Sullivan's Habibi article.
  • The 1948 quote attributed to Oum Kalthoum regarding Tahia Carioca appears to be accurate.
  • Therefore, it appears that a similar comment has been made about two different dancers.

 

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End Notes

  1. Sullivan, Francesca. "Sohair Zaki: Singing with her Body," Habibi. 19.1 (2002): Pages 2-7. Print. Also archived online.
  2. Said, Edward. "Homage to a Belly Dancer." London Review of Books. 12.17 (1990): Pages 6-7. Print.
  3. Fatma. Directed by Ahmed Badrakhan. Written by Mustafa Amin. 1947.
  4. Morsi, Saleh. "Long Live Carioca," El Fagr Newspaper. August 29, 2011. Print. Online version. English translation.
  5. Les Grandes voix de la chanson arabe: Mohamed Abdel Wahab. Directed by Simone Bitton, interview with Soheir Zaki. Arcadia Film. 1991. DVD 2010.
  6. Carioca. Directed by Nabiha Lofti. Excerpt as shown on the Egyptian television show Onscreen on November 4, 2010. Online version. English translation.
  7. Sullivan, Francesca. "Sohair Zaki: Singing with her Body," Habibi. 19.1 (2002): Pages 2-7. Print. Also archived online.
  8. Associated Press. Herald-Journal. 102.119. June 13, 1974. Print. Page A1. Archived online.
  9. Associated Press. Lawrence Journal-World. June 13, 1974. Print. Page 8. Archived online.
  10. Associated Press. The Age. June 14, 1974. Print. Page 7. Archived online.
  11. Btarawi, Khaled. Al Qabas. March 8, 2011. Online version.
  12. Dalloul, Nada. "Profiles of Change," en.v Issue 003, Culture & Society Edition. February 17, 2009: Page 32. Online version.

 

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