Dubai resurrects music icon Umm Kulthum in hologram concert

The prophetic stature of icons like Kulthum is amplified after death and their resurrection in holographic form may soon become a permanent feature of the global music industry, as more dead stars go on tour.
Tuesday 07/01/2020
A mural of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum is seen in Cairo. (Reuters)
A mural of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum is seen in Cairo. (Reuters)

LONDON - The region’s foremost female icon, Umm Kulthum, was resurrected before an audience at the Dubai Opera House, forty-five years after her death. Enabled by hologram technology, Dubai’s concert marked lady Kulthum's second coming, the first of which took place 10 months earlier at Tatora Festival in Saudi Arabia.

“Our vision was to create a nostalgic experience,” the show’s director and exclusive producer Hasan Hina told the Arab Weekly. “Utilizing the highest standards of video production, we created holographic content capable of restoring not only the memory but all the details of this magnificent persona” Hina said, talking about 5-year long creative process that made the night possible. Much in contrast to the artist’s black and white television broadcast concerts that still lurk online, the latest was a technicolour performance — full of striking outfit changes. 

“It was exactly like the good old days,” software engineer Peter Wilson told the Arab Weekly. “I couldn’t imagine that 45 years after her death, I would have the chance to attend one of her concerts,” the 29 year old said. “It was as though we’d entered into a time machine, travelling back to the 50s”. 

The musical genius last performed in the Emirates in 1970 in celebration of Accession Day in Abu Dhabi. 

This time around, Kulthum descended in a magical spiral, clad in a deep magenta dress, elaborate neck accessories and her infamous handkerchief. The late Egyptian diva was accompanied on stage by a live orchestra of 20 musicians for a show stopping performance. 

Audiences were whisked back in time, as the band accompanying the 3D facsimile performed a back catalogue of sultry hits from “One Thousand and One Nights” to “You Confused My Heart”.

Granddaughter of the renowned singer Sana Nabeel, also sung “Hope of My Life” and “I’ll Never Forget You” in an event she said was difficult to “distinguish from reality”. 

The spectacle enamoured many in attendance, including Egyptian actress Sabreen who was cast as the lady herself in the 1999 biography television series, which narrated the star’s climb to fame from humble beginnings. Gestures difficult to prize apart from the real diva’s signature moves, were modelled on Sabreen whose movements were recorded and grafted to resurrect the holographic form. 

“I’ve always been a fan of Umm Kulthum and the minute I heard about the 7D hologram concert, I hurried to book tickets,” said Faiza Alhefari, a Dubai resident told the Arab Weekly. 

“She felt so real and I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Alhefari said. “It made we wonder how it must have felt for spectators alive during her time, brought face to face with such greatness”.

Even a century after Kalthum’s birth, she remains fondly remembered as a people’s artists whose musical career took off in childhood, performing at religious festivities dressed as a boy, dodging social disapprobation. Admiration has not faded but risen following her departure for decades ago. Loyal fans poured into the auditorium and just hours into the concert, online posts of the performance spread wildly, inside and beyond the Emirates. 

The technological breakthrough that made possible resurrections of the legend of Umm Kulthum and others have been widely praised. “When is it coming to Egypt?”, one social media user from Egypt wrote. “Can this be real”, another expressed in disbelief. The full sensory experience built on the successes of Umm Kulthum debut hologram concert at Tantora in late January 2019, but whose visage was rebuked for lacking facial expressiveness. 

The second time around, audience members and those watching recordings of the performance were stunned by the accuracy of not only Umm Kultum’s movements but the depth of her expressions. 

The simulation at the opera house is part of a much broader trend of holographic music performances from Tupac at Coachella, Michael Jackson’s hologram tour and now Umm Kulthum. While popular attitudes are overwhelming enthusiastic towards the latest technological turn, they are considered hauntingly eerie by others. 

Nonetheless, the prophetic stature of icons like Kulthum is amplified after death and their resurrection in holographic form may soon become a permanent feature of the global music industry, as more dead stars go on tour.