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    CultNat Protects Arabic Music Heritage

    Date published: 5 January 2002

    CultNat, with its mandate to document and preserve Egyptís cultural heritage, has already made its mark in the field of Arabic music by producing a book detailing Umm Koulthoumís life and art, as well as a compact disc that includes audio tracks of 36 of the famed vocalistís better known songs. However, the book and CD are only the tip of what promises to be a very large iceberg.

    The superlatives heaped upon Umm Koulthoum are almost as numerous as the great singerís recordings. However, with her continuing popularity and cross generational appeal the single word that may best describe the Egyptian chanteuse is Ďtimeless.í While young, old, rich, and poor can attest to the singerís status as an Egyptian cultural icon, only minimal work has been done to ensure that Umm Koulthoumís songs are properly preserved, catalogued, and studied. In an attempt to give Umm Koulthoumís recordings the respect they deserve, CultNat, or the National Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage, is in the process of putting a 21st century twist on the timeless divaís voluminous body of work.

    Exhaustive research by CultNatís Arabic Music Heritage program has produced a wealth of previously obscure information regarding the work of the woman many critics consider the greatest Arabic singer of all time. The first phase of the project involved compiling a complete list of works recorded by Umm Koulthoum, no small feat considering her professional recording career spanned from the 1920s into the 1970s. After identifying elements such as composer, lyricist, and recording date for each song, CultNat attempted to acquire the original lyrics and scores to as many of the songstressí productions as possible. The Arabic Music Heritage team managed to find the complete lyrics and scores to about 300 of Umm Koulthoumís songs, many of which had been little known prior to their rediscovery by CultNat.

    While the book and the audio CD drew heavily on the initial research conducted by the center, CultNat is now turning to multimedia and information technologies to provide an even better showcase for the array of data it has managed to uncover. The center has already developed an electronic database with a search engine that allows the browser to find the songs collected by title, date, composer, lyricist, mode, genre, and other relevant data. While the ability to browse the database is currently limited to CultNat staff, plans are afoot to produce multimedia CDs that incorporate the database and search engine.

    Also included with the multimedia CDs will be in depth musical analysis of selected pieces by professional critics, which the user will be able to document by accessing the compositionís written score and listening to the original recording. Sometime within the next two months the Arabic Music Heritage team is hoping to provide access to the original score, lyrics, recording, and an analysis of Umm Koulthoumís classic ďInta OmriĒ on the CultNat website as an example of how the multimedia CD will function.

    Of course, the world of Arabic music does not begin and end with Umm Koulthoum. CultNat has a list of over 30 prominent Arabic musicians, whose work, the center aims to better document and protect. Already the Arabic Music Heritage team is planning similar multimedia CDs dedicated to Salama Higazi and Sayyid Darwish. Additional plans include eventually providing the entire musical heritage database on the web.

    The success of the Umm Koulthoum project bodes well for CultNat, and with the addition of more artists the database will most certainly grow and flourish. In addition, the utilization of multimedia and information technology ensures that people will get a more complete picture of the artists and their music than ever before, guaranteeing that the greatest Arabic musicians of the 20th century continue to be remembered long into future decades.


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