By nature, the Arabic language lends itself beautifully to prose and melody. This is exemplified through tajweed, the oral practice of reciting the Quran using a number of vocal techniques and inflections.
Its beauty inspired many artists to explore it further, taking it out of its religious context and into a musical one. By adding their own twist, the likes of Oum Kalthum and Mohammad Abdel Mutalleb rose to prominence singing in a style that captivated listeners all around the Arab world.
This style of music proved to be the soundtrack to the turbulent times of Egypt from the 1920’s and well into the late 20th century.
Here are a number of artists influenced by tajweed that every Arab should know about:
1. Sheikh Imam
Imam Mohammad Ahmad Eissa, also known as Sheikh Imam, was born to a poor family in 1918 Giza, Egypt. After losing his eyesight in infancy, he attended recitation classes and memorized the Quran before moving to Cairo to further his studies.
Sheikh Imam expressed great interest in music, particularly Egyptian folk songs. In 1962, after completing his musical training, he partnered with Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm. With Negm, he recorded and performed a number of his biggest hits.
The folk style that Sheikh Imam sang in, accompanied only by his oud and sparse percussion, resonated with many deeply. Coupled with working class themes in the lyrics, Sheikh Imam became known as the unsung hero of Egypt’s working class.
2. Mohammad Abdul Mutaleb
Born in 1910 Egypt, Abdul Mutaleb spent his childhood memorizing the Quran and sneaking off to the nearby cafes to listen to the latest records. Abdul Mutaleb was trained under the apprenticeship of Daoud Housny, a famous Egyptian composer.
He started his career singing in musical theater choirs and soon attracted public attention through his unique style of singing. He went on to extensively perform and record music, as well as act in film.
Abdul Mutaleb left a large legacy of songs and films that are revered to this day as a school in Egyptian art and culture.
3. Oum Kulthum
Known as the ‘Planet of the East’, Oum Kulthum showed promising musical talent at a very young age. Her father, an imam at the local mosque noticed her musical leanings and taught her tajweed.
She memorized the entire Quran by the age of 12. At the age of 16, Oum Kulthum was discovered by former Azhar mosque student and tajweed enthusiast Abou El Ala.
Despite delving extensively into music theory Oum Kulthum never lost the cadence of a former tajweed student in her singing. She has been credited as an influence by most Arab musicians that followed her, as well as a plethora of Western musicians such as Bob Dylan and Robert Plant.
The legacy of these artists has become a cornerstone in Arabic music and pop culture. They drew inspiration from the techniques of tajweed, utilizing them to connect with millions of Arab listeners in Egypt and all around the world.